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Home » food

Sabor sin Carne, Celebrating Vegetables

Submitted by on April 12, 2011 – 1:00 am7 Comments

vegetarian week tiki tiki

Editor’s Note: This is the second in the series, ¿Vege-Que? — A Week of Healthy Eating, ongoing from April 11 to 17 on the Tiki Tiki. Please visit the first post to learn more about the series and enter for the chance to win some awesome prizes.

Discovering a World of Flavorful Vegetables

Roxanne, Yuca DiariesBy Roxanne Buil

Most people would agree they need to incorporate more fresh fruits and vegetables into their diet.

But, part of the reason why we don’t eat more fruits and veggies is because, for many, fruits and vegetables are often considered “diet food” or not substantial enough as stand-alone items.

For me, personally, I find eating “only vegetables” doesn’t quite satisfy my cravings in the same way that meat does.

But my problem has been the approach and not the logic.

Hear me out on this one.

I proved my original beliefs wrong recently when my husband and I did a detox diet. We were “unintentionally vegan” for a week and not once did we miss meat.

What was different in our approach this time around was that we ate foods that made us feel full and had tons of flavor.

The second night of our detox, I made brown rice with Cuban black beans, topped with a generous scoop of homemade guacamole. That meal was packed with nutrients, fiber and omega oils, present in the avocado.

But truthfully, the food was so delicious that the health benefits were sort of an after-thought. And that right there is the key to successfully eating more fruits and vegetables. Finding new and creative ways to prepare them is a great way to sustain a healthy lifestyle so you don’t feel deprived as if you were eating a bowl of plain lima beans.

Gardening Grew My Interest

Being a Cuban-American, and growing up in Miami, means I had access to some really great produce. Everyone and their mother had an avocado, mango or naranja agria (sour orange) tree.

I remember one summer going to my great-aunt’s house. She had a HUGE mango tree and that year the fruit harvest was particularly bountiful. I ate and ate and ate mango until I was almost in a fruit-induced coma. I can almost smell the sweetness as I recall that memory. In fact, it is, to this day, my favorite fruit and I often make into a delicious salsa perfect for dipping tortilla chips.

When I was living on my own, I found that my repertoire of healthy meals wasn’t as plentiful as I would like. I was living in Ohio at the time and there were a ton of vegetables I’d never heard of like parsnips, rhubarb, jicama, Swiss chard- all quite different to the malanga, yuca, and calabaza, I was used to.

My personal mission was to become acquainted with this newly discovered produce. I also had a huge veggie and herb garden which was probably one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had.

Something just clicks in your head when you plant a tiny little seed in dirt and watch this plant grow before your eyes. So much work goes into tending a garden, but when I tasted fresh peas from my garden for the very first time, I knew I’d been missing out on some seriously delicious food — vegetables I’d only known existed in a can and which my mom used to decorate the top of her arroz con pollo.

Celebrating Culture sin Carne

Something great happened when I started experimenting with new fruits and veggies- I found that my diet became vibrant and colorful. I began trying to make meals that were reminiscent of my home and Cuban culture, but also were healthy, like eggplant and zucchini drizzled with mojo sauce.

Another dish I made was mashed green plantain topped with an escabeche of differently colored peppers, onions, and garlic.

It was the best of both worlds. Seriously, honoring the flavors of our culture is still simple, even when there isn’t a piece of meat, or something fried, on the plato.


I started baking sweet plantains instead of frying them, and they turn out just as well. I also started mixing watercress into my avocado salads for that extra nutrient punch this veggie is packed with. The good news is that ingredients used in Latin ingredients don’t need that much “help.”

I have found that achieving a healthy, flavorful diet is easier than I thought. I take out a lot of the guess work by:

  • Planning my meals in advance
  • Learning and trying new ingredients
  • Making a point to buy the freshest ingredients I can afford
  • Taking the time to make things like easy and fresh Marinara sauce and Pico de Gallo

And when in doubt- always remember this principle: Grains sustain, vegetables build, fruits cleanse and herbs heal.

Saborea la vida… and the vegetables.

Spicy Vegetarian Szechuan Eggplant

Spicy Vegetarian Eggplant Szechuan

Roxanne’s Spicy Szechuan Eggplant

  • 4 Chinese eggplants
  • 1/4 cup sliced green onions
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1″ knob of ginger, minced or grated
  • 1/3 cup canola oil

For the sauce:

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup vegetable stock
  • 2 tbsp. duck sauce
  • 2 tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. chili paste or Asian hot sauce like Sriracha

First slice the eggplant into planks, about 2-1/2 inches long. Add the canola oil to a wok and turn the heat up to high. Add the eggplant in batches. You may have to add a little more oil for the second batch. Saute the eggplant on high heat, stirring occasionally.

Let the eggplant get golden brown on all sides. In a separate bowl, combine the ingredients for the sauce and whisk until you have an even mixture. Mince or grate the garlic and ginger and transfer to the wok with all of the eggplant.

Make sure the heat is set to high and then add in the sauce, tossing everything around really well. Add in half of the green onions and mix well. Reserve the rest of the green onions for the garnish.

Serve with steamed rice.

You can find more Vegetarian recipes at The Yuca Diaries, including:

What about You?

Have you discovered the joy of the vegetable garden? Do you search out seasonal produce?

Check out the Giveaways

Please be sure to read today’s ¿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; 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.

Roxanne Buil writes The Yuca Diaries, an exploration of her Cuban-American food roots mixed with her love of fresh, local and healthy flavors from around the globe. Roxanne was recently selected to appear on the Univision food program Delicioso. She lives in Dallas with her husband.

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