For Eddie Garza, the kitchen has always been his happy place. Growing up, he spent countless hours making Mexican cuisine with his grandmother. "I’ve been cooking as long as I can remember," he says.
And though the years of culinary experience gave him a great love and appreciation for food, it also led to an unhealthy lifestyle. He was overweight as a child and hit 300-plus pounds as an adult music teacher.
All of that changed, however, when he met a fellow teacher who inspired him to make more conscious choices — for his own health, for the environment, and for animals too. Eventually, he decided to get into the culinary world and began working at a famous vegan eatery: the Spiral Diner in Dallas and Fort Worth.
From there, he launched a career as a plant-based chef and TV personality. Now he's the senior manager of Food & Nutrition for the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS), as well as a cookbook author. His latest book, ¡Salud! Vegan Mexican Cookbook, offers an array of Mexican favorites, all 100 percent veganized. It will hit shelves (and Amazon) this Thursday, December 15.
So who's the target audience for the new book? "I think I see it as anybody who loves Mexican food, which, honestly, that's the whole world," he laughs.
Veganizing Mexican food really isn't a stretch, Garza explains. Originally, the region's cuisine was primarily plant-based — until outside influences were introduced, that is. Cheese, for example, was brought over by Belgian immigrants, and meat was rare until the Spanish arrived.
Garza's concoctions incorporate both old-school meals (many of which were originally vegan) and revamped versions of more modern favorites. The book offers 150 recipes, including spicy eggplant barbacoa tacos; classic chile relleno; chicken-style enchiladas with green mole sauce; and horchata Mexicana. "I wanted to show we can still go back to our plant-based roots and enjoy all the flavors we love, from Mesoamerican to modern Mexican," he explains.
This kind of cuisine has a lot of appeal in the Spanish-speaking world, Garza adds, in large part because of its health benefits.
"Studies show that a lot of Latinos or Hispanics are more likely to make changes to their diets because of issues surrounding health problems," he says. "We have some of the highest numbers for diabetes and obesity."
Garza frequently travels to Mexico and says the people are incredibly enthusiastic about the plant-based paradigm. "Everywhere I go, I've been met with nothing but acceptance and people being so excited that they can do something.
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"There might be a little joke here and there, but as soon as they taste everything, it's exactly what they're used to," he adds. "Mexican food is so highly spiced that you can flavor anything with Mexican spices and get that same flavor."
The cookbook has plenty of traditional seasonal recipes. For example, his version of tamales swaps out pork fat for olive oil and uses a chickpea "chorizo" as one of the fillings. He also offers a vegan version of champurrado, a Mexican drink made with corn and chocolate. "I wanted to have all of my favorites," he adds.
Though he resides in Dallas, Garza says he's planning a move to Miami. He spends a lot of time here now, and more and more restaurants and chefs are seeking advice about plant-based cooking.
"It's happening left and right. It's really exciting to see this momentum, especially in a place like Miami where it's really needed."