Here's What You Can Eat During Lent Season—And It's Not Fish!
Holy Week is in a week and most of us are booked out to spend it some place where we can rest, repair and reflect, (or just binge and have fun). Whatever your plans are, be it partying in Siargao or just taking in the scene of the now pristine Boracay, or even just staycationing to take advantage of a refreshingly ghosted city, you’ll probably see healthier menus everywhere you eat out for Lent.
I was just talking to my Editor Kate about skipping both the meat and even the fish for the Lenten feature when I chanced on the most recent Veggie Fair in Makati city. I was surprised that a community event on a meat-free diet would take place right in the middle of the business center so I curiously asked to be introduced to the mind behind and apparently, the initiative is part of Bobby Macasaet, Chairman of Maxicare efforts to encourage everyone, not just subscribers, to eat better.
“I went whole foods plant based about a year ago, following concerning numbers on my recent health check-up,” Bobby told me, referring to finding out he had elevated cholesterol and high-blood pressure. But instead of just popping cholesterol blockers and other prescription drugs, Bobby took control of his own health and shifted his diet completely. “I went cold turkey, or should I say Tofurkey,” he shared in jest. Surprised, I pressed to make sure I understood him correctly, “so you quit meat, fish and cheese overnight?” To which he gave me an affirmative.
Not only did the corporate executive give-up steak, pizza, burger and fried chicken in 24 hours, he also doesn’t eat much meat-free alternatives like seitan, soy protein, micro protein or umami vegetarian meat alternatives. That’s rare for someone who just transitioned to a vegetarian diet. Bobby also prefers his food be oil-free, which means most are water-sauteed, baked, roasted or blanched. “I eat pretty simple, I usually just have oat meal for breakfast, and maybe two dishes for lunch, which would be a green salad paired with whole grains or lentils,” he told me, as if it was the most natural way to eat. I blink, bite my lips and remember my student days with renowned China Study author and Nutritional Scientist, Dr. Colin Campbell— the Doctor behind the very term whole foods plant based, and inwardly berated myself for not adhering to my own training’s principle like this man infront of me. Dr. Campbell would get along with him for sure, and probably give me the side eye for not quitting oil and sugar in spite of everything I was taught, (and now at 30 Im paying for my bad habits for the extra dress size). It would seem that Bobby was right to change his diet as today, at 60 years old, he isn’t in any maintenance meds, runs an hour around Polo every morning and is perfectly capable of walking to-and-back every meeting he has even if they’re blocks away.
This experience is solidified by Juana Yupangco of Mesa ni Misis when she monitored six volunteers go meat-free, eating most locally prepared vegetables. One 30-year-old’s cholesterol went down from 223 to 167, another 49 year old from 231 to 201, while a 33 year old lost 13 kilos with his cholesterol dropping from 273 to 230. Clearly, going meat-free is the simplest answer to living meds-free and I am pleased that more Filipinos are exploring the health benefits of the whole foods plant-based lifestyle now compared to say, just five years ago when people pretty much tagged me a tree-hugging hippie for giving up bacon.
I ask Juana to share some of her favourite Mesa ni Misis vegetable dishes and flipped through my notes for Sabrina Artadi’s signature local vegetable recipes and found these:
Monggo, (Mung beans). Commonly eaten as a traditional filipino bean stew with ground pork, this protein rich dish can be enjoyed just as heartily but healthier when topped with Malunggay. Paired with Pumpkin, it becomes a complete meal in itself. Mesa ni Misis adds a special twist by adding peanut butter which turns it to Monggo Kare-Kare.
Sitaw. Sitaw is commonly enjoyed as an add-on to Kare-Kare and Pakbet but have you tried making Adobo with it? Or just baking it quick with garlic and a little coconut oil? Juana even likes to use sitaw beans for lentil dishes like stews.
Sayote. Celebrity diet diva Nadine Tengco swears on this neglected Filipino superfood to fight bloat much better than its fancy sister Zucchini. She taught me to use a peeler to turn it to Chayote-Fettucinni which I just top with a generous amount of Malunggay-Kangkong Pesto and its gone before I remember to post it on Instagram.
Pumpkin. I particularly like baking pumpkin with just a bit of VCO and a dash of cinnamon and that already curbs any craving I might have for cake after, (Dr. Campbell would be pleased, except I still added oil which is an exit 300 calories for just 2 tbsp.)
Pechay Salad. Sabrina Artadi’s signature dish with well-chopped Pechay, pineapple chunks, Adlai grains and maybe Parsley and you already have Pinoy Tabouleh. Use Calamansi as your dressing, tastes so fresh!
Baguio Beans. Another trick I got from Sabrina was slicing Baguio beans in half vertically, exposing the seeds, lightly roasting it on the pan, topped with generous sliced bellpeppers and drizzling extra-virgin olive oil in them with a dash of salt and pepper.
Chili Poppers. Basically deep fried small bell peppers. Its sweet and smoky. Sabrina definitely knows how to make treats out of garnishes!
Baked Sweet Potato Fries. Its so crispy without the added calories, just cut them thinly, lightly coat with cornstarch and coconut oil and bake for 20 mins at 400 Degrees, (turning half way for even baking) and you’re good for movie night.
Langka Ribs. Take 3 cups of fresh raw jackfruit (it’s white) and 1 cup ripe jackfruit (yellow), season with salt, pepper, cumin, smoked paprika and sauté with onion and garlic before boiling it for 20 minutes. Drain, spread on a pan, coat with Barbecue sauce and bake it until its dry and smoky and you have your own Langka Ribs thats also perfect to replace Pulled-Pork.
Cauliflower Buffalo Wings. Coat cauliflower with Buffalo wing batter and pan-fry. You’re welcome.
Banana Pops. Coat bananas with melted chocolate, freeze for 6 hours and enjoy all through-out summer.
Watermelon Salad. Sliced watermelon, mint and balsamic vinegar. Too good to be this easy. Like Bobby said, shifting to a healthier diet, he doesn’t feel deprived. He doesn’t even feel the need to have cheat meals. “I didn’t struggle , a lot of people enjoy eating or drinking. I enjoy a good meal immensely, with my new lifestyle, Im just as enthusiastic. There’s so many ways to prepare a delicious plant-based meal. People assume you’re stuck with a salad and thats just not true. Learn to play with spices you neglected before for different flavours.”
And what better time to start than Lent when were already in the headspace to give-up our usual comfort food? With more options for cleaner meals this Holyweek, take second-servings of vegetable dishes, your waist-line will shrink, your blood will clear and your joints will release and if you’re creative, your taste-buds will rejoice on it.