Cooking with the Kids
Simple Sides: Coconut Spinach & Garbanzo Beans
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.
Here’s a tasty one-pot dish with an interesting ingredient list that will teach your young sous chefs the culinary art of layering flavors. Using Melissa’s Peeled & Steamed Garbanzo Beans makes this recipe practical for kids to help make. Being ready-to-eat right out of the package eliminates the hours of soaking and cooking time required to prepare dried chickpeas. There will be years of kitchen time ahead for them to learn how to prepare garbanzos the “slow” way. For now the focus should be to keep things interesting and moving along without getting bogged down with tedious or time-consuming tasks that will not hold the attention of your crew. Plus these Peeled & Steamed Garbanzos are far superior in taste to canned chickpeas that often taste…well, canned!
Another basic cooking lesson in this recipe is the first experience of cooking down spinach. Sounds like a task not worth mentioning, but for the novice cook the unique properties of spinach can be a fun lesson if presented creatively. First, pile the entire pound of uncooked baby spinach on a large platter and place it right next to the pot on the stovetop. Your crew will be incredulous that such an amount of volume will fit in the simmering pot. Then watch your helpers’ amazement (and learning curve) as each handful of spinach “shrinks” before their eyes as they feed more and more spinach into the mix. Eventually the platter will be empty though the contents of the pot will not have increased much at all -- culinary magic will awe the beginner! It’s also a very practical lesson in measurement that they will use preparing many other spinach dishes in their own kitchens for years to come!
This is really a very simple recipe that requires minimal knife work and lots of measuring. Those measured ingredients are then added to the pot a few at a time and cooked some, before mixing in the second batch of flavor enhancements. So the division of labor is pretty clear cut in this one – youngest helper does the measuring and an older child gets some stove top stirring-simmering experience that is relatively safe if armed with a long-handled mixing spoon under close supervision.
The stew-like results make for some choices when serving. The succulent mixture is thick enough to eat as a standalone side dish with a fork, yet saucy enough to serve over pasta, rice or quinoa. Include your kitchen helpers in that decision before prep begins as it will add to their menu planning resume. FYI: while it’s doubtful that there will be any, leftovers will keep in the freezer for up to 3 months without loss of flavor or texture. More importantly, the experience of guiding your child through this stovetop recipe, with your helper maybe having to stand on a stool, will be one of those special times that you will both remember. So cherish this moment and enjoy a tasty dish in the process!
Coconut Spinach & Garbanzo Beans
2 tsp. vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves Melissa’s Fresh Peeled garlic, minced
1 TBS fresh ginger, grated
1 package Melissa’s Dried Julienne Tomato Strips
1 large lemon, juiced (about 2 TBS juice)
½ Tsp. Hatch Chile Powder (Mild)
2 packages Melissa’s Peeled & Steamed Garbanzo Beans
1 lb. baby spinach
1 can coconut milk, 13.5 oz.
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon ground ginger
What the kids can do:
Heat the oil in a large cooking pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is beginning to brown. Add the garlic, ginger, dried tomatoes, lemon zest and chile powder. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add the chickpeas and mix thoroughly until they are coated with the rest of the mixture.
Toss in the spinach, one handful at a time. Use a long-handled spoon to mix in each handful until it wilts down in the pot making room for the next handful.
When all the spinach has been added, pour in the coconut milk, salt, ground ginger, and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer, then turn down the heat and cook for 10 minutes. Taste and add more salt and lemon juice, if necessary.
What the supervising adult should do:
Oversee closely the little bit of knife work required – chopping onion, mincing garlic. A child-friendly, old-fashioned box grater works great for the fresh ginger. While the stovetop layering of the ingredients is mostly just pour in and mix, an open flame means watching over the process extra-close.