I can’t believe theses posts have gotten so far away from me! My spring semester cooking with kids started in late January. This semester I am upping our International flavors which I’m very excited about. One of my fifth graders figured it out the smarty: “Are we cooking around the world? Last week we cooked Indian, now we’re doing Japanese.” Answer: Yes! As much as I can, I am.
I’m also introducing (some) meats and fish this semester. Overall with allergies, religions and dietary restrictions, it’s far easier to keep the cooking vegetarian (why haven’t schools figured that out?). On the other hand, I also think it’s important to expose young people to working with meats and fish, especially when raw. I know too many adults who are terrified to touch raw meat or fish– it’s horrible! How can you eat something if you can’t even bring yourself to touch it?! I have a few students with texture issues, but overall, most of them have been great with what we’ve done so far. If they begin to freak out I tell them to take a deep breath and imagine clay.
Another item is expanding our whole grains. The kids are totally fascinated with exploring these grains and connecting the dots– “Wait, chickpea flour, like the hummus bean?” “Yes!” Some folks (not my students) still don’t get it: “You know you could have just used rice there.”
“Right, but they know rice. They don’t know farro or bulgar.”
“Neither do I.”
I’m also pleased to introduce mystery fruit and vegetables. So much suspense and the kids eat it up, literally. It’s not something I do every week, but if we have something I know will take a good 15-20 minutes in the oven, or if I have some time to kill towards the end of class, I’ll bring in a mystery item. I try to keep it local and in season, and have often brought in items from my own CSA winter share to explore. Students get really excited if they can guess it, or at least recognize it. Celeriac brought shouts about a father’s favorite salad item. Watermelon radish brought total astonishment of the world’s smallest watermelon (which, is a radish, not a watermelon). One of my students even stopped by last Friday with his father before he went home: “Wait! We didn’t do a mystery vegetable this week?!” “I know, we didn’t have time we were so busy, I think we’ll do something next week.” “YES!” I had an admin in the other day observing my class and as we put our dish in the oven and I turned around with, “time for a mystery vegetable!” and my kindergarten/first grade class erupted in cheering the admin looked at me totally astonished. I’m not saying the kids chow down on everything but they love trying to place these sometimes foreign items and often will complete the whole sample plate I set out for them.
On to our foods, recipes at bottom.
Kibbeh with Black Cherry Sauce
Our semester started in the Middle East with lamb-beef kibbeh with a black cherry sauce. “Kibba-wha?” A sort of Middle Eastern meatball I explained, only instead of bread crumbs, like in Italian meatballs, we’re adding bulgar. We served these with a black cherry reduction (literally frozen cherries boiled down with a touch of lemon juice). These were a huge hit. We made extra for our end of the semester party and the kids are really excited to share these with their parents.
Because of so many allergies I don’t cook with nuts. It kills me sometimes! For example, I LOVE peanut butter cookies and muffins and I LOVE walnuts in my banana bread. I get my kick by adding ingredients like oats, or seeds with nutty characteristics, like flaxseed or pumpkin seeds to get that nutty flavor. This bread was a hands down hit and the best part was it wasn’t overly sweet at all. The bananas are upped so much in this recipe that a true banana flavor really shines through and the sweetness of the banana makes up for the huge amount of sugar that’s in most recipes. We made ours with raisins I soaked overnight, but this could easily be made with chocolate chips, dried strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, or any other fruit-nut combo you can think of that you like with banana.
Chicken Soup with Farro & Buttermilk Chive Biscuits
There is only one kind of week when I’m thankful for cold, rainy weather. It’s any week we’re making soup in class! I remember this week started and ended dreary and I was so happy all week everyone must have thought I was totally twisted. (Really though, I love soup in any weather!) We used chicken thighs and wings for the broth and my students got a huge kick out of it– everyone wanted a wing in their soup. Instead of celery for our base flavor we used fennel. This turned out great since the week before fennel was our mystery vegetable. My students overall loved it so I turned a basic chicken soup into an Italian twist. To bring it back to the States, we made mini buttermilk biscuits.
Timing here was perfect for our one hour class: get soup simmering, make biscuits, bake biscuits, strain soup, add sliced carrots and fennel, biscuits out, divy up soup and biscuits. I cooked the farro at the beginning of class and allowed everyone to taste it before it went into the cups where our broth was going. I also threw some cranberry beans in because I found out during our arepa week that my students are a sucker for beans. The best part was when some of my students turned those biscuits into dumplings after a few slipped biscuits floated and were made better soup-soaked.
Moong dal Chilla (Indian Lentil Pancakes)
This week could have been a huge disaster. It luckily turned into a huge success. Even the admin was skeptical: “Lentil pancakes, good luck on that one.” And every student walking into the classroom: “Yeah! pancakes!” “No guys, look, lentil pancakes, these are savory pancakes.” That statement often received not too enthusiastic grumbles. In the end, these were a huge hit. I soaked moong dal beans (split hulled mung beans) in water overnight. Blitzed those to a paste and cut it with chickpea flour. We added some Indian flavors and in the interest of time, poured these into a half sheet pan, brushed them with olive oil and baked them (as opposed to cooking up 15 pancakes on a skillet). We also made a quick raita to eat these with and I’d say in the end I received about 90% thumbs up reviews.
Nori Wrapped Cod Cakes (pictured above)
I found out that before I started teaching someone had made vegetable sushi with the kids to rave reviews. I couldn’t understand why at first. But sushi is so hot these days, even kindergardeners will eat up the basic veggie rolls. What surprised me though was when someone told me it was the seaweed they loved. What? Most of my students will snack on sheets of nori like crackers (and did throughout class– I had to put a snack bowl out!). They love the subtle saltiness and crisp flakiness of it. So I couldn’t wait to work seaweed into a dish this semester.
Inspiration came when I thought of making a fish stick with a Japanese bent. Flaky, neutral cod (with some seasonings), rolled into panko crumbs and wrapped with nori. We even stuck little skewers in it so it was not just a fish stick, but fish on a stick. My students loved it. It reminded them of the sushi they made before, but opened them up to a delicious fish.
Green Mac N’ Cheese (pictured above)
I try to stick with a few holidays during the semester. St Patrick’s Day is one I figured I could have a little fun twist with– something along the green eggs and ham motif. I’m from Chicago where St Pat’s was a day when not only the River got dyed green, but every piece of toast and milk along with it. So in class, I thought, why not green mac n’ cheese!
This day was another hilarious introduction to our menu: “We’re making green mac n’ cheese!” “I don’t get it– We’re using food coloring?” “No! We’re going to make our mac n’ cheese green by pureeing spinach into our sauce.” “What?! That’s so unfair!” I love how things so easily become unfair with young people.
What’s hilarious here is that the spinach was gross (for the younger students) all the way into the sauce, but once that immersion blender smoothed it out it was suddenly “cool, like a green milk shake, but smells like mac n’ cheese!” In the end I had students coming back for more and more of the green stuff. At home, D and I have been known to make a few mac n’ cheeses. Our favorite is a fig-bacon-mushroom mac n’ cheese, but I could see this one at home with some shrimp or better yet lobster tossed in! Yum!
NOTE: The picture above are of some of my fourth/fifth grade students. A few weeks ago I started letting them take the reigns more while I supervise. Essentially they get into class and form their small groups, we review the ingredients together and they take over from there, following the recipe on their own. They’re loving their new responsibilities in the kitchen and I’m loving that they’re capable (almost) solo chefs!
Kibbeh with Black Cherry Sauce (aka Middle Eastern meatballs)
10 servings, appetizer
3/4 cup onion (about 1 large onion), rough chopped
1 cup fine-ground bulgur, cooked
1/2 pound ground lamb
1/2 pound lean ground beef
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Puree the onion in a food processor or blender. Transfer to a bowl. Add cooked bulgur, lamb, beef, salt, pepper and allspice. Mix until thoroughly incorporated. Roll into small meatballs, about 1-inch in size. Add olive oil to a sauté pan set over medium high heat. Cook until browned on both sides. Serve with Black Cherry Sauce (recipe not included).
1-1/4 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup quick-cooking oats
1/2 cup brown sugar (substitute: honey)
1/4 cup shredded coconut, toasted
1 tablespoon flax seeds, finely ground
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, in 1 tablespoon pieces, room temp
1/4 cup coconut oil, in 1 tablespoon pieces, room temp
1-1/2 cups ripe bananas, (about 3 large bananas)
1/4 cup buttermilk (substitute: plain or coconut yogurt)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup raisins (substitute: dates, currants, 1/2 chopped walnuts, chocolate chips, etc)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9”x5”x3” loaf pan, set aside.
In a large bowl whisk together the flours, oats, brown sugar, shredded coconut, flax seeds, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and allspice. Add butter, coconut oil, bananas, buttermilk, vanilla and eggs. Using a potato masher, smash and mix the ingredients together until fully incorporated. (It’s okay to leave some larger pieces of banana). Stir in raisins. Transfer to loaf pan.
Bake the bread on the middle rack approximately 1 hour 15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack before removing from pan.
Moong Dal Chilla (Indian Lentil Pancakes) with Raita
Moong Dal Chilla:
1 cup moong dal (split yellow mung beans found in Indian food section. Can substitute yellow split peas)
1 carrot, shredded
1/2 red onion, shredded
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 cup chickpea flour
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup whole cooked chickpeas
ghee (clarified butter) or olive oil
Rinse moong dal and soak in a water bath overnight (minimum 4 hours). Blitz drained moong dal in a food processor with 1/4 to 1/2 cup water, until a smooth paste forms.
Warm 2 tablespoons olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add carrot and onion, sauté 5 minutes until softened. Add salt, cumin, ginger, garlic powder and turmeric, sauté 2 minutes more, until flavors are released. Transfer to a medium bowl.
Heat oven to 450 degrees F. Stir in chickpea flour, cilantro, whole chickpeas and 1 cup water, mixing until well combined. Set aside for 15 minutes. Transfer batter to a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and lightly oiled (jelly roll pan with 1 inch sides). Bake 10-15 minutes, until just golden at the edges. Serve with raita, fruit chutney or chopped tomatoes.
Nori Wrapped Cod Cakes
2 pounds fatty white fish like cod, pollock, haddock or salmon
1 cup cooked brown rice
1/3 cup chopped scallions, whites and light green only
1/4 cup chopped cilantro, stems and leaves
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon fish sauce
nori (seaweed), cut into 1/2-inch strips
panko crumbs (Japanese bread crumbs)
grapeseed or other neutral oil
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and brush with oil,
In a food processor, puree fish with eggs until a smooth paste forms. Transfer to a bowl and fold in brown rice, scallions, cilantro, pepper, salt and fish sauce. Place about 1 cup of panko crumbs on a plate. Dampen hands with cold water, then shape fish batter into balls, about the size of a golf ball. Roll in panko crumbs then wrap the nori strip around the formed fish ball. Place on baking sheet, seam down, and flatten slightly to about 3/4- inch thickness. Continue with remainder, spacing about 1 inch apart. Bake 10-15 minutes until lightly golden. Serve with soy sauce.
Note: Make these Fish Balls Thai flavored by adding red or green Thai curry paste. To make these Norwegian or Spanish, remove fish sauce and scallions for some parsley, garlic and red onions. Thai-style can be served with a little sweet-sour sauce, Spanish with some sofrito (tomato sauce), New England-style with tartar, etc.