Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Healthier cooking techniques for tropical cuisine

Cooking skills tend to be passed down from generation to generation. This is especially true of households in the tropics where it is common for children to learn how to cook by helping their mothers and grandmothers in the kitchen.

However, many of the cooking techniques used in tropical cuisine aren't the healthiest options for everyday use. Below are some alternatives to cooking traditional tropical foods:

Instead of frying, steam foods such as fish and veggies, or sautée them in a little broth. If family members resist, top the dish with a favorite tropical fruit salsa that will have your family begging for more. Or squeeze a lot of lemon or lime on the foods to get maximum zing of tropical flavor.

Steaming is easier, healthier, and less messy than frying. To the taste up a few notches, use meat or vegetable flavored both instead of water or add seasonings to the water (dried herbs and red chiles), it'll flavor the food as it cooks.

Buy extra-virgin olive oil whenever possible and use it for sauteeing or drizzling over vegetables. If you find the flavor of olive oil too strong, try heart-healthy canola oil instead. Remember, when frying or sauteeing use only 2-3 tablespoons of oil per pan.

Another healthy tip: don't reuse oil, as our grandmothers commonly did.

Limit your use of lard; use it only special occasions when making traditional dishes that absolutely need it for flavor. When using lard choose the fresh variety and stay away from hydrogenated shortenings such as Crisco.

You can bake seafood, poultry, lean meat, vegetables and even fruit. Baking makes for an easier clean up if you line your baking dish with foil.

Roasting is like baking, but typically at higher temperatures; it's a good technique for sturdy veggies such as boniatos, calabaza, etc.

You can bake traditional tropical ingredients such as plantains for a healthier version of tostones. Also, bake corn tortillas to make them crunchier and use them with tostadas or corn chips.

When pressed for time, quick-steam vegetables in the microwave with a little water and covered with wax paper (never use plastic wrap).

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