It’s Monday, December 13th, 2010, the day on which my mother, Diane Moore Mondie would have celebrated her 57th birthday. Fourteen years have gone by since she transitioned and at this time of year, melancholy creeps upon me in all kinds of unexpected ways. But after more than a decade, sustained joy finally overshadows sadness. I’m convinced that it’s because for the past couple of years, I’ve been leaning more into my heart’s work, the work that my mother’s life and death propelled me to do, but that until recently I’d been reluctant to do. For it was through reading all I could about cancer—her cancer– that I came across so much about food and its capacity to bring about illness and degeneration OR to bring about health and longevity. What I learned eventually informed my own life style choice to be vegetarian and vegan. And now as I approach the age that my mother was when she passed away, it feels so much more urgent to share with others not just how beneficial a plant based diet can be but how varied and absolutely delicious it can be.
Because I am standing fully in what feels natural and authentic to me, the Vegan Hands-On Mexican Fiesta that I led yesterday, the eve of my mother’s birthday, was particularly charged. Outside it was a cloudy, cold and rainy Sunday afternoon, but inside I had a delicious fellowship with eight lovely, energetic and adventurous souls making vegan Mexican cuisine. I was especially ambitious in designing the menu and documenting my own recipes for some of my Mexican favorites, and the participants rose to the challenge and enthusiastically explored everything in front of them. Together we whipped up everything from tamales filled with a savory tofu filling; quesadillas filled with perfectly seasoned black beans, organic sweet corn, and spinach (This recipe appears below.); “chicken” tortilla soup that was kicked up a notch by a delicious chipotle pepper and that featured seitan as a meat substitute; Mexican yellow rice and cilantro lime rice both made with long grain, brown rice; a traditional tomato salsa and a sweeter mango/jicama salsa; and homemade guacamole.
Right there on the spot, I got to see the process of them reading, understanding and carrying out instructions that I crafted. I got to see what worked and what needed to be quirked, what was clear and what needed clarification. More than that, I got to see people taste, improvise, and, ultimately affirm the vegan dishes that we prepared and implicitly who I have decided to be.
Vita’s Black Bean, Spinach, and Corn Quesadillas (Yields 6-8 servings)
1 Tablespoon olive oil, plus a tad more for cooking quesadillas
1 small bag fresh baby spinach
1 cup fresh or frozen organic corn
2 cups black beans, cooked and drained
3 garlic cloves, chopped finely
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 Tablespoon Bragg Liquid Aminos plus more to taste
10 flour tortillas
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup grated vegan cheese substitute, such as Daiya (optional)
Heat olive oil in large pan over medium heat. Heat garlic, cumin, chili powder, and cayenne for approximately three minutes. Stir in the liquid aminos. Add corn and black beans and stir until coated with the mixture. Cook for another five minutes. Add spinach and cover with a lid for about three minutes. Stir until spinach is wilted. Remove from heat.
To assemble: In a skillet, heat a little olive oil. Lay one tortilla in the skillet. Cover the tortilla with filling and top with 2 tablespoons grated “cheese.” Top with another tortilla and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the bottom tortilla is slightly browned. Flip and cook on the other side until slightly browned and the “cheese” has melted.
Cut each quesadilla into six triangles and serve with salsa and/or vegan sour cream like Tofutti Better Than Sour Cream.