Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in the series, ¿Vege-Que? — A Week of Healthy Eating, ongoing from April 11 to 18 on the Tiki Tiki. Please visit the first essay to learn more about the series and enter for the chance to win some awesome prizes.
Giving Up Something isn’t Always Bad
Shredded beef tacos, albondigas, chicken enchiladas, chorizo; these are the foods I grew up on. Occasionally we would have calabacitas, but they were almost always covered in cheese and served with a meat dish.
Basing a meal around anything other than meat or cheese never occurred to me until my older sister moved to San Francisco and became a vegetarian many years ago. She said she became vegetarian for health reasons. My family thought it was because she had lost her mind.
I started experimenting a little with food and found that I could occasionally cook without meat and it was perfectly fine. And then I met my husband and a whole new world of food opened up to me.
My husband has Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to attack gluten and, in the process, damages the lining of the small intestines. This can result in stomach pain, anemia, and colon cancer. There’s no cure, but sufferers can reverse the effects by eliminating gluten – wheat, barley or rye – from their diets. That means no bread, no cake, no pizza, no beer.
It’s a drastic diet, but like becoming a vegetarian, it’s manageable and the food can be fantastic.
Now when I cook, I start with a vegetable or a grain and work around that. I love to come up with recipes and one of my favorites is Quinoa with garlic, spinach, and sweet dark cherries. Quinoa has protein, spinach has iron, and the sweet cherries have antioxidants. And the garlic and olive oil make it taste good.
That’s the most important thing I’ve learned from alternative cooking. Even things you’ve never heard of, or never would have thought to try, can be cooked up into something amazing.
Delicious and Healthy Recipes
And the things that you had loved before can still be made to taste good like my gluten-free vegan chocolate cake. I’ll never forget the face my mom made when I sliced her up a piece of the vegan chocolate cake I made for my brother’s birthday. I thought her eyes were going to roll all the way into the back of her head at the thought of eating vegan food. But she admitted that she liked it and had a second piece. The cake was good because there’s still good stuff in it like good quality chocolate, sugar, vegan butter, and canola oil.
And good, many times, doesn’t mean traditional. The great thing about Mexican food is that there is a lot of corn, which is gluten-free. Therefore, I make a lot of Mexican food. But I doctor the recipes to make them a little healthier.
Instead of frying tortillas for chilaquiles, I spray them with a light coating of olive oil and bake them in the oven (OK, sometimes I just use a bag of chips, but that’s only when I’m in a hurry).
There are some dishes where doctoring the recipe only makes it better. Like, in my opinion, my Mexican green chile tamales made with butter and Earth Balance Vegan Butter. They’re light and buttery and delicious.
They are time consuming to make, so my advice is that if you’re going to attempt it; get a bottle of wine, invite some friends over, and make a day of it.
Yvonne’s Vegetarian Green Chile Tamales
- 1 ½ cups masa
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup Earth Balance Vegan Butter Sticks
- ¼ cup butter
- 1 ¼ cup warm water
- Corn husks
- Roasted green chiles (I prefer a can from Trader Joe’s)
- 1 cup sweet corn
- Tomatillo salsa (Trader Joe’s)
- Shredded Jack cheese
Soak the corn husks in hot water for about 2 hours. Combine the masa, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and vegan butter until fluffy. Alternate adding ¼ of the masa mixture and ¼ of the water until combined. Beat until fluffy, about 5 minutes.
To test if the masa is done, drop a dollop of dough into a glass of water. If it floats, the dough is ready. It should be light and fluffy, not damp. If dough is too thick, beat in small amounts of water until it’s spreadable.
When dough is ready set up an assembly line in this order: Corn husks, masa, green chiles, corn, cheese, and salsa. Lay corn husk flat on a plate. Spread about 2 tablespoons of masa on the husk leaving in inch on both sides and three inches or so on the end.
Spread about a teaspoon of green chile and a teaspoon of corn onto the masa. Sprinkle cheese and salsa over the corn and chile. Fold the husks so the masa covers the filling. Fold the end over until it’s covered. If the tamales are not staying together, you can shred one of the soaked corn husks into long strips and gently tie the tamales shut to keep them together.
Place tamales in a steamer and cook for about 1 hour. Don’t let the water run out or the bottom of the steamer will burn. Serve tamales with remaining tomatillo salsa. You can refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze them. Reheat in the steamer.
What about You?
Do you have a dietary restriction that forces you to find great substitutes? Are you surprised to find something is gluten-free and still good?
Check out the Giveaways
Please be sure to read the ¿Vege-Que? Giveaways post to enter for some great prizes, including cookware from IMUSA, copies of Viva Vegan, the e-book Healthy Snacks to Go; Latin Heat spices from Urban Accents and new EatStrong trail mix and bars.
***You must comment in the giveaways post and in one essay, such as this one, this week to be entered to win.
Yvonne is a journalist by trade and a blogger by night. At YvonneInLA she writes about life in Los Angeles with her two adorable boys, food and restaurants, a little bit of politics, and Latino issues. She loves creating gluten-free recipes, running marathons, and traveling. She also is the co-founder of MomsLA.com, and also writes for Yahoo! Motherboard, CBS Local Los Angeles, Patch.com and Storitz.com.