SAN ANTONIO — Food can be the centerpiece of culture, but as the world changes, traditions do, too. With food, comes creativity, and unearths a world of endless possibilities.
Del Rio resident, Dora Stone knows this well.
“I love to be able to create something from nothing,” Stone said.
And there may be no better way than with tamales.
“I think it's beautiful to be able to learn how to cook and to do that for your family,” Stone said.
These tamales, however, are different. They’re vegan tamales, made with jackfruit instead of pork. The consistency of the fruit once cooked is one that almost looks like shredded chicken. Stone holds the fruit in her hands and pulls it apart.
On her kitchen island, she places masa harina, coconut oil and corn husks. Stone takes chiles that have been soaking in hot water and blends them with onions, garlic and soaking water.
Once the dough is made, Stone begins filling the tamales with the shredded jackfruit and chile before placing them in a steamer.
Stone grew up around her father’s restaurant in Acuna, Mexico, and attended the culinary institute of America. She said although she ate many meals at the restaurant, she didn’t try her hand at cooking until she attended a missionary trip.
Thus, her love of cooking grew.
Soon after, she began to have health problems, a friend recommended the documentary called ‘Forks over Knives.’
“Then six months later, I was like, I’m going be, I’m going vegan,” Stone said.
Stone said she wanted to continue sharing her creativity through food, so she decided to begin blogging. Later, she took her recipes to social media apps like Instagram, before logging onto TikTok during the pandemic.
She's grown a following of nearly 170 thousand people, mostly on TikTok.
“I've never seen this kind of growth. but it is very exciting to be able to reach people that maybe they haven't seen my stuff before,” Stone said.
She says people want to see vegan Mexican food, especially young people.
“They have a greater consciousness about our planet, about our environment, about the damage that we're doing to animals,” Stone said.
Like Stone, people are also going vegan for health reasons, and it can be a benefit, especially within a community like San Antonio.
“In terms of obesity and weight and even diabetes and prediabetes at 30 percent of adults have prediabetes right now,” Dr. Vidhya Illuri, an endocrinologist with University Health, said.
Illuri said more people are becoming vegan than ever before.
“Veganism has become very popular, increasing to about 300% in the last 15 years,” llluri said.
The doctor recommends a plant-based diet to nearly all her patients. She said going vegan can reduce the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, or even cancer.
“Do i require that people are 100 percent vegetarian or vegan? No. I think the more you do it, you'll reap those benefits,” Illuri said.
However, Stone isn’t the only one bringing healthier options to the table.
At Adelante Restaurant, they’ve been doing healthy before it was hip.
“Not a lot of restaurants were doing healthier. so that's what we felt we could do and be our niche,” owner, Dan Soder, said.
For thirty-five years, Deb and Dan Soder have introduced options that work for their community. They can cater to any palate, whether a person may be vegan, vegetarian, or not.
They don’t use lard or beef and were one of the first restaurants to do so in San Antonio.
“We weren't trying to recreate the world of vegans and vegetarians. We were just trying to like, do healthier for us and,” the couple said. Dan said everything from their menu to the restaurant’s decor happened organically.
The restaurant, located in Alamo Heights, will be closing on April 1. The Soder’s have decided to go into retirement.
Now, you can find vegan and vegetarian Mexican food options all over the city.
With plant-based diets becoming more popular, it’s something the Soder’s are happy to see.
“I think it's great that there are more choices and people and it's a health thing. You do what you need to do for yourself, your body,” Dan said.
But change isn’t always taken in spoonfuls, Stone says she’s received pushback.
“Especially like the traditional Mexican purists, I like to call them. they're like, this is a travesty, an offense to Mexican cuisine,” Stone said.
The chef says she used to feel that way, too but as she finds new ways to veganize meals, Stone finds herself reconnecting with her roots.
“We're going back to the foods of our ancestors,” Stone said.
Stone places the tamales in a bowl. As she unwraps the corn husks, the masa has turned the color of honey
She takes a fork and cuts into the tamal. The inside appeared like the inside of a normal tamale. She pushes the plate toward us, welcoming us to take one.
I fork one onto my plate, feeling the steam rise from the tamale. I place a bite into my mouth and immediately am surprised by the taste. It is savory and moist. If I hadn’t known better, I would have believed I was eating a regular tamale.
I continue to cut the tamale into bite-size pieces, devouring them within minutes.
She also has a cookbook available in both English and Spanish called ‘Vegan Tamales Unwrapped.’
Additionally, Stone offers Zoom cooking classes. Her next cooking class will be held on December 4. She will teach viewers how to make vegan Rajas con Crema Tamales.