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Published May 27, 2009, 12:00 AM

The whole enchilada

I’ve never bought into the notion that if food is healthy it doesn’t taste good. You might have been able to convince me of that when I was younger, when fast food was a mainstay of my diet and the thought of eating healthy was synonymous with bland, boring and completely gross.

By: Jeff Tiedeman, Grand Forks Herald

I’ve never bought into the notion that if food is healthy it doesn’t taste good.

You might have been able to convince me of that when I was younger, when fast food was a mainstay of my diet and the thought of eating healthy was synonymous with bland, boring and completely gross.

But in the past 15 years or so, I’ve discovered dishes don’t need to be laden with fat, salt, sugar and numerous other additives to be appealing to my palate.

It’s true that all of the aforementioned items are what gives food some of its flavor, but there are other things we can do to make things taste good. For example, a great way to bolster taste without adding fat or salt is to use spices.

While I believe all foods fit in a healthy lifestyle, even creamy pastas and scrumptious burritos — in moderation, of course — you can have a satisfying culinary experience without going overboard.

One of my favorite examples of how a traditionally fat-laden food can be transformed into something healthy and still be mouthwatering is the enchiladas that Therese makes.

But before I tell you about hers, here’s a little historical perspective on enchiladas:

— Originating in Mexico, enchiladas once were considered a dish reserved for royalty and special occasions. Now, they are a popular favorite of many Mexican restaurants.

— Enchiladas are lot different today than the kind indigenous people ate around the time Spanish conquistadors such as Cortez arrived in the Americas. Anthropologists suggest that those living in the lake region of the Valley of Mexico traditionally ate corn tortillas folded or rolled around small fish.

— Enchiladas were a popular food of the Aztecs and were known back in 19th century. The ethnic groups of central Mexico who spoke the Nahuatl language were known as Aztec.

— In 1949, an American magazine, American Food and Drink, described an enchilada as “a Mexican dish prepared more for turista than for local consumption.”

While enchiladas you can get on the streets in Mexico remain somewhat true to their origins (this south-of-the-border “soul food” is simply corn tortillas dipped in chili sauce and eaten without fillings), they are quite different from the ones you can buy in a Mexican restaurant outside Mexico.

In the States, there are about as many types of enchiladas as there are burgers, but most are tortillas stuffed with fillings of your choice (mostly meat) swimming in red sauce and molten cheese. The same can be said of many homemade recipes that feature cream of chicken soups and loads of shredded cheese.

Of course, many of those enchiladas are quite tasty, but an everyday diet of them wouldn’t be what the doctor ordered, which brings me back to Therese’s enchiladas.

Several things make Therese’s enchiladas attractive. Instead of meat, she uses textured vegetable protein, also known as textured soy protein, soy meat or soya meat. TVP takes on the texture of whatever ground meat it is substituting, so it can be used instead of meat in many dishes such as chili, spaghetti sauce, sloppy Joes, tacos, burrito and, of course, enchiladas. TVP also cooks quickly and is high in protein and low in fat. (TVP can be found in natural food stores or in larger supermarkets, usually in the bulk section.)

Finally, the toppings she uses — a canned enchilada sauce, cheese (usually the low-fat variety), a little salsa, shredded lettuce and sometimes guacamole and fat-free sour cream — make her enchiladas anything but bland and boring.

Simply put, they’re quick to make as well as high in protein and low in fat.

And above all, they’re tasty.

That’s a combination you’re not going to find at many fast-food establishments.

Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at jtiedeman@gfherald.com.

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