Bladder Friendly Mexican Cuisine – Part 2 of 2 – Fresh Tastes by Bev
By Bev Laumann, Author of A Taste of The Good Life: A Cookbook for IC & OAB
Given that the cuisine of Mexico is so varied, we actually have more choices than one would think. Not everything is chile pepper hot or made with tomatoes. It is however a cuisine of simple, natural foods and home-cooking. And that makes it ideal for adapting to our needs.
Raw and cooked vegetables figure prominently at Mexican meals. One vegetable that is appearing in more and more U.S. stores these days, is jicama. Chopped or grated fresh jicama (the white flesh of an onion-shaped, tan, rough skinned vegetable) is a crunchy addition to dips and at only 10 calories per ounce, it makes an excellent low-cal snack. It has a mild non-acidic flavor. In place of a salad, try dipping raw peeled jicama, carrots, radishes, and celery in a little salt. Kids love this kind of crunchy “salad” they can eat with their fingers!
Another vegetable often used in Mexican cooking is the chayote. It’s a squash-like vegetable shaped somewhat like a pear with a smooth green surface and a puckered end. It’s often peeled and sliced, then cooked up with plantains (cooking bananas) for a side dish. Plantains look somewhat like bananas, only they are not eaten like a banana. In Mexico they are cooked, often with beans or other vegetables. They are steamed or more often fried. Plantains are only a little sweet, unlike a banana. Plantains are more like a potato and are used that way in Mexican cooking.
Bananas and other tropical fruits are used with vegetables in ways we aren’t accustomed to here. The delicious recipe below originally combined cooked chayote squash with pineapple, plantains, and anise (another favorite seasoning in Mexico). To make it more bladder-friendly I substituted a green banana for the acidic pineapple and plantains. It’s absolutely delicious made this way (my husband loves it) and it is great when served with grilled fish or chicken.
CHAYOTE AND GREEN BANANA IN ANISE BUTTER
– serves 2
- 2 Tbsp. butter or margarine
1 chayote, peeled
1/2 tsp. anise seed, crushed
1 green banana
- Melt the butter in a covered skillet over medium heat. Meanwhile, cut the peeled chayote in quarters. Cut out the pithy core from each quarter, as you would a pear. Slice the chayote in thin slices about 1/4-inch thick. Place chayote in the melted butter in the skillet, in a single layer as much as possible. Cover and cook about seven minutes, then turn over slices with a fork. Cover again and cook another seven minutes. Meanwhile peel the banana and slice in 1/4-inch rounds. Sprinkle anise on top of the chayote and then layer the banana slices on top. Cover and continue cooking another 3 or 4 minutes until both banana and chayote is soft and flavors have blended. Scoop carefully into a serving dish and pour butter sauce over.
Note: Don’t use ripe bananas… they’ll fall apart right away.
Soups, Stews and Main Dishes
One of the dishes Mexico is famous for is the puchero, a kind of Mexican stew. Named for the clay pot the dish is cooked in, it begins as a classic Old World Spanish dish combining meats, vegetables, and legumes. But the Mexican version adds foods from the New World, including potatoes, chiles, corn and plantains. Each region of Mexico has its own slant on this dish. Puchero may be served as a one-dish meal, like stew is here in the U.S., or it can be eaten in parts. When served that way, the broth is eaten as a soup course, followed by the meat and vegetables served separately. Puchero can be very filling and quite delicious– and is not always made with tomatoes or chiles. If you see it on a menu at a Mexican restaurant, it’s definitely worth asking about.
Like stews, hearty soups with a beef base are also often eaten as family meals, particularly in Mexico’s cattle ranching regions. Here is a hearty and inexpensive meatball soup flavored with an interesting combination of mint and onion. The soup is filling and with some tortilla chips or warm buttered tortillas, makes a wonderful meal. As is traditional in Mexico, the soup is thickened with pureed vegetables rather than flour or cornstarch.
SOPA DE ALBONDIGAS (MEATBALL SOUP)
– serves 4
Puree for thickening:
- 1-1/4 c. water
- 1/4 c. Vidalia or Maui onions, diced
- 3/4 c. baking potatoes, diced
- 1/3 c. carrots, peeled and diced
- 1/4 c. celery, diced OR 1/4 c. frozen peas
- 1 garlic clove, sliced
- 2-1/2 cups beef broth, additive-free (Health Valley makes a good brand)
- 1/2 c. water
- 2 Tbsp. sherry
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 tsp. dried parsley
- 1 lb. lean ground beef
- 1 egg
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper (optional)
- 2 Tbsp. fresh mint leaves, chopped fine
- 1/2 c. green onion, chopped
- all-purpose flour
- vegetable oil
- 1/3 c. uncooked white rice
- salt to taste
Add the water for puree to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, rinse diced onions in a sieve under cold running water (to help remove sulfur acids). Add onions and remaining vegetables for the puree. When mixture returns to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook 20 minutes. Let cool slightly then puree in a blender or food processor until smooth. (Can be frozen for later use at this point.) You can make the soup while you let the puree cool a bit.
In a large saucepan combine the beef broth for the soup, water, sherry, bay leaf, and parsley. Place soup over medium heat and simmer. Add the puree.
In a bowl combine the ground beef, egg, pepper, mint, and green onion for the meatballs. Mix meatball ingredients well. Pour a bit of oil into a skillet and heat. Form meatballs about 1-1/4 inches across. Roll meatballs in flour to lightly coat, and fry in oil until browned. As batches of meatballs are done, drop into
hot simmering soup. In the hot skillet you used to fry the meatballs, fry rice in a little oil until rice becomes white and opaque and some grains turn golden. Stir while cooking, scraping up browned bits. Drop rice into hot soup. Cover and simmer soup until rice is tender, about 25 minutes. Add salt to taste. Add water or beef broth as needed if too much has boiled off. Remove bay leaf and serve.
Note: It’s well worth the trouble to make a double batch then freeze half. It keeps well for a month or two if frozen. Also, you don’t have to thicken it…. or you can thicken it to the point of being a thick stew. It’s great either way.
What could be more authentically Mexican than a good cup of coffee– low-acid decaffeinated of course? For those of us who can get away with a bit of decaf coffee if it is low-acid enough, here is some good news. Chlorogenic acid, along with tannins and caffeine, is one of many bladder-irritating substances found in coffee. This substance has also been the subject of debate for many years concerning its possible role in the indigestion and intestinal distress some people have when they drink coffee. For tender IC bladders of course, removing the caffeine from coffee is only half the battle. We still have to contend with the acids. Some coffee beans are naturally low in acid but even those beans may not be low-acid enough for some of us.
Now a company in Little Rock Arkansas, Coffee Legends, has recently introduced a water-process decaffeinated coffee that has had a lot of the acid removed too (by a non-chemical process involving steam, pressure, and vacuum). Marketed under the brand “Johann Wullf’s”, the company has blended various arabica beans and offers several kinds of acid-reduced coffees (whole bean and ground). One of these acid-reduced coffees is also decaffeinated. (It is sold in some supermarkets now, and if yours doesn’t carry it, consider asking the store manager to give it a trial. The company’s address is 18 River Valley Road, Little Rock Arkansas 72227). They
have a toll free number to order coffee and have it shipped to you (1-888-376-2777) and a web site where you can also order coffee beans (www.theconsideratecoffee.com).
I tried their low-acid decaf and indeed it did seem to give me less bladder symptoms than any other low-acid decaf coffees I’ve tried. The de-acidifying process has altered the taste a tiny bit (which isn’t bad). The price for whole beans seemed to be a little steep– at almost $11.00 for 12 ounces of whole
beans– but if you enjoy real coffee, this might be just the thing that allows you to drink it again. (And don’t forget, if it still is a bit too acid, there’s always Prelief, Coffee Tamer, Tums, etc. to help out).
Desserts and Sweets
Now what to have with our coffee? Churros are in Mexico what doughnuts are in the U.S. But rather than being round, these are like long sticks. They are especially wonderful when freshly made and served warm. (I like dunking them in hot chamomile tea).
2 cups vegetable oil
1 cup water
1/2 cup margarine
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
Combine water, margarine and salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil, then stir in the flour. Continue stirring and cooking for about another minute over low heat until the mixture forms a ball. Remove from heat and beat in the eggs. Continue beating until smooth. Pour oil into a heavy skillet until it is about 1-1/2 inches deep. Place over heat and bring temperature to 360 degrees F.
Scoop the dough into a cake decorating tube with a large star tip. Squeeze 4-inch strips of dough into hot oil and fry until golden brown, turning once. Fry about 2 minutes on each side. You can do batches of 3 or 4 at a time. Drain churros on paper towels. Mix sugar and cinnamon in a bag. Shake the churros in the sugar mixture.
And here’s another great tasting Mexican treat– bizcochitos. These traditional thin, crisp sugar cookies are made any time of the year, but are always seen at fiestas and holidays such as Christmas. This version of the cookie was originally given to me by Maria T. from El Paso, Texas. and has become one of my favorite cookies.
MARIA’S ORANGE BIZCOCHITOS
– makes about 48
- 2-1/4 c. all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
- 1-1/2 c. sugar
- 1 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 large egg
- 1 egg white
- 1-3/4 tsp. anise seed, crushed
- 2 tsp. water
- 1/2 tsp. orange extract OR 3/4 tsp. freshly grated orange peel
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 Tbsp. sugar
- Mix together in a bowl the flour, baking powder, and cream of tartar. In another bowl cream together the 1-1/2 cups sugar and the butter until fluffy. Beat the egg, egg white, anise seed, water, and extract into the butter mixture. Gradually stir in the dry ingredients. Gather dough into a ball, place in a plastic bag or in a covered bowl. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix together in a small bowl the tablespoon of sugar and the cinnamon, then set aside. Form dough into balls about an inch across. Place on cookie sheet and flatten with fingers slightly to discs about 1/4-inch thick. Space cookies about an inch apart because they will spread and become thin. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar if desired. Bake at 350 degrees F. until they just begin to turn golden around the edges, about 10 to 12 minutes. (Watch the last two minutes that they don’t burn). Remove immediately and cool on racks.
Note: Those with vulvodynia who are sensitive to dietary oxalates might want to omit or cut back on the cinnamon and use orange extract rather than the grated orange peel.