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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarians in Paradise
 Vegetarian Cooking with Zel

A Joint Celebration
of National Mexican American Heritage Month
and Vegetarian Awareness Month

This special feature honors National Mexican American Heritage month occurring from September 15 through October 15 along with World Vegetarian Day on October 1 and leading into October's Vegetarian Awareness Month. World Vegetarian Day was jumpstarted in 1977 by the North American Vegetarian Society and endorsed by the International Vegetarian Union in 1978.

As Vegetarian Awareness Month comes to a close, World Vegan Day follows on November 1, an annual event created by The Vegan Society UK in 1994 to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

These events bring vegetarians and vegans together worldwide to celebrate animal rights and compassionate eating with local events like street fairs, potluck gatherings, tree plantings, film showings, and food samplings.

Vegans can also celebrate National Mexican American Heritage month with the following Mexican recipes below that have been deliciously veganized.

A little history

The North American Vegetarian Society initiated World Vegetarian Day to bring awareness of the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle and make people inform others of the ethical, environmental, health, and humanitarian aspects of eating a diet free of animal products.

National Mexican American Heritage Month began in 1968 with a week-long celebration during President Lyndon Johnson's term and was declared a month-long celebration during President Ronald Reagan's time in office.

The following three recipes originated in different regions of Mexico. I had fun adapting them, turning them into delicious vegan specialties that promote a healthier lifestyle. While the original recipes were considerably more labor intensive, I streamlined them to make it easier for everyone to prepare and enjoy their exceptional flavors.

Chiles en Nogada has a colorful, historic beginning. In the year 1821, the nuns in the central state of Puebla in Mexico were asked to prepare a very special dish to honor Augustin de Iturbide, a military chieftain who was coming to Puebla to celebrate Mexican Independence Day, an event he helped champion. Mexican Independence Day falls on September 16 and sparks the recent month-long Mexican heritage celebration.

The nuns came through in grand style with Chiles en Nogada, a sensational dish unlike any other in Mexican cuisine. The dish consists of poblano chiles that are stuffed with fruits and vegetables of the season and then blanketed in a creamy white walnut sauce. The chiles are garnished with pomegranate seeds and chopped green onions to represent the colors of the Mexican flag.

The recipe is so appealing and so festive looking, I felt it deserved a place at the holiday table from Thanksgiving through New Years. There's just one little hitch that's easily solved. Peaches are no longer available in November or December, but sweet fruits like persimmons and pears stand in quite well.

Once all the chiles are charred and cleaned and the fruits and vegetables are chopped, the recipe comes together quickly and can be prepared in stages.

Chiles en Nogada


Yield: 8 servings

    8 fresh poblano peppers

    1/2 medium onion, chopped
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    3 to 4 tablespoons water

    1 (14-ounce/395g) can diced tomatoes, drained
    1 medium zucchini, diced
    1 medium tomato, diced
    1 bay leaf
    3/4 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
    Pinch ground cloves

    1 (15-ounce/424g) can black beans, rinsed and drained
    1 medium apple, cored, and diced
    1 firm fresh peach, persimmon, or pear, cored and diced
    1/4 cup (60 ml) golden raisins
    1/4 cup (60 ml) sliced or slivered toasted almonds

    3 cups (720 ml) vanilla soymilk or plain soymilk with 2 teaspoons organic sugar added
    2 cups (480 ml) walnuts
    3/4 cup (180 ml) non-dairy shredded mozzarella
    Pinch salt
    Freshly ground black pepper

    8 large romaine lettuce leaves
    3/4 cup (180 ml) pomegranate seeds or 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
    4 green onions, green part only, chopped

  1. Have ready a large rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment or a Silpat.
  2. TO PREPARE THE CHILES, put the poblano peppers directly over a gas flame, using several burners simultaneously. Working with long-handled tongs, turn the peppers frequently until blistered and blackened on all sides, about 5 to 7 minutes. Put the blackened peppers into a bag or wrap them in a towel and set aside for about 5 to 10 minutes to loosen the skins. Alternatively, plunge the blackened peppers into a bowl of water. Rub off the skins under running water to clean the charred chiles.
  3. Carefully cut a vertical slit in each chile and cut out and discard the core and any stray seeds. Arrange the chiles on the baking sheet and set aside.
  4. TO PREPARE THE FILLING, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. (Gas Mark 4) Combine the onion, garlic, and water in a large deep skillet. Cook and stir over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until lightly browned, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add 1 or more tablespoons of water as needed to cook the onions and prevent burning.
  5. Add the diced tomatoes, zucchini, fresh tomato, bay leaf, salt, cinnamon, cumin, and cloves and cook about 3 to 4 minutes.
  6. Add the black beans, apple, peach, raisins, and almonds and cook about 3 to 4 minutes, or until the fruits are just softened.
  7. Open the slits in the chiles and spoon a generous portion of filling into each of them, filling them fully. Close the slits, enclosing the filling completely. Put the chiles in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes to warm through.
  8. TO PREPARE THE SAUCE, put the soymilk, walnuts, mozzarella, salt, and pepper in a blender and process until smooth and creamy.
  9. TO SERVE, line each person's dish with a lettuce leaf. Put one stuffed poblano on each dish and spoon a generous amount of the sauce over the top and sides, coating each one completely. Garnish with a generous sprinkle of pomegranate seeds or chopped red bell pepper and green onions.

This is my vegan version of a delicious ceviche prepared in the style chefs of Veracruz might serve. In this region at the southern end of Mexico, green olives and capers are popular additions to many recipes, contributing pungent flavor to a variety of dishes. Another facet that makes this version unique is that the vegetable ingredients are cooked rather than served raw like most versions of ceviche. Standing in for the fish is firm tofu marinated in lime juice for 24 hours.

Ceviche a la Veracruzana


Adapted from Authentic Mexican Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico by Rick Bayless

Yield: about 6 to 8 servings as a side dish

    1 pound (453g) firm tofu, well drained
    1 1/4 cups (300 ml) fresh lime juice
    1 1/4 teaspoons salt

    30 small stuffed Spanish olives or 20 large, coarsely chopped, divided
    3 tablespoons capers, divided

    1/2 pickled jalapeno, seeded and thinly sliced
    1 tablespoon pickling juices from the jalapenos
    3/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
    3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
    2 tablespoons chopped parsley plus extra sprigs for garnish
    3 bay leaves
    1 3-inch (7.62 cm) cinnamon stick
    2 whole cloves
    1/4 teaspoon pepper
    1 cup (240 ml) vegetable broth
    Salt to taste

    2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    1 medium onion, thinly sliced

    2 cloves garlic, minced
    1 (14-ounce/396g) can diced tomatoes, drained

    2 jalapeno peppers, sliced crosswise or 1/2 avocado, sliced for garnish

  1. TO PREPARE THE TOFU, drain and rinse it and squeeze out any excess water with your hands. Put the tofu block on a cutting board and cut it lengthwise into 1/4-inch (0.635 cm) thick pieces. Lay them flat and cut each slice into thirds, lengthwise. Cut the strips into bite-size pieces or slightly larger if preferred. Put the tofu in a large Tupperware-style container and pour in the lime juice and salt. Cover securely and shake the container to mix well. Chill for several hours to marinate the tofu, shaking the container several times to distribute the juice throughout.
  2. TO PREPARE THE SAUCE, divide the olives and capers in half. Put 1/2 into a small bowl and set aside for garnish.
  3. Put the other 1/2 into a medium bowl and add the pickled jalapeno, pickling juices, marjoram, thyme, parsley, bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves, pepper, and vegetable broth. Set aside near the stovetop.
  4. Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet and add the onion. Cook over medium-high heat for about 5 to 7 minutes, or until softened and lightly browned, adding 1 or more tablespoons of water as needed to cook the onions and prevent burning. When the onions are soft, add the garlic and cook 1 minute.
  5. Add the tomatoes and the reserved olives in the medium bowl to the skillet, and cook about 3 minutes to blend flavors. Adjust seasonings if needed.
  6. About 15 to 20 minutes before serving, drain the liquid from the marinated tofu and put the tofu on a large platter. Spoon the cooked tomato mixture over the tofu along with its juices.
  7. Garnish the top with the reserved olives and capers and arrange parsley sprigs attractively. Finish with a border of sliced jalapeno peppers or avocado slices.

Nopales are the large, ear-like paddles of the prickly pear or opuntia cactus. The paddles are cut into little pieces, cleaned of their many prickly thorns, cooked, and turned into a delicious salad. While Mexican cuisine does not feature the array of salads that are so popular in American cuisine, it does offer this tasty salad that can be served as a delicious side dish to any meal. Like most national dishes, there are many variations. This version comes from Jalisco, a state on the central West Coast of Mexico.

Ensalada de Nopalitos

Adapted from The Art of Mexican Cooking by Diana Kennedy

Yield: about 6 generous servings

    The Salad
    6 cups (1.5 liters) water
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon baking soda

    1 pound (453g) of fresh nopales (cactus paddles)
    Green portion from 2 green onions, chopped

    1/3 cup (80 ml) chopped onions
    1/2 cup (120 ml) chopped cilantro
    1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
    1/2 to 2 pickled jalapenos, sliced into thin slivers, seeds discarded

    2 medium tomatoes, diced
    1/2 cup (120 ml) chopped cilantro
    1/3 cup (80 ml) vegan Jack or mozzarella cheese, shredded
    1/4 purple onion, thinly sliced into half moons
    1 avocado, cut in half lengthwise and sliced or 2 jalapenos, sliced crosswise

  1. TO PREPARE THE CACTUS SALAD, put the water, salt, and baking soda into a 4-quart (4 liter) saucepan. Cover the pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, cut each cactus paddle lengthwise into 1/4-inch (0.635 cm) wide strips, then, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch (0.635 cm) pieces. Toss them into the boiling water along with the green onion tops. Reduce the heat slightly and watch carefully to avoid a messy boil-over. Boil uncovered for 15 minutes.
  2. Drain the water through a colander and rinse the cooked cactus thoroughly in cold water until the nopales are free of slimy texture. Transfer the cooked cactus to a medium bowl and add the chopped onions, cilantro, oregano, lime juice, and pickled jalapeno. Set aside to marinate for at least 1 hour.
  3. TO SERVE, stir the mixture and adjust seasonings. Spoon the cactus salad onto a large platter, leaving a border. Garnish the top with the tomatoes and cilantro. Sprinkle the cheese over the top and garnish the border with the purple onions and sliced avocado or jalapenos.

Purchase nopales (cactus paddles) that are firm and unwrinkled and that have been cleaned of their sharp thorns. If unavailable, use tongs, gloves, and a sharp paring knife to remove each of them carefully. Do not peel the nopales. Cut away and discard the tough base and any brown or discolored spots. Trim the skin all around the spine.

Click here for past cookingwithzel@home.comeonin recipes

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