Thursday, April 28, 2011

Carl Germano, RD, CDN & Chief Science Officer of Surgex Provides 10 Tips // BBQ Season Healthy Food Alternatives

  • 10 Tips // BBQ Season Healthy Food Alternatives


Instead Of These BBQ Diet Busters, Try These Low Fat, More Calorie Friendly Alternatives!

  • Instead of:     Beef Burger or Sliders with Cheese

Try:                Turkey Sliders with sliced tomato

  • Instead of:     Franks on the Grill

Try:                Chicken Teriyaki Skewers

  • Instead of:     Nachos with Cheese & Jalapenos

Try:                Baked Nachos with Guacamole, Tomatoes and Jalapenos

  • Instead of:     Fried Cheese Bread Sticks

Try:                Sourdough Bread Bowl with Low Fat Spinach Dip and    celery, carrot

  • Instead of:     French Fries

Try:                Baked Potato Skins with tomato/basil bruschetta

  • Instead of:    Beef Chili with Shredded Cheese

Try:                Low Fat Turkey Chili with Black Beans, Corn & Salsa

  • Instead of:    Fried Buffalo Wings with Ranch dip

Try:                Baked Chicken Wings with hot sauce dip

  • Instead of:    Regular Pizza

Try:                Whole Wheat Margarita Pizza

  • Instead of:    Chips, Cookies & Brownies Platter

Try:                Air Popped Popcorn, Oat Pretzels, Fresh Fruit,

  • Instead of:    Beer, Soda, Juice

Try:               Flavored Seltzer and Water


Source:  Carl Germano, RD, CDN  is a registered, certified clinical nutritionist appointed as Chief Science Officer for SURGEX.

With over 27 years of experience using innovative, complementary nutritional therapies in private practice, he has dedicated his efforts to research and product development for the dietary supplement and medical foods industries, where he has been instrumental in bringing unique nutritional substances and formulations to the health/dietary supplement industry.


Have a great day,


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Go UnDiet! by Gloria Tsang, RD


I’m excited to let you know that my friend and colleague, Gloria Tsang, RD, has written Go UnDiet

As she has stated, we are often bombarded with conflicting diet strategies - low-carb, low-fat, low-GI, and on and on. Confused and frustrated, it is no wonder people almost always regain the weight they manage to lose. With that in mind, I’m passionate to show readers how they can lose weight for good - by UnDieting! With 50 simple, small actions, Go UnDiet shows readers how to change their diet without a rigid diet plan, and with no counting calories or fat grams.

Go UnDiet is available in all major online bookstores.


Happy Reading,


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Organic Milk Bottler Accused of Misrepresenting Products with Dubious, Illegal Ingredients

April 21, 2011
Contact: Charlotte Vallaeys, 978-369-6409

Mark Kastel, 608-625-2042

Largest Organic Milk Bottler Accused of Misrepresenting Products

Consumers Cautioned to Choose Organic Milk without Dubious, Illegal Ingredients

Cornucopia, Wis.—The Cornucopia Institute filed a formal request with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) today, asking for an investigation into Dean Foods' advertisements for its Horizon milk with Omega-3 DHA, alleging the nation's largest dairy conglomerate with consumer fraud in misrepresenting the nutritional benefits of its products.

The dairy giant's White Wave division, which markets the Horizon organic milk brand, recently launched a major nationwide marketing campaign that focuses on purported benefits to children's brain development from drinking milk with added DHA oil, which is highly processed from fermented algae.

According to The Cornucopia Institute's complaint, Dean Foods' claims that their proprietary DHA oil "supports brain health" are not based on credible scientific evidence, and are therefore misleading consumers.

"DHA is one of many naturally occurring omega-3 fatty acids, which scientists believe is beneficial when consumed through real, wholesome foods such as fish, flax seeds, nuts or grass fed milk and meat. But the DHA in Horizon's milk comes from a highly processed oil, extracted from fermented algae," says Charlotte Vallaeys, Director of Farm and Food Policy at The Cornucopia Institute, a non-profit research group based in Wisconsin. "There is little scientific evidence to support the claim that adding these manufactured oils to foods is in any way beneficial to children's cognitive development," she adds.

The algal oil is manufactured and marketed by Martek Biosciences Corporation, based in Maryland. The Cornucopia Institute has charged that food processors adding Martek's algal oils to organic foods are in violation of the Organic Food Production Act and USDA organic standards, which prohibit unapproved non-organically produced ingredients in organic foods.

As reported in the Washington Post, a former administrator at the USDA's National Organic Program, during the Bush administration, allowed these oils in organics after she was contacted by a corporate lobbyist who asked her to reinterpret the federal rules governing organic foods. Last year, the new director of the National Organic Program, which regulates organic foods on the US market, publicly stated that ingredients like Martek's oils have been allowed in organic foods due to an "incorrect" interpretation of the federal organic standards.

Under current organic standards, food processors may add essential nutrients to organic foods if they are covered under the Food and Drug Administration's official fortification rule. Essential nutrients that have been proven to benefit public health, like folic acid, which prevent birth defects, can legally be added to organic foods. But both the FDA and organic advocates advise against indiscriminate fortification of foods.

Earlier this week, on April 18, the National Organic Program made public a document by the Food and Drug Administration that clearly states that DHA oils are not "essential nutrients" and are not covered under the FDA's fortification policy.

Cornucopia stated that its research indicates that 90% of all organic milk brands are supplied by ethical family-scale farmers and do not include any questionable additives.

"These highly processed, novel ingredients do not belong in organic foods, and it is important to remember that very few processors are adding them. Companies like Dean Foods/Horizon realize that these are valuable marketing tools, designed to create a competitive advantage, even if science does not back up their marketing claims," states Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst with Cornucopia.

The FTC, the government agency charged by Congress for ensuring that companies advertise truthfully in the marketplace, has already sent a dozen warning letters to companies that use DHA algal oil as the basis for claims that their products benefit children's brain development.

In addition, The Cornucopia Institute is asking the FTC to investigate Dr. Alan Greene, a prominent pediatrician (who maintains a popular website advising parents) for allegedly making false statements to promote Dean's Horizon products. Cornucopia is also pursuing a separate professional ethics complaint against Dr. Greene.

In 2009, the European Food Safety Authority rejected a petition to allow a health claim related to DHA supplementation in milk for babies and toddlers and brain development, citing "insufficient" scientific data to support such a claim.

In its formal request to the FTC, the Cornucopia Institute lays out scientific data that shows that the addition of DHA to infant formula does not benefit babies' cognitive development.

Few clinical trials have been conducted to assess the benefits of Martek's oils for children's brain development, and those that have been conducted have largely shown no benefits exist. For example, an experiment by Martek Biosciences Corporation on 175 children, published in Clinical Pediatrics, concluded: "For each test [of cognitive development], results indicated that changes from baseline to end of treatment were not statistically significantly different between the docosahexaenoic acid group and the placebo group."

"Given that the FTC has already warned companies that they need convincing scientific evidence to substantiate their claims that DHA supplementation benefits brain development, it is disturbing to see a company flout these warnings and launch a major advertising campaign—centered around the very same claims that the FTC warned them against," says Vallaeys.



In 2009, the FDA formally requested certain companies to review their advertising and product packaging to ensure that they are not making any health-related claims for their products without competent and reliable scientific evidence to support the claims.

"That these unapproved DHA oils now serve as a marketing tool for Dean Foods/Horizon, without substantiation, only adds insult to injury for the ethical organic milk processors who respect the organic standards," says Vallaeys.

Only two organic dairy processors are currently adding Martek's DHA algal oil to its organic milk products—Horizon and Stremick's. Organic Valley’s milk with omega-3 DHA includes fish oil, which has been approved for use in organics.

The vast majority of organic dairy products on market shelves are produced in accordance to the organic standards, which prohibit synthetic pesticides, genetically engineered and modified organisms, antibiotics and artificial growth hormones, etc.

A scorecard of organic dairy brands is available on Cornucopia's website.

Dean Foods' marketing campaign:

Dean Foods/White Wave makes misleading claims regarding its Horizon milk with added omega-3 DHA. Cartons state "DHA Omega-3 Supports Brain Health." Print advertisements proclaim “Milk with DHA Omega-3 isn’t rocket science, but it is genius" and state "DHA Omega-3, a nutrient which supports healthy brain development"” and "it’s as delicious as it is smart." Another print ad states, "a smart move for growing brains."

Radio ads announce, "Kids are smart. Continue to help support their brain development with Horizon Organic DHA Omega-3 Milk." Television ads show a child beating her grandfather at a chess game, and calls the DHA-supplemented milk a "smart move."

The ads are run on Radio Disney, Disney FamilyFun magazine,,, and Print ads appear in American Baby, Better Homes and Gardens, Everyday Food, Family Circle, Fitness, Martha Stewart Living, Scholastic Parent and Child and Working Mother.

Dr. Greene Misleads Organic Consumers

According to The Cornucopia Institute, Dean Foods' online promotional materials are especially misleading given the presence of videos featuring Dr. Alan Greene, a pediatrician who endorses these products and gives consumers a false and misleading sense that the DHA oil has been medically proven to benefit health. Cornucopia asked the FTC to focus not only on Dean Foods/White Wave, but also include Dr. Alan Greene and his role in Dean Foods’ false and misleading advertising.

Dr. Greene's statements in the video seem aimed at scaring parents of young children into buying products with added DHA. In the video, he wears a stethoscope and uses phrases like "my big concerns," "it’s like the DHA is ripped away" and "you need to intentionally choose some way to get DHA into them," which are extremely powerful when spoken by a prominent pediatrician.

"Parents of young children are generally concerned about their child’s proper development, and these videos seem to be designed to profit from these concerns—to sell unnecessary products to well-meaning parents," says Kastel.

Dr. is a popular website sponsored by Dean Foods WhiteWave division.

"We have met with Dr. Greene on a number of occasions in an effort to encourage him to evaluate his ethical approach to this topic," stated Kastel. "But his zeal to promote DHA, without differentiating between natural and synthetic sources that might not actually be effective, was unwavering."

Kastel added: "Dr. Greene's response reminds me of the famous quote by Upton Sinclair, 'It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.'"

DHA oil linked to infant illness

Watch The Cornucopia Institute's 4-minute video.

Hundreds of reports have been filed with the Food and Drug Administration from parents who noticed that their infants experienced serious diarrhea, vomiting and other gastrointestinal problems when consuming infant formula with Martek's algal DHA and fungal ARA oils. A sampling of these reports clearly shows that the reactions disappear as soon as the infant is given equivalent formula without these novel ingredients.

Formula companies and Martek Biosciences Corporation have failed to perform adequate post-market surveillance to ensure the safety of their novel ingredients, despite a clear request from the Food and Drug Administration that additional safety studies be shared with the public.

The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit farm policy research group, is dedicated to the fight for economic justice for the family-scale farming community. Their Organic Integrity Project acts as a corporate and governmental watchdog assuring that no compromises to the credibility of organic farming methods and the food it produces are made in the pursuit of profit.

The Cornucopia Institute PO Box 126 Cornucopia, WI 54827

Monday, April 18, 2011

Monday, April 11, 2011

Lactose Intolerance?

Lactose intolerance, sensitivity or allergy — as with all dietary restrictions, really — certainly provides a challenge to those diagnosed with the condition. And, by extension, the family and friends with whom they share meals. Eating out particularly poses problems, as the lactose intolerant don't always know exactly how every ingredient they consume was processed. Fortunately, literally thousands of recipes exist for people needing to avoid dairy. Many of them even closely replicate the flavors and textures of favorite dishes now off-limits. The following 60 may not represent even a fraction of the options posted online for DIY types eager to whip up dairy-free delights. But they do showcase a sliver of the ethnic, flavor, texture and ingredient diversity available.
For home chefs wanting to use store-bought products, checking the labels for any sneaky dairy products is absolutely essential when filling the grocery cart. Many of the following recipes include margarine on their ingredients list, for example, which can possibly come blended with butter or other milk solids. When in doubt, pick up the vegan version for greater peace of mind and gastric health.
Appetizers and Sides
  1. Chickpea and Lental Paratha: Vegans and those avoiding soy, gluten, nuts and (of course) dairy should consider this lively, flavorful dish and its accompanying fenugreek-cilantro chutney as a lovely starter or side.
  2. Spinach and Strawberry Salad: This healthy, light eat comes packed with antioxidants and proves that salads don't need heavy, creamy dressing to be palatable.
  3. Roasted Eggplant Bruschetta: A perfectly roasted eggplant boasts an earthy flavor and creamy texture without any dairy whatsoever. This recipe works well for vegans (depending on the type of bread used) and the soy-free.
  4. Quinoa Tabouli: Enjoy common Mediterranean flavors in this lovely little vegan dish — also suitable for those with other assorted food allergies.
  5. Applesauce: There's nothing fancy about this simple, satisfying applesauce recipe. Eat it as a snack, dessert or nice accessory to pork chops.
  6. Parmesan-Artichoke Dip: Vegan cheese and milk alternatives allow the dairy-free to enjoy this piping hot classic without fear. Even those without dietary restrictions may want to give it a try, as it is healthier than the original.
  7. Guinness Chicken Wings: Startle friends and partygoers with these unexpectedly sweet, sticky chicken bits marinated in soy sauce, sugar and the eponymous Irish stout.
  8. Jicama with Chili and Lime: A common staple in Mexican cuisine, jicama makes for a terrifically refreshing lactose-free, vegan treat. Nothing more than a simple mix of chili and lime is needed to make it pop.
  9. New Orleans-Style Crab Cakes: Dairy-free, reduced-calorie margarine allows individuals and families with lactose problems a chance to enjoy decadent crab cakes safely.
  10. Homemade Hummus: Try this versatile Mediterranean and Middle Eastern staple as a sandwich spread or a dip for vegetables or a favorite unleavened bread.
  1. Lemonade: Both kids and adults, regardless of their ability to competently digest dairy, can delight in this refreshing summer classic.
  2. Rose Petal Iced Tea: Give the standard iced tea a fragrant, flavorful makeover by infusing the delicate floral taste of roses into the mix.
  3. Tofu-Based Buttermilk Alternative: Replicate the flavor of a dense, flavorful buttermilk using healthier — and of course, lactose-free — ingredients.
  4. Soy Milk Chai: Interestingly enough, this chai contains no tea whatsoever, but still wonderfully replicates the satisfyingly spicy, milky taste of a hot or cold cuppa.
  5. Strawberry-Orange Slushie: Cool off with this fruity treat that proves milkshake and malt drinkers don't have to have all the fun.
  6. Potato Milk: Whip up homemade potato milk — complete with almonds for the calcium — and drink it up whenever cravings for the lactose-laden version strikes.
  7. Wassail: Even though it possesses an association with the winter months, this aromatic, spicy apple cider can be enjoyed any time of year.
  8. Honey and Orange Blossom Lemonade: Whether lactose intolerant or sensitive, vegan, Celiac or other gluten-free restriction or a raw foodist, honey and orange blossom lemonade certainly satisfies a thirsting palate without stirring up trouble.
  9. Quinoa Chocolate Milk: Vegans and those with lactose, gluten, nut and soy restrictions can still enjoy a frothy cup of tasty chocolate milk using a combination of quinoa and cocoa powders blended with water.
  10. Peanut Butter and Banana Smoothie: Enjoy all the fun of a satisfying smoothing boasting a nostalgic childhood taste without worrying about what it might do to the digestive tract.
  1. Pumpkin Bread: Imagine a thick slice of warm, comforting pumpkin spice bread with a favorite tea, coffee or milk alternative starting off the day.
  2. Polenta and Fruit: When time is not an issue, settle in for a dairy-, egg-, soy- and gluten-free "cereal" of wholesome polenta and flavorful fruits. The effort will not go wasted.
  3. Turkey Sausage Patties: Carnivorous members of the dairy-free community will love noshing on these nourishing breakfast sausages packed with protein and spices.
  4. Vegan Crepes: Enjoy these thin, eggy pancakes…without eggs. Or any other dairy products for that matter! The best part is customizing them with a favorite topping.
  5. Vegan Coconut-Banana French Toast: This creamy, delicious and dense breakfast classic gets a tropical vegan twist suitable for plenty of different dietary restrictions.
  6. Granola: Splash some granola into a bowl of milk substitute or throw it into a fruit smoothie for a beautifully nourishing breakfast.
  7. Potatoes O'Brien: When pan-fried in olive oil, potatoes, onions and bell peppers create an excellent, heavy start to an incredibly busy day. These taste especially amazing with a splash of vinegar-based hot sauce.
  8. Asparagus Frittata: Both gluten- and dairy-free, a tasty, healthy asparagus frittata (or any of these excellent egg dishes) is sure to delight parents and kids alike.
  9. Vegan Lemon Pancakes: Individuals on strict dietary regimens don–t have to miss out on one of breakfast's most enduring staples!
  10. Blueberry Muffin: Baking with soy milk probably raises a few eyebrows in those unfamiliar with the art, but it's a nice way to ensure the lactose-free can enjoy some of their favorites sans anxiety.
  1. African Peanut Soup: Warm up a cup of this unique, satisfying soup either alone or with a nourishing (lactose-free, of course) sandwich for a quick lunch from home.
  2. Mock Tuna Salad: Enjoy the texture and flavor of a classic lunchtime staple without any animal products whatsoever — perfect for vegans and the lactose-free alike.
  3. Bagel and Lox: Pick up a package of guaranteed dairy-free bagels and substitute the traditional cream cheese with avocado for all the texture with none of the digestive disrupts.
  4. Mock Egg Salad: Replacing the mayonnaise with its vegan counterpart renders this deliciously messy dish a tasty, far healthier alternative to the real thing.
  5. Jalapeno Chicken Salad: Add a delicious (if not outright spicy) kick to one of lunchtime's absolute staples — and using vegan mayonnaise ramps up its nutritional value.
  6. Grilled Cheese Sandwich: When the hankering for a hunka (grilled) cheese descends, the lactose-free and vegans of the world don't have to miss out on its comforting flavor and texture!
  7. Barbecued Pulled Pork: Slow cook this meaty delight ahead of time and fashion quick sandwiches for work and school all week. If using commercial rather than homemade sauce, be sure to check for any milk solids that may have wormed their way into the recipe.
  8. Chicken Spring Rolls: The beauty of this simple, classic Asian recipe is the fact that the chicken can be replaced with turkey, tofu, shrimp, beef or pork to suit any particular dietary need or preference.
  9. Vegetarian or Chicken Pitas: Pick either of the provided fillings and stuff them in a pita with pistachios for a lunch as healthy as it is quick. Both the vegetarian and chicken recipes also make for nice wraps.
  10. Lettuce Wraps: Omit the beef for a healthier stuffing to this crisp, refreshing, Asian-inspired meal. These may be a smidge unwieldy and messy for lunchtime at the computer, though.
  1. Fettuccine Alfredo: Regardless of whether or not one includes the chicken with this recipe, he or she can still enjoy a traditionally creamy entree entirely sans dairy.
  2. Crock Pot Chicken Vindaloo: Enjoy a world-renowned dish from the Goa region of India straight from a simmering stint in the crock pot, with or without chicken depending on taste and dietary needs.
  3. Grilled Salmon: Soy sauce and brown sugar are all it takes to bring out the rich, oily flavors to be found in a slab of grilled salmon.
  4. Winter Squash with Apricot Stuffing: Serve up this vegan dish when a chill starts snapping through the air. Family and friends, regardless of whether or not they consume animal products, will come to consider this an essential comfort food.
  5. Pork Stew with Rosemary and Lemon: This dense meal concludes the day with flavor, warmth and absolutely no dairy products whatsoever.
  6. Quinoa and Black Beans: Fans of black beans and rice looking for a venerable interpretation of an old classic may want to experiment with quinoa.
  7. Pad Thai: Thailand's most popular dish abroad should be a flavorful cornerstone of every dairy-, soy- (though not every recipe will be as such) and gluten-free diet. A couple of tweaks can make it vegetarian as well.
  8. Wasabi Grilled Tuna: One of the most infamous condiments on the planet accompanies fresh slabs of grilled tuna in this sumptuous pescatarian entree.
  9. Pot Pie: Don't think of every meat or vegetable in pot pie as absolute. Depending on dietary preferences and needs, both can be adjusted rather easily.
  10. Shishlik: Fire up the grill and mix and match different meats and vegetables for the Israeli skewer treatment. Wrap the finished products into pita sandwiches or eat them straight off the stick for a dairy-free meal.
  1. Caramel Corn: In spite of the name, this Amish-style caramel corn does not utilize store-bought candies that may or may not have been produced with dairy.
  2. Vanilla Walnuts: Close out a meal with these sweet, spicy and crunchy treats, which also make for an excellent homemade gift.
  3. Strawberry Shortcake: This recipe uses no dairy or egg products for those with allergies or other conditions. It can also be adapted to bake delicious scones as well!
  4. Ashure: Traditionally served during Eid in Turkey, ashure takes a while to make, but the rich, flavorful results easily satisfy the sweet tooth of the lactose intolerant.
  5. Raw Brownies: Vegans, raw foodists and — of course — individuals unable to consume dairy products can still enjoy the chewy, chocolaty delight of a brownie without ever having to prepare their ovens.
  6. Tres Leches: Almond milk and cream of coconut form the base of a dairy-free alternative to the wildly popular Latin American dessert.
  7. Cranberry-Pistachio Biscotti: Close out an evening with a steaming mug of (obviously lactose-less) hot cocoa, coffee or tea and a couple of crisp, blissful biscotti.
  8. Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies: Parents hoping to share the joy of baking with their children will find flourless peanut butter cookies a nice starter project.
  9. Vegan Marshmallows: Vegan or not, marshmallows are not the easiest sweets to make. Try this recipe when looking for a challenge or a unique personal gift to friends and family who can't eat dairy.
  10. Basil-Lime Sorbet: Step outside on swarthy summer nights with a unique frozen dessert featuring some unexpected, but ultimately complimentary, flavors.

Thank you for reading,
Source:  Nursing Schools dot net and

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Follower Sunday: “Thank You Readership!” Guest-Chef Jill Weisenberger Puts the Delicious in Nutritious

By Anthony Sepe

Each Sunday, I thank my readership for their loyalty and dedication to my blog, by providing a healthy recipe.  For those that know, this is a healthy repeat, but for those that are unaware and are new to the blog, this is my way of “giving back.”  It is also a way to “Pay it Forward.”  Each Sunday, not only will you have a healthy recipe, but you will have an expert in the field of dietetics, food and nutrition, provide the healthy recipe to you.  It is my pleasure to introduce to you this week, my colleague, Jill Weisenberger, M.S., RD, CDE,  and her recipe:  Jill’s Delicious & Nutritious, Reduced-Fat Pumpkin Bread.”

About Jill Weisenberger, M.S., RD, CDE


Jill Weisenberger, M.S., RD,CDE

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., RD, CDE speaks, writes and cooks up all things nutrition and diabetes. Her work has appeared in Diabetic Living, Diabetic Cooking, Environmental Nutrition, Lifescript, newsletters for the American Institute for Cancer Research and other national publications. When she’s not writing health articles, creating something in the kitchen, consulting to businesses or counseling patients to improve their diets and lifestyles, she’s out enjoying mountain biking with her family or somewhere relaxing with a teeny tiny bite of chocolate (or two). Find her at


Jill’s Delicious & Nutritious, Reduced-Fat Pumpkin Bread

Tip:  The Greek yogurt makes this so moist that no will know it’s reduced-fat.


  1. ¾ cup canned pumpkin
  2. 1 egg or 2 egg whites
  3. ¼ cup canola oil
  4. ½ cup light brown sugar, packed
  5. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  6. 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  7. 1/3 cup whole-wheat flour
  8. 1 teaspoon baking soda
  9. 1 teaspoon baking powder
  10. ¼ cup fat-free Greek yogurt, plain
  11. ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  12. ¼ teaspoon allspice
  13. 1/8 teaspoon clove


1. Preheat oven to 375F. Spray a 9 x 5-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray.

2. In a large bowl, mix together the pumpkin, egg, oil, brown sugar and vanilla.

3. In a small bowl, mix the all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, baking soda, baking powder and spices. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.

4. Gently fold in the Greek yogurt. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Yield: 14 slices


Remember to contact Jill at the following link:

Thank you for reading,


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Lorenza Muñoz ponders Mexican vegetarian cooking

By Lorenza Muñoz, Special to the Los Angeles Times

April 7, 2011

The joys of Mexican vegetarian dishes

“…Though I am not a vegetarian, increasingly I have come to enjoy the simplicity and lightness of such meals. But looking through Mexican cookbooks in search of meatless recipes, I found that the pickings were slim. Mexican vegetables such as chayote, zucchini, corn, verdolagas (purslane) and sweet potatoes seem to be used most often to augment stews or complement meat dishes. “


My Mexican grandfather used to say that salads were for rabbits. My Mexican father thinks a good steak cures any stomach ailment. And a Mexican friend used to joke that a pet pig that lived near my old Westside neighborhood would last approximately two seconds in his Eastside neighborhood before being kidnapped, placed on a spit and barbecued over an outdoor pit.

Indeed, Mexicans love their meat, and the cuisine is renowned for its carnitas, tacos al pastor, beef stews and barbecued goat. But what about Mexican vegetarian meals?
Though I am not a vegetarian, increasingly I have come to enjoy the simplicity and lightness of such meals. But looking through Mexican cookbooks in search of meatless recipes, I found that the pickings were slim. Mexican vegetables such as chayote, zucchini, corn, verdolagas (purslane) and sweet potatoes seem to be used most often to augment stews or complement meat dishes.

Some of the vegetarian dishes I did find consisted of such New Age California inventions as substituting raw walnuts for "taco meat" or stuffing enchiladas with tofu.
But meatless dishes actually have a long history in Mexican cuisine. The diet of the Aztecs and other Indians was heavy on grains, fruits and vegetables, and it wasn't until the Spaniards colonized Mexico that the carnivorous culture of pork and beef really became the backbone of what we now consider Mexican food.

One of the biggest obstacles to eating purely vegetarian food in Mexico today is the use of lard and chicken stock. But if you are cooking at home, a lot of onions and a dash of olive oil will make up for the missing lard in most dishes, and vegetable broth is an easy substitute for chicken stock.

And it's not just a matter of substitutions. It turns out there are many purely vegetarian dishes that are authentically Mexican, filling and interesting in their complexity. One of my favorite ingredients is huitlacoche — known here as corn fungus or corn smut. There is nothing subtle or simple about huitlacoche. It's true that its black fungus-y appearance is a bit startling, but its pungent, earthy taste combines beautifully with sautéed serrano peppers, chopped onion and garlic. Nobel laureate Octavio Paz wrote that huitlacoche, which the Aztecs also enjoyed, is a symbol of Mexican culture with its communion of flavors, passionate color and robustness.

Growing up, we would warm a tortilla on the comal (a metal plate that can be placed directly over the flame) with a slice of Oaxaca cheese and a generous helping of huitlacoche and fold it over like a quesadilla. You can also leave out the cheese and eat it like a taco. In some of Mexico's finest restaurants, huitlacoche is treated like a truffle. Mexico City's Hacienda de los Morales is famous in part because of its crepes smothered with huitlacoche. Another popular dish that is a remnant of the French influence in Mexico is a huitlacoche soufflé.

Huitlacoche is difficult to find fresh in Southern California, but the canned version makes a very good substitute.

But Mexican vegetarian dishes don't have to be so exotic. Mushrooms sauteed with Pasilla chile and the herb epazote, both of which can be bought at just about any Mexican market, is another favorite of mine. I like to cook oyster, shiitake and thinly sliced brown mushrooms with lots of garlic and then serve it over a bed of rice and a mixed greens salad on the side.

Even the humble zucchini can take a starring role. Stew cubed squash with onion, serrano peppers, a little tomato and corn, and use that as a taco filling. In summer, I add zucchini blossoms.

A major contributor to my vegetarian meals is the poblano chile, a slightly sweet and usually mild pepper that has a rich, smoky flavor. Rajaspeeled and cut poblano strips with sautéed onions — make a terrific taco stuffing, but I also use it as the "meat" for a lasagna. (Why not? I live in Los Angeles, where we create our own cuisine.)

Layer this with noodles and a Mexican version of ricotta (mix sour cream and salty cotija cheese in the food processor to the consistency of cottage cheese). It's so easy to make and so delicious that it's now a staple of my dinner parties.

Who needs tofu enchiladas and walnut tacos?

Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Powered by LSN, Inc.
Story posted 2011.04.08 at 04:52 PM PDT