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Tribe celebrates healthy eating with cooking classes

Rowdy Osceola and Vera Herrera cut some zucchini as chef Lorraine Posada teaches the proper way to get the seeds out of the vegetable during the Big Cypress cooking class March 17. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

The Seminole Tribe’s Integrative Health team brought tempting aromas and lively flavors to every reservation during “National Nutrition Month” in March. Tribal members learned to cook up tasty and nutritious food before sitting down to a tasty meal of their own creation.

The theme of the month was “Celebrate a World of Flavors.” Cooking classes on the reservations featured menus from around the world including Italy, China, Mexico, Japan and Indian Country.

Immokalee

In Immokalee, Italian Pomodoro sauce was made with fresh tomatoes, garlic, onions, olive oil and fresh herbs. It was served over healthier-than-usual pasta. Lenora Roberts, Maggie Porter, Maxine Jock and Mark Jock ate the fruits and vegetables of their labor at the end of the class.

Led by chef Lorraine Posada on March 8, the class was peppered with plenty of health and safety tips for working in the kitchen.

“Italian can be a little bit of a trap,” Posada said. “Be careful if you have diabetes, pasta can be one of those things that jumps your sugar. Overeating carbs can be bad.”

Chef Lorraine Posada watches as her sister Lenora Roberts peels tomatoes for the Pomodoro sauce. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

A discussion of innovative and healthier pasta choices ensued. Pastas made of chickpeas have more protein and fewer carbs than traditional pasta. Whole grain pasta is another choice since it has a lot of fiber, which is good for glucose control and weight management. Posada said companies know consumers are being more careful and are making a wide array of pasta choices to meet those needs.

Posada explained the difference in types of fats. Oils are generally better than butter or animal fats, which contain saturated fat that is not good for the heart.

“Oils are more heart healthy,” Posada said. “Vegetable oils have healthier mono or poly unsaturated fats.”

Tropical oils, such as palm and coconut, are not quite as healthy. They contain naturally occurring saturated fat, so Posada advised to use them sparingly.

The Mediterranean diet uses a lot of olive oil, a healthy fat. Posada warned it is still a fat, has nine calories per gram and should be used in moderation.

A question about salt was answered with a bit of history. Back in the 1950s, table salt was infused with iodine, or iodized, to help with thyroid issues. Mineral salts have no iodine. Regardless of the type, salt has the same effect on the body; it can raise blood pressure if too much is consumed.

“You can always add more salt, but you can’t take it out,” Posada said.

Posada told the group that spices are good for the heart and liver and “gets the body going.” As the group learned how to peel and chop tomatoes by doing it themselves, she taught some basic knife skills.

“If you drop your knife, just get out of the way,” she said. “Don’t try to grab it. Let it fall and then pick it up. A sharp knife is safer than a dull knife, it’s easier to cut with. A good way to test the sharpness is by cutting a tomato.”

As the sauce cooked, Posada gave her philosophy on cooking.

Health nutritionist Marianna Nikiforov and health nutrition coordinator Karen Two Shoes prepare elements for the dishes to be made during the Big Cypress cooking class March 17. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

“Good food takes time,” Posada said. “It’s not just about opening a can or jar and saying dinner is served. By making your own food you can control what goes into it.”

Roberts talked about her family’s cooking habits and how the pandemic affected them.

“I went to the grocery store and got fresh vegetables,” Roberts said. “I cooked because of these classes. My daughter learned to love cooking and even makes her own ramen. It went from me to my daughter and we fed my parents.”

Integrated Health nutrition coordinator Karen Two Shoes explained how pleased those in the department are to be back offering cooking classes after the pandemic shut down.

“We look forward to doing more classes and we want your input,” Two Shoes said. “The pandemic changed people’s way of thinking and eating. It’s not just about losing weight, it’s about keeping the body going.”

Big Cypress

Instead of a foreign cuisine, on March 17 Native American food was the focus. Swamp cabbage was on the menu, courtesy of Edna McDuffie, who made a big pot of the traditional dish at home and brought it to the Big Cypress health clinic kitchen.

Budding cooks in the kitchen included Jake Osceola, Vera Herrera and Rowdy Osceola.

Jake Osceola stirs up a three sisters salad he made at the Big Cypress cooking class. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

“There are a lot of ways to make it,” McDuffie said. “Elders have their own way, some people make it more like a vegetable soup. I hope you like it.”

The group of participants clearly did and filled their bowls with generous helpings. As they ate, McDuffie explained the process in some detail. First some men cut two small cabbage trees and brought her the trunks. She cleaned it “boot by boot,” cut the bitter parts off to where “you can see circles of the heart, the good part.” McDuffie boiled it down with onion, tomato and other ingredients.

“In the old days they used pork drippings,” McDuffie said. “I tried to keep it as healthy as I could and used bacon drippings.”

Two Shoes told the legend of the three sisters, an agricultural phenomenon where three plants together help each other grow. Corn, beans and squash represent three sisters who thrive together.

“Corn is planted first, the beans climb up the corn stalks and provide nitrogen for the corn and squash, whose leaves keep the ground covered and moist,” Two Shoes said. “It’s pretty common in most tribes. It originally came from the Iroquois.”

Mark Jock dices tomatoes as Maxine Jock watches during the Immokalee cooking class. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

The menu included a grilled three sisters salad consisting of zucchini, yellow summer squash, corn, kidney beans and tomatoes topped with a freshly made green goddess dressing. A Seminole chop-chop with ground bison completed the meal.

“Bison doesn’t have a lot of saturated fat,” Two Shoes said. “It tastes similar to beef; it’s grass fed and is the way to go.”

Posada taught the group knife skills and guided them through the recipes. She and Two Shoes agree that a lot more people have been cooking at home during the pandemic.

“People aren’t running from the dieticians anymore, they want to tell us about what they made,” she said. “The program has been very successful. We are looking for menu ideas from tribal members; we want to do what they want and give them the information they need.”

Mark Jock dices tomatoes as Maxine Jock watches during the Immokalee cooking class. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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