Cooking with the Kids
Simple Sides: Jicama Sticks
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.
In the spirit of May’s Cinco de Mayo celebrations, here’s a fun snack or appetizer appropriately dressed in the colors of the Mexican flag that is very kid-friendly both in preparation and taste! After all, what child can resist a bowl of fresh strawberries in any form? Since this recipe requires no cooking, the culinary experience for young kitchen helpers is on how to use a combination of seasonings, dry and liquid, to make opposing sweet and tangy sauces without relying on any kind of heating process to meld each ingredient list into one cohesive flavor.
Jicama is a versatile, edible root with both a sweet and starchy flavor. This juicy tuber has a very thick brown skin and creamy white interior with the crunchy texture of an apple or water chestnut. A popular Mexican vegetable stable, Jicama can weigh anywhere from one to six pounds. Its sweet, nutty flavor is good both raw and cooked. In Mexico, it is popular in salads, fresh fruit combinations, fruit bars, soups; in the Philippines the root is used extensively in stir-fry dishes.
That said, Jicama is a pain to peel. Since the object of cooking together is to inspire your helpers into taking an interest in the culinary arts, I would suggest that the adult in the room present the jicama sticks to your sous chefs ready-made. In fact, this might be an adult-only task as some colorful language of impatience might be expressed during the process that would be inappropriate for young chef ears! Plus the quickest way to create the sticks is to run the root through the sharp blades of a mandolin, which is very much a job for the supervising adult anyway. Once you have a pile of jicama “fries” turn them over to your helpers to incorporate into the marinade.
All three components of this recipe are simple to measure and mix into one bowl formulas. Again, emphasize the opposing sweet and sour flavors in each of the ingredient lists. In fact this is a great opportunity to get kids into the habit of tasting each ingredient on its own before adding it to the mix. Be aware that, besides supervising this recipe, you are also helping them to build a catalog of familiar flavors that will come in handy as their culinary confidence grows. The long term goal, of course, is for them to be able to recognize a needed tweak of an extra dash or sprinkle to any dish being cooked by tasting it throughout the cooking process. So teach them to taste and taste often.
Since strawberries and kids just seem to go together, it would be a good idea to allow for the expected “shrinkage” of these tasty little fruits by small hands. So make it 2 cups of fruit for the dipping sauce and at least one more cup for the crew, which will probably include an occasional larger supervising hand in the bowl as well! Also you can easily stretch out Cinco de Mayo by doubling the volume of this recipe and refrigerating a second batch; if sealed in an airtight container, the sticks will stay crunchy for a week while getting better marinating! Enjoy!
Jicama Sticks with Red & Green Dipping Sauces
1 pound Jicama, peeled
Juice of 2 Limes (about ¼ cup)
1 Tablespoon Distilled White Vinegar
1 teaspoon Ground Dried Hatch Chile Powder
½ teaspoon Salt
½ teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1 packed cup Fresh Cilantro leaves
1 cup Reduced-Fat Sour Cream
2 Tablespoons Melissa’s Lime Juice
1 Tablespoon Melissa’s Organic Blue Agave Syrup
Coarse Salt and Pepper
2 cups Fresh Strawberries
¼ cup Melissa’s Organic Blue Agave Syrup
2 Tablespoons Melissa’s Lemon Juice
1 teaspoon Melissa’s Hatch Salsa
2 Tablespoons White Vinegar
What the kids can do:
Sticks: Place the sticks in a medium bowl and toss with the rest of the ingredients, then set aside to marinate while sauces are being made.
Green Sauce: In a food processor, place cilantro, ½ cup of the sour cream, lime juice, and agave; season with salt and pepper. Process until smooth, 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, and stir in remaining sour cream.
Red Sauce: Combine all ingredients in a food processor until smooth.
What the supervising adult should do:
Peel Jicama, using a mandolin to cut into ½ inch thick “French Fries” size; then hand off these sticks to your kitchen helpers to season and marinate.
Plating: Arrange sticks in a glass, standing them up like breadsticks; transfer each sauce into a small dipping bowl. Serve all three together on a platter and enjoy!