April 1, 2023

Clermont couple discovers joys and benefits of a meatless diet.

6.7 min read| Published On: April 1st, 2023|

By Roxanne Brown

Clermont couple discovers joys and benefits of a meatless diet.

6.7 min read| Published On: April 1st, 2023|

“If you would have asked me seven years ago if I could live without meat, I may have said, ‘No,’ but now, I would never go back because the benefits and how much healthier we are today is totally worth it.” Julie Hanks  

There’s nothing like coming across a good food selfie on Facebook, especially if it’s one that inspires you to ask for the recipe. 

Scroll through Ernie Prado and Julie Hanks’ Facebook page and you may find yourself repeatedly asking. Every dish highlighted on their feed—from butternut squash pumpkin soup topped with black beans, spinach, and tomatoes, four cheese macaroni, chili with cornbread, lemon berry yogurt cake, to asparagus and yellow squash casserole, guacamole, sweet potato black bean burgers, and Cuban flan—looks heavenly. 

“We started posting some of the stuff we cook, and people started commenting and private messaging us asking for recipes,” says Julie, who with husband Ernie, own and operate Appliance Parts of Clermont. 

Ernie adds, “It’s a win-win for everyone. It helps our business by giving us exposure and something relatable to talk about with our customers, but most of all, it feels good to know we can help other people interested in a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle by educating them about where to start and showing them different options.”

Rewind about seven years to a time Ernie and Julie could have used a little help transitioning from a carnivorous diet to a vegetarian, near-vegan lifestyle (they eat some eggs and dairy).

They decided to take that route one night after watching “What the Health,” a documentary on Netflix that “examines the link between diet and disease, and the billions of dollars at stake in the healthcare, pharmaceutical and food industries.”

Julie says when the show ended, they decided to go vegetarian – cold turkey – starting right then and there. 

What they didn’t know is how much their lives would be forever changed, especially Julie’s. 

Ernie says he always felt helpless watching Julie suffer constantly from heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), stomach pain, nausea, tiredness, and more. And no doctor or medication had been able to cure her.

“I was very sick literally all day long and all night; I couldn’t sleep,” Julie says. “I went from doctor to doctor, I raised my bed, took all the medicines like Tums, Tagamet, and whatever other prescriptions my doctors would give me, and nothing worked.”

Today, Julie’s a whole new, much happier, more rested, healthier woman. And she owes it all to going green.

“Ever since cutting meat, I have no more heartburn and I can eat so many things without feeling miserable,” Julie explains. “I can literally drink hot sauce, lemon juice, coffee, eat chocolate, even have a beer, none of which I could do before.”

Ernie says they initially didn’t really know what to cook, so they made lots of veggies topped with different seasonings until Julie started finding and trying different recipes.

“Julie does the majority of the prep, then we just play with the ingredients,” says Ernie. “It’s fun seeing what we can come up with. It’s like an art form.”

Julie also says they make it a point to waste as little as possible when cooking. Often, after taking stock of what they have in their pantry/refrigerator, she’ll Google something like, ‘I have tomatoes, I have black beans, I have squash, I have onions, find me a recipe,’ and all kinds of recipes pop up.

Once she picks one, they’ll review the list of ingredients. If there’s an ingredient they don’t have, they’ll substitute it with something on hand. Or they’ll incorporate leftover veggies from the day before into the new dish.

“We don’t waste much at all; that’s always our goal. We cook with what we’ve got,” Julie adds.

They also use fresh ingredients, nutritional yeast for added vitamins, and cook from scratch when possible because it is more cost effective than buying prepared meals.

Plus, to reduce tiredness, they take supplements to replace the Vitamin B usually found in meats. And they load up on dark green vegetables like collard greens, spinach and Brussels sprouts to maintain healthy iron levels.

They’ve also learned to season, season, season.

“The secret to making a vegetarian lifestyle easier is seasoning. The food has to taste good, because if it doesn’t, or if it’s bland, you won’t want to eat it. You’ll feel you are missing out on something,” Ernie says.

They enjoy cooking vegetarian dishes for guests but realize that no matter how much they encourage others to try their creations, not everyone will be on board.

And they get it. Once in a long while they even get a hankering for a hot dog or a piece of steak, so that’s when they turn to plant-based products made to taste like meat. 

“If you would have asked me seven years ago if I could live without meat, I may have said, ‘No,’ but now, I would never go back because the benefits and how much healthier we are today is totally worth it,” Julie says.  


Butternut Squash Pumpkin Soup

  • 2 lbs. butternut squash
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 medium onion (diced)
  • 1 shallot (diced)
  • 3 ribs of celery
  • 8 garlic cloves (minced)
  • 15 oz. of pumpkin puree
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. ground pepper
  • Optional (to dress up): diced tomatoes, diced jalapenos, spinach, black beans
  1. Heat oven to 350 F..
  2. Slice butternut squash in half (longways).
  3. Scrape out seeds.
  4. Lay parchment paper on baking tray.
  5. Coat each flesh side lightly with olive oil, salt and pepper.
  6. Cook face down on sheet for about one hour and 30 minutes until soft enough to scrape squash out of shell.
  7. Get large stainless stock pot.
  8. Add some olive oil, add your diced veggies (onion, shallot, celery, and garlic) and cook on medium/low heat until soft and golden.
  9. Turn down to a low simmer.
  10. Add vegetable broth to veggie mix and pumpkin.
  11. Stir in seasonings.
  12. Take squash out of oven and scrape out all of it and add to pot.
  13. Stir.
  14. Get your handheld immersion blender and mix until smooth.
  15. Keep burner on lowest possible setting and cover with lid.
  16. Serve in bowls, dress up with optional items and enjoy.

Sweet Potato Black Bean Burgers

  • 1/2 cup sweet potato (mashed) *can substitute butternut squash for sweet potato
  • 1 1/2 cups black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup diced white onion
  • 2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 medium red bell pepper (diced)
  • 1 small jalapeno (diced)
  • 3 garlic cloves (minced)
  • 2 tbsp. nutritional yeast (Braggs brand for the B Vitamins)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. chipotle chili powder
  • 1 tsp. dried parsley
  • 1 large egg whisked
  • 1 cup bread crumbs (I use panko)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. Poke holes in sweet potatoes and wrap in foil.
  3. Place on a baking sheet and roast about 45 minutes or until tender.
  4. Prep the onion, bell pepper, garlic and jalapeno.
  5. Heat olive oil in a medium skillet on medium heat
  6. Add all of your diced veggies in, stir and saute until golden brown.
  7. Rinse and drain black beans in a strainer to remove as much moisture as possible.
  8. Take sweet potatoes out of oven, peel and mash with the black beans.
  9. Leave some beans whole for texture.
  10. Stir sautéed ingredients into the sweet potato mixture.
  11. Add (salt, cumin, parsley, chili powder, nutritional yeast, and parsley).
  12. Then add the whisked egg and bread crumbs.
  13. Mix completely.
  14. Form the mixture into patties about 1/4 inch thick using the palm of your hand.
  15. Heat a skillet to medium heat.
  16. Put olive oil in the bottom of the pan.
  17. You can place two or three patties in the pan at a time.
  18. Cook about five minutes until lightly browned.
  19. Flip and cook the other side until browned.

Roasted Cuban Zucchini and Yellow Squash

  • 3 zucchinis and 3 yellow squash (quartered vertically)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. paprika
  • 1 tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 tbsp. cumin
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 cup cotija crumbled cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • Fresh lime for garnish
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. Lay out zucchini and yellow squash on a lightly greased baking sheet or parchment paper.
  3. In a small bowl, mix olive oil and spices.
  4. Brush seasoning mixture over zucchini and yellow squash, but leave some mixture for later.
  5. Roast in oven at 400 F for 25 minutes, or until squash becomes tender.
  6. Remove from oven and brush with seasoning mixture.
  7. Top with crumbled cheese, chopped cilantro, and a spritz of fresh lime!

Cuban Flan

  • 1 cup white sugar, divided (Use 1/2 cup now and 1/2 cup for caramel later)
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 5 eggs
  • 2 cans evaporated milk (can substitute for any other milk with fat)
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • Fresh blackberries, raspberries, and mint for garnish
  1. Turn oven on and set temperature to 350 F.
  2. In a flan pot with lid, caramelize 1/2 cup sugar over medium heat, stirring constantly until it has melted and is amber in color.
  3. Remove from stove and move caramel around the pot and up sides just a little.
  4. Mix the eggs with another 1/2 cup of sugar, milk and vanilla. (Mix until smooth).
  5. Add the egg mixture to the flan pot and cover with the lid.
  6. Cover top with foil.
  7. Place in flan pot in a cake sheet pan.
  8. Fill cake pan up 3/4 of the way up the pot. (1 1/2 inch of water)
  9. Bake at 350 F for at least an hour and 15 minutes.
  10. Check the flan after an hour (be careful)
  11. Remove the lid and stick a kitchen knife into the center of the flan and see if it comes out clean.
  12. Remove the pot from the water and let it completely cool.
  13. Once cooled remove the lid and foil and place on a nice serving tray.
  14. Make sure it has a small lip so it can catch all of the caramel goodness.
  15. Place one hand on the bottom of the flan pot and one on the plate, flip over and plate the flan.
  16. Garnish with blackberries, raspberries, and a few sprigs of mint.
  17. Serve immediately or place in the refrigerator and cover.

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About the Author: Roxanne Brown

Originally from Nogales, Arizona, Roxanne worked in the customer service industry while writing independently for years. After moving to Florida in 1999, Roxanne eventually switched her career path to focus more on writing and went on to become an award-winning reporter for The Daily Commercial/South Lake Press newspapers for 16 years prior to coming on board with Akers Media as a staff writer in July 2020 – her dream job come true.

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