Cooking with the Kids
Simple Sides: Roasted Papaya & Pineapple
By Dennis Linden
Competing schedules in the day-to-day lives of a busy modern family make it difficult to share a home-cooked meal together, but not impossible. In fact, with a little planning, cooking together can become a fun family event and learning opportunity. This feature will focus on providing a child or a group of children, working together under the supervision of an adult, with one uncomplicated, healthy and delicious side dish recipe. The dishes will be centered on seasonal fresh produce items; the recipes will always contain tasks will allow even the youngest kitchen helper to contribute to the family meal. Parents should always read through each recipe carefully to judge the division of labor based on age and ability as well as to identify where adult attention might be especially needed.
Many of the recipes presented here will seem very basic -- this is by design. It is hoped that these simple preparations will provide the culinary foundation and confidence to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their experience in the kitchen develops. Melissa’s encourages parents to find the time to gather as a family unit at least once a week for a dinner that everyone pitches in to prepare. It’s a wonderful way to teach children some basic cooking skills and, more importantly, cooking with your kids will build memories in all of your hearts forever.
To get a child started in the kitchen one needs a simple, quick and fun recipe that is not tedious in its prep, looks interesting and has a tasty, confidence-building reward on the plate that the kid can take credit for making. Here is a dish that fits that definition in its simplicity of just four ingredients and minimal preparation, yet is also packed with culinary lessons 101 for any beginner cook.
Firstly, what kid would not be attracted to the prospect of eating a colorful-looking bowl of juicy red papaya and pineapple? Now perk your newbie helper’s culinary curiosity by announcing that he or she is going to cook these fruits for dinner, adding just two herbs that will change the flavors of each dramatically.
To simplify things, I suggest that the coring of the pineapple be done by the supervising adult. While the papaya is easily peeled with a potato peeler, coring a pineapple is job that takes more culinary experience—at least get the corer started and supervise the process very closely to avoid a mess. However, both fruits are so easy to slice up even a very young child can be assigned to this task using a dull plastic knife with no fear of injury. The cubes might turn out a little off, but perfection is not the point here—involvement in prepping the family meal is the goal, culinary technique will come with practice and interest. Still, even with a plastic blade, proper knife handling needs to be taught and supervised.
The big lesson of this recipe can be the use of fresh herbs and how they will flavor a dish. In fact, the recipe provides an opportunity to demonstrate the taste contrast between tarragon and thyme, as well as their complementary characteristics when combined. Do this by going away from the recipe a bit in dividing the raw fruit combination into three bowls rather than one. In one add just the tarragon along with the rest of the ingredients, in another only the thyme and follow the recipe combining both herbs in a third bowl. When the fruit is finished in the oven, there will be a ready-made taste test of the three versions waiting for the family to try, while your young chef learns that a few well-chosen herbs can turn “sweet” ingredients into “savory”!
This dish pairs deliciously with roasted chicken! It also tastes great whether served hot right out of the oven, at room temperature, or even chilled. For the beginner cook, seeing a dish at the dinner table being enjoyed by the whole family goes a very long way in building culinary pride and confidence in his or her self. Enjoy!
Savory Roasted Papaya and Pineapple
1 Red Papaya
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Fresh Tarragon
1 Tablespoon Fresh Thyme
1 teaspoon Black Pepper
1 teaspoon Salt
What the kids can do:
Peel papaya with a vegetable peeler, scoop out seeds and cube into 12 inch chunks
Cut cored pineapple rounds into 12 inch chunks
Separate tarragon and thyme leaves by dragging down the stem in the opposite direction that the leaves grow with first finger and thumb pinched together
Combine fruit cubes in a large bowl and toss in olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper
Spread fruit out on a baking dish
What the supervising adult should do:
It is probably best to core the pineapple and let your kitchen helpers do the cutting into pieces. Preheat oven to 375° and cook until tops of fruit start to brown (about 20 minutes), then crank up the oven to 425° and cook for about 810 minutes until edges of fruit become caramelized. Remove from oven and serve individually or family style.