Chef MD: Comfort food – Lentils and Tacu Tacu
A journey of food and wellness with Dr. Loret de Mola
As a doctor these days I live surrounded mostly by women, and of course, one of the topics that invariably surfaces in almost every conversation is food, more specifically, comfort food. Through time, I found out that the list was long and diverse, but with clear differences between men and women. Women tended to go more for carb-loaded foods, like ice cream, candy, pasta, chocolate and wine, while men were more inclined towards meat and beer.
In the last two articles we talked about my lifestyle and how at home we try to choose the right healthy foods. In keeping with this effort, we try to cook with fats containing less cholesterol or “better” fats, like monounsaturated, polyunsaturated fats that are high on omegas 3, found in oily fish and certain nuts and seeds, while limiting certain saturated fats. But sometimes, as I said before, we fall off the wagon for whatever reason; we crave and feel the need to eat what is considered “comfort food”, which is, more often than not, not the healthiest food out there. Choosing right becomes very difficult and willpower comes into play.
Human behavior is interesting because we are a mood sensitive species compared to other species. We respond to internal and external stimuli, that modify our mood, we do not eat only because we are hungry or we need to nurture ourselves, we are social creatures, we eat for simple pleasure, we like to get together with friends and eat to share time, share our palates, taste, we eat when we are happy, sad, successful, frustrated or stressed out. We eat for many reasons, maybe too many.
When our eating depends on our emotional state, then we tend to drift towards hedonistic feelings and we crave comfort foods. Comfort food is a form of psychological regression to a better state of mind, we can regress all the way to our childhood’s feelings of security and protection, comfort food is nostalgic, it gives you a sentimental feeling of well being, and as expected, these food choices are different from individual to individual, culture to culture, country to country, gender to gender, but most of the time these food choices are rich in calories, soft in consistency and easy to digest.
If carbs are your “fix”, try to avoid foods that contain starches and refined sugars. In general, carbs are absorbed quickly; they are converted to glucose and stored in the liver, muscle and adipose tissue. Carb loaded foods increase the blood insulin levels, a hormone dedicated to regulate the level of glucose in our blood. When insulin is high, you are in a deposit mode (anabolic state), carbs will be absorbed and stored as fat and you will gain weight.
Unfortunately letting our emotional state govern our eating behavior is far too common, difficult to resist and is contributing greatly to the obesity epidemic of this country. Breaking this cycle is difficult, because once the immediate gratification has been achieved through food; a sense of guilt ensues, followed by despair, disappointment in oneself, and even depression that leads to more eating to “feel good” again. This being said, from time to time it is good to go for self-indulgence, as long as we are able to choose healthier alternatives for a comfort food that will make us feel good, not only emotionally but also physically.
I grew up in a large family where the menu was pretty consistent every week, but on Mondays we always had lentils. I later found out that this weekly tradition was rooted in a very old belief common in South America that states that eating lentils on Mondays would assure a prosperous household. Just to be safe, we have kept this tradition alive in my own home, so we too, have lentils every Monday.
Needless to say, lentils are my comfort food of choice; they bring back many fond and cherished memories. They are delicious, versatile, easy to cook, packed with nutrients, they are cheap and you can feed an army with them. It is the perfect meal, a legume that is well balanced in complex carbohydrates and proteins with very little fat. They have a low glycemic index, they are loaded with iron and folic acid, vitamins and fiber, and ounce per ounce, they are nutritionally equivalent to a piece of meat.
Lentils grow universally and even date to biblical times. A whole nation’s leadership was bought for a plate of lentils…remember how Esau sold his birth right to Jacob for a plate of lentils? Talk about some comfort food craving!
We prepare the lentil dish every Monday night for dinner, it is a simple dish, white rice and lentils, that is it, depending on ethnic background some families top it with extra Virgin olive oil, middle Eastern top it with “lavan” home made yogurt, and the Spaniards use balsamic vinegar. Since my family is multi cultural all the ingredients are always available at our dinner table.
We usually have no left overs as we have hungry teenagers and young adults in the house, but when we do every body calls for it. The left over lentils are later the perfect ingredient for a TacuTacu, a traditional Peruvian dish from the 1700 colonial times in Peru, consisting of a lentil and rice mix, refried in olive oil in the form of small cake, served with two fried eggs sunny side up and hot pepper sauce and salsa criolla (a relish of red onions and hot pepper). It has it’s roots in our Afro-Peruvian inheritance, and although there is no clear consensus on it’s meaning, some experts believe it comes from Swahili, meaning “left-over”, others think it may be Quechua (an Andean language) meaning “gathering”, as it is the gathering of rice and lentils left-overs. This is my 14-year-old son’s breakfast of choice when he is getting ready for tennis tournaments on weekends…truly a breakfast of champions!
So if you are in the need to satisfy your cravings or indulge yourself on comfort food, choose wisely, I know that we are all different, and each of us have a different choice of taste, but for me I look forward to Monday for a load of carbs, that reminds me of my childhood.
If you are in the Lakeland area, the only place that you can enjoy these dishes would be under the kitchen supervision of Chef Marcos Fernandez at the Lakeland Yacht and Country Club. Marcos is a fantastic chef, who has spent some time in Peru learning from the very best Peruvian chefs all of the secrets of the Peruvian culinary art. He has been introducing Peruvian cuisine to his guests, who have received it very well. So if you have a friend who is a member, ask him to invite you over and experience first hand this great Peruvian dinning. To savor Chef Marcos Fernandez, Peruvian culinary delights, call 863-680-2582 for reservations.
Recipe / Lentils and Rice
2 cups of lentils
4 cups Beef or chicken broth depends on how tender you want them you can add more
1 Onion, chopped
2 tsp mince garlic
1/4 cup of olive oil
salt and pepper
Sauté the onion in the olive oil until soft and translucent, add the minced garlic and cook just a couple of minutes. Add the lentils, the broth and once it start to boil lower the heat and simmer stirring frequently for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the lentils are done to the preferred tenderness (personally, I like mine soft and almost mushy). Accompany the lentils with white rice, and once served, top with two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and some Salsa Criolla.
Salsa Criolla Ingredients:
1 red onion, dice small
4 hot peppers, dice small
2 key limes
2 tbsp olive oil
2 plumb tomatoes, dice small
salt and pepper
Dice the onions and hot peppers very finely. Season with the juice of 2 limes, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Let rest for at least 1 hour before serving. .
About Dr. Loret de Mola
Dr. Fernando Ignacio Loret de Mola was born in Lima, Peru in 1957 and is an occupation medical doctor specializing in family medicine and wound care. Educated in USA and Peru, Dr. Loret de Mola completed his residency in family medicine at the University of Minnesota after which he relocated to Florida. He lives in Lakeland, Fla. and practice medicine with the Watson Clinic LLP, and is the medical director of the Center for Wound Care at Lakeland Regional Medical Center. Happily married with four children, Dr. Loret de Mola is an avid tennis player and enjoys cooking and exploring new dishes and foreign cuisines, sharing his cooking with friends and family.