Cooking with the Kids
Simple Sides: Savory Summer Plum Sauce
By Dennis Linden
Children in this country consume an estimated 12 percent of their calories from fast food and 20 percent of all American meals are eaten in the car! The consequences are predictably unhealthy. 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 and confidence 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 a child basic culinary skills and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all of your hearts forever. “No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing” – Julia Child.
June kicks off a season-long parade of assorted sizes, colors and flavors of a popular hand fruit of the summer – fresh plums. There is nothing quite like a cold, juicy plum on a hot summer afternoon. The colors, inside and out, include the entire color spectrum from bright yellows, brilliant reds and emerald greens to shades of dark purple and even black. Each variety offers the palate a different balance of sweet-tart flavor that changes as each fruit ripens and sugars develop. With such a diverse choice of taste and color, it’s a great opportunity to show your young kitchen helpers how to transform this favorite hand fruit into a savory sauce for a vegetable side dish at the family dinner table. In fact, it being the summer grilling season, this easy side dish will take your young chefs about the same time to prepare as a platter of backyard-grilled chicken to go with it!
Besides a single head being the perfect kid-sized serving, Baby Bok Choy has a sweet-fresh, slight cabbage flavor. Like its full-sized cousin, this miniature member of the cabbage family is an excellent source of vitamins A and C as well as a large concentration of manganese and zinc, which are core antioxidants. The other nice thing about this pint-sized leafy green is that the entire head is edible, no trimming required. The first cooking tip for your helpers is found in the initial quick sauté of the whole baby bok choy called for in this recipe, which seals in both flavor and nutrition. So this is a good time to point out that boiling would have almost completely lost all the nutrients in the process. The tender texture and subtle vegetable flavor of baby bok choy really works well paired up with the savory-sweet plum sauce.
If you have a child who is old enough for stovetop work under supervision, the plum sauce reduction contains several teaching moments that your helpers will use for a lifetime to come in their own kitchens. The sauce starts as a liquid to braise the baby bok choy. Once the heads of bok choy have been removed, the sauce reduction can begin with continual stirring over a low flame. The key ingredient here is to encourage patience. As the mixture transforms from liquid to syrup and finally into a full-bodied sauce, young eyes will widen and, who knows, a future Saucier might be inspired! Of course, the overall take-away lesson here is that one cannot judge a dish by its ingredient list. Turns out that combining four odd ingredients together that do not sound like they would be a good match with fresh plums, transforms into a scrumptious dinner sauce. Who would have thought? Enjoy!
What the supervising adult should do:
If your kitchen helpers are old enough to learn or handle a little stovetop cooking, then this recipe just needs focus overseeing the process. Emphasize the need to do things slowly and deliberately when working with heat. And if you have a very young helper, he or she can still assist in pouring the ingredients into the sauté pan and maybe standing on a chair for a bit of stirring with a long handled spoon—very closely supervised, of course. Standing on a chair at the stove, helping my mom in the kitchen and feeling involved, is still one of my fondest childhood memories.
Baby Bok Choy in Plum Sauce
1 cup fresh plums, pitted, chopped, skin on
1 TBS vegetable oil
4 heads baby bok choy
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup vegetable stock
2 TBS soy sauce
1 tsp ground ginger
What the kids can do:
Step #1: Chop plums into bite-sized pieces and measure out all other ingredients.
Step #2: Under close adult supervision, carefully heat up the oil in a deep sauté pan over a medium flame setting, then sauté the baby bok choy until slightly browned (about 2 minutes on each side). Careful to not overcrowd the pan. Transfer to a plate, cover to keep warm.
Step #3: Using the same sauté pan, add in the chopped plums, garlic, stock, soy sauce and ginger powder, then simmer the mixture into a sauce, stirring occasionally.
Step #4: Add all of the bok choy back into the pan, set heat to medium-low, cover the pan and cook the bok choy in the plum sauce for 5 minutes.
Step#5: Remove the bok choy from the pot and set aside. Raise the temperature to medium and simmer the plum sauce for 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally, until thick.
Step #6: This dish can be plated individually or served family style on a large platter. Pour the sauce right over the braised bok choy. Either way -- enjoy!