Oven-baked tostones can be just as crispy as the fried version. (Photo/Betty Cortina)

A healthy idea: Fool-proof baked alternatives to fried classics

There’s no getting around the truth: Fried foods and snacks are an undeniable part of the classic Latin diet. Whether it’s crispy alcapurria purchased from a beach-side vendor in Puerto Rico, golden Colombian empanadas or deep-fried, sweet churros, frying foods in oil is a technique that rounds out the influence of African cuisine on the Latin American and Caribbean diet.

But while we understand the appeal of sinking one’s teeth into the crunch of something fried, the health risks associated with a diet high in fat – namely heart disease and diabetes – is something that U.S. Latinos simply can’t ignore for much longer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the prevalence of obesity among Mexican-American women is 44.9 percent, compared to 35.8 percent for the general population of U.S. women. A higher percentage of Mexican-American men are considered obese than ever before, while U.S. Hispanic children are suffering too: 14.8 percent of Hispanics and 14.7 percent of Mexican-American infants are overweight, making them more likely than babies of any other ethnicity to be overweight.

That being said, there’s no better time than the present to rethink revamping traditional recipes with healthier cooking techniques. For our baked-not-fried makeovers, making a few tweaks to the original recipe – like dredging bistec empanizado with crushed almonds for an extra-crispy crust and twice-baking tostones to better mimic the crunchy fried version – makes these reduced-fat dishes an option that even the most traditional mamá would approve of.

Oven-baked bistec empanizado.

Oven-baked bistec empanizado. (Photo/Betty Cortina)

Oven-Baked Bistec Empanizado

1 1/2 lb top sirloin steak, trimmed of fat and sinew

1 Seville orange, juiced (or substitute 2 parts fresh orange juice, 1 part lemon juice, 1 part lime juice)

1/8 cup olive oil

2 garlic cloves, smashed

1 medium yellow onion, cut into 1/2-inch slices

1 1/2 cup almond meal

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup slivered almonds (with skins on)

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp Spanish paprika

2 eggs

1. In a large, shallow bowl combine the orange juice, olive oil, garlic and onion. Add the steak and cover in the marinade. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight.

2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Prepare baking sheet by placing a metal rack on top of it and lightly coating it with cooking spray.

3. Remove the steaks from the marinade. Slice them into approximately 6 ounce portions, or a little bigger than your fist. Place each steak between two sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap and pound until they’re about 1/4-inch thick. Place back into the marinade and set aside.

4. In a medium-sized shallow bowl or pie pan combine the almond meal, flour, slivers almonds, salt, garlic powder, cayenne pepper and paprika. Stir with a whisk or fork to make sure the ingredients are well incorporated. In a second medium-sized shallow bowl or pie pan, beat the eggs lightly.

5.  Remove steaks from the marinade one by one, and lightly dredge in the almond meal mix, then in the egg, and then again in the almond meal. Place on the rack on the baking sheet and repeat with the rest of the steaks.

6.  Lightly spray each steak with cooking spray. Place in the oven for 10 minutes. Carefully turn the steaks over, and continue cooking for another 5 to 8 minutes, until the they’re golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Makes 4 to 6 steaks.

Crispy baked tostones.

Crispy baked tostones. (Photo/Betty Cortina)

Oven-baked tostones

Cooking oil spray (such as Pam)

2 plantains, peeled and sliced into 1-inch thick pieces

2 T Canola oil

Kosher Salt, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 425. Spray a baking sheet with cooking oil spray.
2. In a large bowl, toss the plantains in the oil to coat well. Sprinkle with salt. Place the plantain slices on the baking sheet in one layer. Bake for 10 minutes, until the bottoms are golden brown. Remove from oven.

3. Using a tostonera, mash each slice. (If you don’t have a tostonera, places the individual slices between two folded sheets of parchment or brown paper and press down using the back of a large spoon or the bottom of a jar.

4. Wipe the baking sheet of any extra oil and re-spray. Place the plantains, brown side up, on the baking sheet and return to oven for about 10 to 15 minutes, until they are golden brown and crispy.

5. Remove from oven, sprinkle with a little more salt if desired and serve immediately. Makes 15 to 20 tostones.

Oven-baked veggie flautas

Oven-baked veggie flautas (Photo/Betty Cortina)

Oven-baked veggie flautas

For the filling:

1/8 cup and 2 T olive oil, divided

1 small yellow onion, 1/2-inch dice

1 red bell pepper, 1/2-inch dice

1/2 cup corn kernels, frozen and thawed

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 jalapeño, seeded, 1/4-inch dice

8 oz mushrooms (baby bellas or white button, or whichever variety you prefer),  in 1/2-inch slices

1/4 cup white wine

1 T worcestershire sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

1 1/2 cup shredded reduced-fat cheese (Monterey Jack, Cheddar or Cotija, whichever you prefer)

8 6-inch corn tortillas, fresh (you can also use %100 whole wheat)

Guacamole for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 425.

2. Pour 1 tablespoon of olive oil into a heated sauté pan. And onions and red bell pepper and cook over medium heat for about 8 to 10 minutes, until onions start to caramelize. Add corn and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Add garlic and jalapeño and cook for another 2 minutes until garlic is fragrant. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from pan and set aside.

3. Add remaining tablespoon of olive oil to the sauté pan. Add mushrooms, season with salt, cover and cook over medium heat until mushrooms release their juices, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the lid, increase heat to high and cook until the mushrooms are golden brown, another 4 or 5 minutes. Add wine and worcestershire sauce and continue cooking until liquid has evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add the mushroom mix to the rest of the vegetables, stirring to combine.

4. Place the tortillas on a baking sheet. Top each one with cheese, distributing it evenly. Bake for about 2 minutes until the cheese is slightly melted. Take them out of the oven, and distribute the vegetable filling evenly on each tortilla. Roll up the tortillas tightly, and place on the baking sheet seam side down. Lightly brush with olive oil, and bake for 7 to 9 minutes, until golden and crisp.

5. Serve immediately, topped with fresh-made guacamole.

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