Low Carb Kitchen
Carb Solution: Cinco de Mayo
By Dennis Linden
Over half of the U.S. adult population, some 154 million, qualify as being overweight or obese. Another 29 million of us have Diabetes, many as a direct result of being overweight. Then there are the 23.9 million overweight children who are dutifully following the example of their XXL adult role models. Diabetes and these extra pounds cost this country billions annually in both medical and economic resources; not to mention the affect these weight-related maladies have on a person’s overall mental well-being and happiness. However, both diabetes and being overweight are very manageable, even preventable, with a few lifestyle tweaks. By maintaining a sensible diet in conjunction with some consistent exercise, no matter how minimal, we can all be in total control of our own weight. One easy way to start taking that control is to make decisions about the foods we eat based on the glycemic index [GI] and glycemic load [GL].
Simply put, our bodies convert all foods into sugar calories that provide energy to the body via the blood stream. The Glycemic Index assigns a score of 1 to 100 to all foods based how speedy the body converts that food into sugar. Foods that break down slowly enable the body to assimilate theses calories of energy more efficiently without overwhelming the body with more sugar than it can process. While this is especially important for diabetics who process sugars much slower than others, everyone can benefit from eating foods that have low glycemic scores since they also reduce appetite and encourage the metabolism to burn body fat. Conversely, a diet of foods high on the glycemic charts have been proven to actually increase appetite and impede effective fat oxidation.
A Quickie Glycemic Primer:
Cinco de Mayo menus are filled with many traditional Mexican favorites that just cannot be tolerated by the conscientious carb counter or diabetic. Tamales, quesadillas, enchiladas, burritos, tacos, even the chips around that bowl of tasty guacamole are all high in carbohydrates due to their white flour and/or corn-based ingredients. I bumped into a version of this recipe during a ‘net search while looking for a dish that would satisfy my own craving for Mexican food without all the carbs – a very challenging culinary hunt!
- The glycemic index of a food compares its effect on blood sugar level to that of pure glucose, which has a score of 100. White breads, which are made of processed white flour, are at the top of this scale, scoring a “perfect” 100 on the glycemic index. For perspective, a score of 55 or below denotes a low-glycemic-index food; 70 or above is considered very high. Serving size is not a consideration in arriving at a food’s Glycemic Index number.
- The glycemic load, on the other hand, focuses on how much digestible carbohydrates (sugars) a food contains in a typical single serving, which is defined as approximately 3.5 ounces. For glycemic load, a score of 20 or more is high, while 10 or less is low.
This taco recipe caught my eye because it presents a simple and obvious solution to the traditional high-carb crunchy tortilla shell that is an integral component of any taco craving. I have tried many faux low carb taco shell recipes with results ranging from moderately successful to utter failure. Instead, these taco-flavored chicken burgers are topped with Melissa’s unique Hatch Salsa, and plated with a scoop of guacamole on the side. No high-carb taco shells or empty calorie burger buns needed, yet the craving for those distinctive south of the border flavors were quenched carb-lessly!
A little sidebar regarding those times of carb cravings: Will a single flour tortilla send one’s metabolism into a glycemic crisis? Of course not. There is no doubt that an occasional bending of one’s dietary rules is bound to happen. The struggle comes in keeping those cheating moments from occurring too often. I find it helpful each time I am faced with one of those “flour tortilla” moments, for instance, to first try to recall the last time it was that I had “fudged-just-a-little” on my low carb regimen. If I can answer that question with clear recall, well then it’s too soon to fall off the dietary wagon yet again – better to just suck it up!
While this feature can present wonderfully tasty low carb options for most any occasion or meal of the day, the most important ingredient not listed in any of the recipes is the resolve required to maintain a healthy diet. It is possible to replicate almost any favorite dish with fewer carbs, but duplicating flavors and/or textures are a more difficult challenge. It will necessitate weaning one’s own palate off the salt-based, empty calorie-based, addictive flavor additives that have been marketed into our dietary psyches for decades. While Melissa’s wide selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, sourced from around the world, as well as the company’s convenient line of pre-cooked and packaged field crops can certainly help with the transition, one’s own culinary fortitude will be taxed everyday as it’s so much easier to give in to one’s cravings than just suck it up on occasion – good luck!
The simple recipe below purposely leaves a lot of room for personal taste preferences. Options start with the choice of protein, which can be ground chicken, turkey or beef. All pair quite well with the three main flavor enhancers selected from Melissa’s pantry of tasty products: Roasted Jalapeños, Hatch Salsa and Taco Seasoning Mix. BTW, substituting fresh jalapeños for our roasted version is an option, of course, though the switch will also rob the dish of the smoky heat goodness of this convenient, low-prep product. Again, the number of peppers depends on personal preference; I tweaked this recipe from one to two peppers after making a small test batch. I much prefer the deeper flavor of roasted jalapenos over fresh; Melissa’s Roasted Jalapeños eliminates the fuss and bother of roasting without sacrificing that right-off-the-grill fresh flavor! These smoky hot peppers are ready to enjoy right out of the package – just stem, seed, slice or dice!
I guess another opportunity for deviation in this recipe could be subbing in one’s own favorite salsa formula instead of the suggested Melissa’s Hatch Salsa. For my nickel, our time-saving blend of tomatillos, tomatoes, tomato juice, jalapeño peppers, vinegar, onion, serrano peppers and seasonings combined with the distinctive flavor of New Mexico’s Hatch Chiles cannot be matched – be it store bought or mom’s homemade. FYI: do not be intimidated by the word “Hot” that appears on our label. I find this chunky salsa to have a balanced flavor that is laced with a hint of pleasant heat that complements without ever overpowering the rest of the components of any dish.
Spoiler Alert: the woefully short ingredient list provided (at no extra charge) in this recipe for the guacamole is purposely skeletal and meant to be tweaked. Since most everyone who has ever mashed an avocado also has an opinion as to what makes up THE quintessential guacamole mix, it was decided to just list a few basics and then get out of the way! Low in carbs, the fats in the avocado is mostly monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which have been shown to raise "good" HDL cholesterol. MUFAs can also lower levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol and reduce blood pressure. So feel free to add to the rudimentary trio of ingredients listed – I’ve never met a guac that I didn’t like! Have a carb-less Cinco celebration – no fudging!
2 lbs. ground beef, chicken or turkey breast
Melissa’s Hot Taco Seasoning Mix
2 Roasted Jalapeños, seeded and diced
½ cup Cilantro, chopped
2 TBS Canola oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Melissa’s Hatch Chile Salsa
2 ripe avocados, peeled and pitted
1 lime, freshly squeezed
3 Green Onions, finely chopped
In a large bowl, mix together chicken breast, taco seasoning, jalapeño and cilantro until well mixed. Form into patties.
In a medium bowl, use a fork to mash together avocados, lime juice and chopped scallions. Salt and pepper to taste.
Sauté the patties in the oil until cooked through. Remove from heat and cool slightly before serving.
Plating: Serve two warm burgers per serving. Pour a generous amount of Hatch Salsa over the patties with a dollop of guacamole on the side.