Powered by plants: Waverly Twp. cook creates Mexican favorites with meatless twist
May 7—When Paulina Kuratnick adopted a plant-based diet, it didn't stop her from making her favorite Mexican dishes.
The Waverly Twp. resident grew up surrounded by a strong food culture in Mexico City, enjoying its endless abundance of fresh food markets and stands.
"In Mexico City, there is food everywhere. Like in every corner you see it," she said.
Kuratnick started exploring plant-based eating after coming to the U.S. about eight years ago to live closer to family. Still wanting to enjoy the Mexican dishes her mother, Maria Elena Solís, made for her while she was growing up, Kuratnick started experimenting with plant-based ingredients.
Over time with the right substitutions, Kuratnick didn't even notice a difference.
"I think your taste buds really change when you start adopting a more natural (way of) eating," she said.
Her Plant-Based Tacos take a different approach to the traditional Mexican dish. People tend to load up tacos to the point where the flavor of the meat gets buried, so Kuratnick especially doesn't notice its absence in these dishes, she said.
Her recipe for Hibiscus Flower (aka Jamaica, which is pronounced ha-MY-kuh and another name for hibiscus flower) Tacos came out of her interest in trying edible flowers. In addition to dried jamaica, the filling of the taco contains dried cranberries, onion and serrano pepper.
Kuratnick also makes salsa using dried jamaica and cranberries with chile de árbol (small and potent Mexican chili peppers) to go with the tacos.
Cooks can use the leftover concentrate from boiling the jamaica for a pitcher of refreshing Agua de Jamaica (or Hibiscus Water). Simply mix the concentrate with water, ice and your favorite sweetener. Or, Kuratnick suggested making ice cubes out of the concentrate and putting one or two in a glass of water.
Her Nopal Tacos recipe uses nopales (prickly pear cactus) as a meat substitute with onion and jalapeño or serrano pepper for the filling, if desired. People might find the nopal slime off putting, she said, but it evaporates as you cook it.
To find dried jamaica and nopales, Kuratnick shops at Mexican grocery stores around Scranton. These stores will dethorn the nopales for customers, she added.
She recently demonstrated her Plant-Based Taco recipes with the Greenhouse Project in Nay Aug Park and said the nonprofit's Empowered Eating program taught her a lot about the plant-based lifestyle.
Kuratnick said it was the health benefits and a compassion for animals that led her to make the change. Going plant-based made a huge impact on Kuratnick, as she struggled with weight management her whole life. She also became an intuitive eating coach to help people on similar journeys.
"I love helping people complete a successful transition into a more compassion-driven way of eating for health and other beings," she said.
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