May 13, 2013

Every Monday, I ask my students to share something from their weekend. The majority of the students I teach hail from Latin America including Guatemala, El Salvador and Mexico. I often hear about what their mothers cooked for dinner to share a meal with their family and friends. I've learned there are many Latin dishes that are only for special occasions and only for when there is time to sit and enjoy the food.

Before I started teaching English Language Learners, I'd never heard of caldo, pozole, pupusas or tamales. Now I hear those words often and have learned more about foods from the Latin American culture.

My students really look forward to sharing about their weekends on Monday. They always ask me if we are going to share today. We pass around a stuffed animal to hold when it's our turn to share. Through this special time I've learned caldo is a traditional beef and vegetable soup, pozole is a stew made with pork and chili peppers, pupusas are a traditional Salvadoran dish made of a thick, handmade corn tortilla filled with pork and cheese, and tamales are corn-based dough filled with meat, cheese or vegetable and steamed in a corn husk. Once a dear student of mine named Edith brought me a pupusa on Monday morning for me to have for lunch.

My family's favorite activity is attending outdoor festivals in Des Moines. We love to soak in the culture, sample new foods, listen to live music, and watch the performances. Some of our favorite festivals include CelebrAsian (the Asian festival held this past weekend on the lawn of the Capitol), the Latino Heritage Festival on the downtown bridges in early September and the World Food Festival in the East Village in late September.

Besides sampling food and dancing with our 5-year-old son, Kellan, my other favorite thing to do is to spot smiling students from my school in the crowd, enjoying time with their families.

Chicken Tortilla Casserole

My colleague, Brooke Hackert, the instructional coach at my school, came across this healthified version of chicken tortilla casserole. According to, "healthified" means a recipe in which some ingredients have been replaced with great tasting alternatives to create better-for-you recipes that are just as yummy as the original.

I have seen many versions of oven baked creamy chicken enchiladas, but this is the first low-fat one I've seen so I had to give it a try.

I used rotisserie chicken for extra flavor and moistness and I also doubled the chili powder and cumin. This is a low sodium recipe, so feel free to add a little salt if you wish.

1 can (10 3/4 oz) 98 percent fat free 45 percent less sodium condensed cream of chicken soup

1 can (4.5 oz) chopped green chiles

1 container (8 oz) fat-free sour cream

1/2 cup fat-free (skim) milk

1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

2 1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast

8 yellow corn tortillas (6 or 7 inch), torn into bite-size pieces

1 medium green bell pepper, chopped (1 cup)

1 large tomato, chopped (1 cup)

1 1/2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese or Mexican cheese blend (6 oz)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 13x9-inch (3-quart) glass baking dish with cooking spray. In large bowl, mix soup, chiles, sour cream, milk, chili powder and cumin until blended. Stir in chicken, tortillas and bell pepper. Stir in tomato and 1 cup of the cheese. Spoon and spread mixture in baking dish.

Cover with foil. Bake 40 minutes. Uncover; sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Bake uncovered 5 to 10 minutes longer or until cheese is melted and mixture is bubbly. Let stand 5 minutes.

Makes 8 servings (one serving is 5 Weight Watchers points).

Chicken Sonora

While I was in college at the University of Iowa, I baby sat for a family of three children, ages 2, 4 and 6. We did all sorts of fun things together including taking them to the library for the very first time. I was even entrusted to their care while their parents went on a ski trip to Breckenridge.

One evening I was asked to stay for dinner, and the mother made this recipe and I wrote it down on a scrap of paper to make for my future family one day.

6 large bone-in chicken breast halves

1 (10 oz) can cream of mushroom soup

1 (10 oz) can cream of chicken soup

1 (15 oz) can chili, no beans

1 cup picante sauce

1/2 cup milk

1 small onion, chopped

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

12 corn tortillas, torn into strips

1 (8 oz) package shredded Cheddar cheese

1 (8 oz) package shredded Monterey Jack cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place chicken in a baking dish. Cover and bake for 1 hour in preheated oven. Remove chicken from dish and allow to cool. Remove meat from bone and tear into small pieces.

Meanwhile, mix the cream of mushroom soup, the cream of chicken soup, chili, picante sauce, milk, onion, cumin, and garlic powder in a large bowl.

Spread half the shredded chicken into the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Cover the chicken with half of the tortilla pieces. Pour half of the sauce on top of the tortillas; sprinkle half the Cheddar cheese and Monterey Jack cheese evenly over the dish. Repeat the layers with the rest of the ingredients.

Bake in preheated oven until all the cheese has melted and sauce mixture is bubbling, 35 to 40 minutes.

Makes 8 servings.

Mexican Coleslaw

Alongside Salvadoran pupusas, coleslaw and hot sauce are served. The coleslaw is oil and vinegar-based and is a crunchy contrast to the crispy, hot pupusa filled with pork and cheese.

This recipe comes from "EatingWell Diabetes Cookbook" and is a more healthful alternative to traditional coleslaw for your next picnic or barbecue.

6 cups very thinly sliced green cabbage, (about 1/2 head)

1 1/2 cups peeled and grated carrots, (2-3 medium)

1/3 cup chopped cilantro

1/4 cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

Place cabbage and carrots in a colander; rinse thoroughly with cold water to crisp. Let drain for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk vinegar, oil and salt in a large bowl. Add cabbage and carrots; toss well to coat. Add cilantro right before serving.


Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day. Toss again to refresh just before serving.

To make this coleslaw even faster, use a coleslaw mix containing cabbage and carrots from the produce section of the supermarket.

If you like, add chopped tomatoes and mild, diced jalapenos to this coleslaw.

Arroz con Leche

Arroz con leche means "rice with milk" in Spanish. It's the Latin version of traditional rice pudding. I often buy a cup of arroz con leche at outdoor festivals. It's creamy and sweet and served hot.

This rich and decadent recipe arroz con leche comes from Ingrid Hoffman, a Colombian-American host on the Food Network.

3 cups whole milk

1 1/4 cup water

1 cup rice, short or medium grain

2 cinnamon sticks

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk

1/2 cup raisins, soaked in warm water to soften

2 teaspoons vanilla

butter for topping *optional

Bring whole milk and water to a slow simmer in a large pot, over medium/low heat. Stir in rice, add in cinnamon sticks and barely simmer, uncovered, until rice is softened which should be about 20-30 minutes. Stir occasionally. When rice is soft, remove cinnamon sticks and stir in condensed milk, vanilla, salt and raisins. Return to a slight simmer and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed and rice has a pudding-like consistency. Serve hot, topped with a sprinkle of cinnamon or butter.

Low-Fat Tres Leches Cake

Tres leches means "three milks" in Spanish. This traditional Latin dessert is cake soaked in three different milks and is reserved only for special occasions, mainly birthdays. My students love this extremely moist cake and often talk about having it as their birthday cake.

There is a bakery near the Capitol named Raquel's Pastry that serves tres leches by the slice. One slice of it is all I need to satisfy my craving for tres leches. The original version is delectable and sweet made with whole milks and more eggs.

Here is a "healthified" recipe from Live Better America that uses ingredients lower in fat.

1 box Betty Crocker Super Moist yellow cake mix

1 1/4 cups water

1 tablespoon canola oil

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 whole eggs

3 egg whites

1 can (14 oz) fat-free sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated)

1 can (12 oz) evaporated fat-free milk

1/2 cup fat-free (skim) milk or fat-free half-and-half

1 container (8 oz) frozen reduced-fat or fat-free whipped topping, thawed

sliced fresh strawberries, if desired

Heat oven to 350 degrees (325 degrees for dark or nonstick pan). Spray bottom only of 13x9-inch pan with cooking spray.

In large bowl, beat cake mix, water, oil, vanilla, whole eggs and egg whites with electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds, then on medium speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Pour into pan.

Bake 29 to 35 minutes or until edges are golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let stand 5 minutes. Poke top of hot cake all over with fork or wooden skewer, wiping fork occasionally to reduce sticking.

In medium bowl, stir condensed milk, evaporated milk and skim milk until blended. Slowly pour evenly over top of cake. Cover; refrigerate about 1 hour or until mixture is absorbed into cake.

Spread whipped topping over cake. Refrigerate until serving time. Garnish with strawberries, raspberries, kiwi, or canned peaches. Store in refrigerator.

Note: Cake will be very wet from the three milks.