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Las Posadas ~ Preparing for La Navidad

featuring recipes from

The Diabetes Holiday Cookbook
Year-Round Cooking for people with Diabetes



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Sopa de Albóndigas

Festival Salad

Vegetable Tamale Pie

Tijuana Chicken

Baked Mexican Lasagna

Warm Apple Empanadas


Fresh Fruit Quesadillas


Tapioca & Strawberry Parfait

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Editor's Note: Look for more Mexican sweets in  Dazzling Desserts and Sugar & Spice, and other holiday food features.



     Las posadas means "the inns" or  "the shelters" in Spanish.  A religious and social celebration that takes place for nine nights, from December 16th   to 24th,  the holiday known as Las Posadas commemorates Joseph and Mary's journey to Bethlehem and their search for shelter prior to the birth of Christ.  Las Posadas is a reenactment of this difficult journey.  It is an elaborate preparation for La Navidad (Christmas) in Mexico and some Central American countries.

     This tradition dates back to the sixteenth century and St. Ignatius Loyola, who used an Aztec festival to teach about the birth of Christ.  He also wanted to replace the nine-day celebration of the birth of the Aztec Sun god with a Christian celebration.  What started as a novena, or nine days of prayer, eventually moved from the church to the community and was celebrated in people's homes.

     Las Posadas includes a procession led by children, followed by adults and musicians.  They travel to a different house in the village or neighborhood each night looking for lodging.  When they enter the designated house, they begin the evening with prayer; soon after, the celebration begins, full of music, fireworks,  food, candy, and treats for all.  Children and adults alike anticipate this joyous religious occasion.

     In traditinal homes and rural areas, particularly in the south of Mexico, La Navidad is still very much a religious holiday.   However, just as the Magi brought gifts to the infant baby Jesus, celebrants also bring toys to good little girls and boys on January 6, the Day of the Kings.  In the northern parts of Mexico, especially those adjacent to the United States, Christmas trees and Santa Claus are the order of the day.

     Our menu is appropriate for any night during Las Posadas or for La Navidad. It is designed for a group, as Mexican customs and culture dictate. Some of the items are high in calories, so be sure to share them with lots of friends. Include some lower-calorie items so that your guests have lots of choices. Serving buffet style is considerate of any guests who have diabetes, as it lets each person easily determine the amount of food he or she wishes to eat.

     If your family and friends live close by, encourage them to adopt the true spirit of Las Posadas and walk to your party. That way they will benefit from the physical activity that can help keep their blood glucose in the appropriate range. Or, if walking isn't an option, play music so that everyone can dance ~ a very enjoyable way to stay active!

Source: The Diabetes Holiday Cookbook, ©2002 by Carolyn Leontos, MS, RD, CDE, Debra Mitchell, CEPC, and Kenneth Weicker, CEC.

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1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 cup cooked rice
2 Tbsp finely minced onion
1 tsp salt
1 tsp chili powder
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1 egg
1/2 medium onion, sliced into strips
2 medium carrots, cut in half lengthwise then sliced into
   half-moon shapes
1 stalk celery, sliced
1/2 small zucchini, sliced into strips
6 cups low-sodium Beef Stock or beef bouillon
1 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

     Combine the beef, cooked rice, onion, salt, chili powder, bread crumbs, and egg. Mix well. Shape into 1-inch meatballs; set aside.

     Bring all the remaining ingredients except the cilantro to a boil in a large pot. Add the meatballs when the stock begins to boil. Cover and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes. Skim off any fat that rises. Turn the heat off. Add the chopped cilantro and serve. Makes 12 Servings.

Per (5.33-ounce) Serving: 139 Cal; 8 g Total Fat (3 g Sat Fat);
6 g Carb; 44 mg Cholesterol; 289 mg Sodium; 11 g Protein; 1 g Fiber; 1 g Sugars. Exchanges: 1 Veg; 1 High-Fat Meat; 2 Fats.

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1 small head romaine lettuce
6 small beets, cooked, peeled and sliced
2 oranges, peeled and sliced
2 apples, cored and thinly sliced
2 bananas, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 small jicama, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
1 pineapple, peeled, cored, quartered and thinly sliced
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp water
1 tsp Equal (3 packets)
Seeds of 1 pomegranate
1 lime, cut into small wedges
1/4 cup chopped peanuts

     Line a shallow serving bowl with the outer leaves of the romaine lettuce. Shred the remaining lettuce and place the shreds on top of the leaves. Arrange the beets, oranges, apples, bananas, jicama, and pineapple in an eye-appealing pattern atop the lettuce. Mix together the lemon juice, water and Equal.  Drizzle this over the fruit. Garnish the salad with pomegranate seeds, lime wedges, and chopped peanuts. Makes 12 Servings.

Per Serving: 83 Cal; 2 g Total Fat; 17 g Carb; 00 mg Cholesterol; 13 mg Sodium; 2 g Protein; 4 g Fiber; 10 g Sugars. Exchanges: 1 Starch*

*Although the salad contains primarily fruit and vegetables, the addition of peanuts adds protein and fat and makes the nutrient profile similar to a 1 Starch exchange..

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1-1/3 cups warm water
1 tsp salt
1-1/2 cups cornmeal
1/2 cup masa flour
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp egg substitute

     Bring the water and salt to a boil; add cornmeal and simmer slowly, 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat and add the masa flour. Mix well. Blend in the butter and egg substitute. Stir well. Cover and set aside.

     Preheat oven to 375°F.  Coat a 9-inch square baking dish with cooking spray; set aside.


1 Tbsp canola oil
1 small onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup broccoli florets, cut small
1/2 cup green pepper, diced into small pieces
1/2 cup fresh tomatoes, diced
1 small jalapeño pepper, sliced (optional)
1/2 cup corn kernels
2 Tbsp black olives, sliced
1 cup water
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder

     Heat the canola oil in a heavy skillet or saucepan. Lightly sauté the onion and garlic in the canola oil for 2 minutes. Add all the remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes.

     Spread 1/3 of the masa mixture on the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Spread the filling mixture evenly over it. Cover evenly with the remainder of the masa.  Bake, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove the cover and continue to bake for another 20 minutes, or until lightly browned. Makes 6 Servings.

Per Serving: 248 Cal; 9 g Total Fat (3 g Sat Fat); 39 g Carb; 11 mg Cholesterol; 498 mg Sodium*; 6 g Protein; 5 g Fiber; 2 g Sugars. Exchanges: 2 Starch; 1 Vegetable; 2 Fats.

*This recipe is not recommended for low-sodium diets.

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1/2 cup V-8 juice
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 medium onioin, peeled and thinly sliced
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1-1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into 6 pieces
1 cup salsa (mild or hot)

    Preheat the oven to 375°F.   Coat a baking dish with cooking spray.

     Pour the V-8 juice into prepared baking dish and add the celery, onion, and carrot. Place the chicken breasts on top. Spread the salsa over the chicken. Cover and bake for 45 minutes. When done, the chicken will be opaque inside, with a slight pink color from the V-8 juice and the salsa.   Makes 6 Servings.

Per Serving: 148 Cal; 1 g Total Fat; 27 g Carb; 219 mg Sodium; 65 mg Cholesterol;  27 g Protein; 1 g Fiber; 3 g Sugars. Exchanges: 4 Very Lean Meat; 1 Vegetable.

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1/2 pound lean ground turkey (skinless)
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup finely chopped green pepper
2 Tbsp sliced black olives
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 cup salsa (milk or hot, your choice)
4 (6-inch) flour tortillas
1 (4-ounce) can diced green chilies
1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

     Preheat oven to 375°. Spray a 6-inch square baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.

     Cook the turkey, garlic, onion, and green pepper in a nonstick pan over medium heat, stirring to break up the meat. When the turkey is no longer pink and the pieces are small (about the size of a pea), add the olives, tomato paste, and salsa. Bring to a boil and remove from heat.

     Place 1 flour tortilla on the bottom of prepared baking dish and top it with a fourth of the turkey mixture, a fourth of the green chilies, and a fourth of the cheese.  Repeat this process 3 more times with the other tortillas.  Bake for 20 minutes, or until the lasagna is heated through. Remove it from the oven and let it rest 5 minutes before serving.  Makes 4 Servings.

Note: This recipe could be easily doubled and baked in a 6- x 10-inch dish if you want to serve it to a larger group.

Per Serving: 274 Cal; 10 g Total Fat (3 g Sat Fat); 29 g Carb;
53 mg Cholesterol; 451 mg Sodium*; 18 g Protein; 3 g Fiber; 2 g Sugars.  Exchanges: 2 Starch; 2 Med-Fat Meat; 2 Fats.

*This recipe is not recommended for low-sodium diets.

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2 Granny Smith apples
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
1-1/2 Tbsp unsweetened apple juice
1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp butter, chopped
1/8 tsp plus 1/3 tsp cinnamon, divided
3 tsp Equal (9 packets)
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 chilled, sugar-free pie dough
1 egg
1 Tbsp water

     Preheat the oven to 350°F.

     Peel and quarter the apples. Remove the cores. Slice each quarter across the narrow side into thin slices, less than 1/8-inch thick. Place the apples, lemon zest, apple juice, lemon juice, and butter in a shallow fry pan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the apples are soft, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the heat. Add 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon, 1-1/2 teaspoons Equal, and the applesauce, stirring to combine completely.  Place in refrigerator to cool.

     To assemble, roll out the pie dough 1/8-inch thick on a lightly floured surface. Using a cookie cutter, cut out dough circles 3-1/2 inches in diameter. Take the dough scraps, work them together, reroll, and cut out as many circles as possible. You should get at least 12.

     Whisk together the egg and water to make an egg wash. Place 1 tablespoon of the apple mixture in the center of each dough circle. Use a pastry brush to lightly brush the egg wash around the edge of half of each circle of dough, about 1/3-inch from the edge. Fold the dough over the filling so that the edges meet and press with your fingers to seal.

     Arrange the empanadas 1-inch apart on a nonstick cookie sheet that has been coated with cooking spray. Lightly brush the tops with egg wash. Combine the other 1-1/2 teaspoons Equal and 1/3 teaspoon cinnamon.  Sprinkle this evenly over the egg-washed empanadas. Bake 15 to 17 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove the empanadas from the oven and let them sit 5 minutes before serving.

     They can be served as finger food or on a dessert plate with low-fat vanilla ice cream. Makes 12 Empanadas.

Per Empanada: 137 Cal; 7 g Total Fat (4 g Sat Fat); 16 g Carb; 52 mg Cholesterol; 76 mg Sodium; 3 g Protein; 1 g Fiber; 4 g Sugars. Exchanges: 1 Starch; 1 Fat.

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1/2 cup light sour cream
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp Equal (1/2 packet)
1 mango, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch pieces
1 pint fresh strawberries, cleaned and sliced into quarters
1 small D'Anjou pear, cored and diced into 1/4-inch pieces
1-1/4 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh mint
1 cup shredded light jack cheese
4 (8-inch) low-fat flour tortillas

     Mix together the sour cream, vanilla, and Equal. Place in the refrigerator to chill.

     Place the prepared fruits in a bowl.  Warm the honey slightly in the microwave. Stir together the honey and chopped mint and toss gently with the fruit.

     Lay out the tortillas and distribute half the cheese on half of each tortilla. Strain any excess liquid from the fruit. Divide the fruit over the cheese-covered halves of tortillas and top with the remaining cheese. Fold each tortilla closed.

     Coat a skillet with cooking spray and preheat it over medium heat. Grill each quesadilla on both sides until golden brown.  Cut each in half and serve with the sweetened sour cream.  Makes 8 Servings.

Per (1/2 Quesadilla) Serving: 234 Cal; 8 g Total Fat (4 g Sat Fat); 36 g Carb; 21 mg Cholesterol; 383 mg Sodium*; 7 g Protein; 2 g Fiber; 11 g Sugars.  Exchanges: 1 Starch; 1 Fruit; 1 High-fat Meat; 2 Fats.

*This recipe is not recommended for low-sodium diets.

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3-1/2 cups 2% milk, divided

1 egg

2 Tbsp plus 1 tsp minute tapioca

1-1/2 tsp Equal (4-1/2 packets)

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 pint strawberries

1/2 cup Cool Whip Lite whipped topping

     Bring 3 cups of the milk to a boil in a heavy saucepan. Mix together the remaining 1/2 cup milk, the egg, and tapioca.   Add this to the hot milk while stirring with a wire whisk. Reduce the heat to a slow simmer and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the Equal and vanilla.  Cool for 30 minutes in the refrigerator before proceeding.

     Clean the strawberries.   Reserve 3 strawberries for garnish, and cut those in half.  Slice the remaining berries. 

     Divide half the sliced strawberries into the bottoms of 6 parfait or small white-wine glasses.  Add a layer of the cooled pudding to each, using 1/2 of the mixture.  Repeat with a layer of strawberries and another layer of pudding.  Top each glass with the shipped topping and half a strawberry.  Makes 6 Servings.

Per (1 Parfait) Serving: 131 Cal; 4 g Total Fat (3 g Sat Fat); 16 g Carb; 46 mg Cholesterol; 82 mg Sodium; 6 g Protein; 1 g Fiber; 10 g Sugars. Exchanges: 1 Low-fat Milk; 1 Fat.

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