Three Great Appetizers

David Mendosa Health Guide January 01, 2006
  • The best appetizers are healthy, simple, and tasty. I think that the minimum requirements of healthy foods for people with diabetes are foods that won’t raise your blood glucose level much have no trans fats, and little or no saturated fat. A substantial amount of fiber is a plus.

    There must be many tasty appetizers, and what’s tasty depends, of course, on taste. But I can think of three that taste wonderful to me.

    Salsa
    Here is the West the most popular is undoubtedly salsa. Still, I can remember only one restaurant (in Santa Barbara) that served salsa thick enough for my palate. And I certainly can’t recommend any store-bought salsa.

    So I make it at home. My favorite recipe is so simple. I just throw chives, cilantro, garlic, stewed tomatoes, serrano peppers, salt, and pepper in my electric blender and pulse for just a second or two. Susan’s recipe for “Simple Texas Salsa” is my absolute favorite.

    Since salsa is basically tomatoes, it can’t raise your blood glucose too much, something of great importance to everybody with diabetes. Salsa itself hasn’t been tested, but the glycemic index of tomato juice is 38 where glucose is 100.

    Guacamole
    Another favorite, particularly in the Southwest, is guacamole. You can find some decent brands in refrigerated supermarket cases, but they really can’t compare with what you can prepare at home in five to 10 minutes.

    The keys to great guacamole are ripe Haas avocados, some sort of chili to your taste, and some lemon or lime. You can make it as simple or as complicated as you like, but a wonderful simple recipe is:

    3 ripe Haas avocados
    1 can diced green chilies
    Juice of 1 lemon or 3 packets True Lemon (http://www.mendosa.com/diabetes_update_86.htm)
    2-3 cloves garlic, minced
    2 tablespoons onion, fine chopped (use sweet onions, if available)
    2 teaspoons dry oregano
    2 teaspoons cumin
    Salt and pepper to taste

    Mix all together with a fork in a glass or stainless steel bowl, cover, and refrigerate for 1 hour before enjoying.

    The main alternatives to this basic recipe are different peppers. Others often recommend serrano, jalapeño, and crushed red peppers.

    Some people add cilantro, chopped fresh tomatoes, olive oil, lime instead of lemon. It’s worth while to do a little experimenting to find the exact recipe that suits you best.

    The glycemic index of avocado is too low to be tested. That’s because they are largely fat. And that fat is largely the best fat, monounsaturated. It’s the best fat because it reduces blood cholesterol levels. Fully 63 percent of the fat in avocados is monounsaturated, exceeded only by that in olives and olive oil, high oleic safflower and sunflower oils, and three nuts – macadamia, hazelnuts, and almonds.

    Hummus
    Much less known in the United States but a great favorite in the Middle East and just as good as salsa and guacamole is something known as hummus. This wonderful dip originating in southwestern Asia hundreds if not thousands of years ago, but Americans are only now beginning to discover it. In fact, the word hummus first entered the English language just 50 years ago, in the 1955 edition of Elizabeth David’s A Book of Mediterranean Food, according to the definitive Oxford English Dictionary (http://www.oed.com/).

  • Hummus is mashed chickpeas and sesame butter (tahini) flavored with lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil. People argue over how to pronounce this Arabic word, buy I prefer Encarta’s pronunciation (http://encarta.msn.com/dictionary_/hummus.html). People also argue over the right way to spell it, and variants include humus, hommos, hoummos, houmos, chumus, chummus.

    Hummus is so popular in Israel that surveys reported in Haaretz (http://www.haaretz.com/), a leading Israeli newspaper, say that you can find hummus in 95 percent of the country’s homes. It’s more popular there than peanut butter or hamburgers. But it was only in 1994, when Strauss (now Strauss-Elite Israel) started mass-producing hummus that you could buy it in Israeli’s supermarkets.

    I still remember eating the fantastic hummus that street vendors sold in Jerusalem when I visited there just after the Six-Day War. And I have loved hummus ever since, but only about a year ago found excellent hummus in the U.S. It’s the Sabra.

    It was in the home of my stepson and his wife, who also live in Boulder. They found it at the East Side Kosher Deli on the far side of Denver, a little too far to go every week. Recently the told me that a local supermarket, King Sooper’s, one of the Kroger banners, now carries it. And ever since then I have been one happy man.

    Sabra hummus is so good that, unlike salsa and guacamole, you don’t have to make it yourself. This hummus is even better than my old recipe for hummus made with chana dal. Plus, I’ve tried dozens of brands and none come close. My stepson and others tell me that Miki hummus, imported from Israel, is probably the closest in flavor profile and texture, but I haven’t been able to try it yet.

    Sabra is the word used to describe a Jew born in Israel. The word is derived from the Hebrew word "tzabar," the name of the prickly pear cactus, Opuntia, which I wrote about in my “Diabetes Update” newsletter. Like the prickly pear, a Sabra supposedly has a thick hide that conceals a sweet softer interior.

    That leads to some confusion. Tzabar brand hummus is one of Israel’s leading brands, but that company has no connection with Sabra hummus, which is a product of Blue and White Foods LLC. Yehuda Pearl and Strauss-Elite Israel each own half of the company.

    The ingredients of hummus are all healthy ones. Chickpeas are low glycemic – about 30 compared to 100 for glucose – and high in protein and soluble fiber. Sesame butter (tahini) is rather high in monounsaturated fat.

    There’s one study in the professional literature of the glycemic index of hummus itself. An obscure publication, the Journal of Nutritional & Environmental Medicine, included the report by Zeina Mehio and associates, “Glycemic and insulinemic responses of normal subjects to selected meals commonly consumed in the Middle East.” This article says that the hummus they tested had the amazingly low glycemic index of 6.

    You can get Sabra hummus in 26 flavors and four different sizes. My favorite flavor is “Classic.” Indeed, “Classic is far and away Sabra’s best seller,” says Howie Klagsbrun, vice president for sales for Blue and White Foods. “Next is ‘Roasted Garlic Hummus.’”

  • What makes Sabra hummus different, Howie says, are two things. “ We don’t open cans of chickpeas. We buy raw chickpeas and cook them from scratch. And Sabra hummus has the richest mix of sesame tahini.”

    Serving Dips
    The only problems will all of these wonderful dips are what to eat them with and how to finish them off.

    Perhaps the best dip delivery devices for guacamole and hummus are what the French call crudités. They are just raw vegetables like bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, jicama, and radishes. But even the thickest salsa is too thin for a crudité.

    Most people eat not only salsa but also guacamole and hummus with chips or pita bread. They taste great this way, but unless you eat the chips or pita bread in moderation, these high-glycemic delivery devices can quickly raise the blood glucose of people with diabetes.

    The other problem is how to finish off the salsa, guacamole, or hummus that the bread or crudités won’t deliver to your mouth. Until some brilliant inventor dreams up a tool as versatile as my index finger, I use it to make sure that none of these these healthy and tasty appetizers go to waste. Now, that’s simple.