Simple Sides: Pear Soup!
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, 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 that 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. We hope 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.
Here’s the perfect recipe to introduce kids to the art of soup-making, featuring fruit from the October harvest, combined with a short ingredient list that is just odd enough to keep a child’s attention. It might be fun to first spread the main ingredients out on a cutting board – carrots, shallots, pears, and a jar of Melissa’s Fire Roasted Sweet Red Bell Peppers – then ask your kitchen helpers to guess what this combo is going to make. Chances are that soup will not be among the suggestions!
While this soup does have a fine-dining quality to its creativity and elegant presentation, this recipe consists of just three simple steps that a child with little kitchen experience can easily accomplish under the guidance of a supervising adult, of course. To start, for instance, the carrots, shallot, and pears need to be chopped up; however, since these ingredients are going to end up in a food processor, the chopping requires no precision. The chopping of the ingredients is simply to facilitate both the sauté and food processor, so the pressure is off uniformity of slice. However, the supervising adult might want to pre-chop the shallots to avoid introducing a young helper to the phenomena of “onion tears” this early in his or her culinary career! Remember, the object of cooking together as a family is partly to inspire an interest in cooking; stinging eyes might cloud this focus considerably, no pun!
Once the two veggies and pears have been prepped, they are sautéed in a soup pot. This may require the ol’ chair-in-front-of-stove approach for a shorter sous chef. Still, try to allow young hands to do the stirring of these ingredients over open flame with close supervision. Understanding and appreciating that a parent tends to do too much out of safety concerns, there comes an age when teaching those safety concerns by careful practice is a passage of childhood. Stay close, though. The sauté is a “small step” in the recipe process, but it’s a big leap for a kid to be allowed to use the stove for the first time.
After the sauté, the rest of the ingredients are added to the pot and simmered for about 30 minutes. Melissa’s Fire Roasted Sweet Red Bell Peppers are so convenient and easy to use. Sweet red bell peppers are low in calories and high in vitamins. These peppers have been roasted to add a grilled flavor accent and are ready-to-use right out of the jar. What you see is what you get, no additives — just red bell peppers, water, salt, and citric acid. One might not expect to hear fresh pears and red bell peppers in the same sentence, but this combination works quite well! The pears give the soup a slightly gritty texture and distinct aftertaste that lingers after each spoonful, while the peppers provide the foundational taste of smoky-sweet.
Once the mixture has simmered and cooled, it is then pureed in batches through a food processor. Return the purée to the soup pot to heat back up and serve immediately, or refrigerate for later. Whenever that serving time comes, do not let your helpers overlook the garnish of diced green onion tops to crown each bowl. Not only does this garnish lend flavor, but eye appeal also needs to be taught early and often! So, in a few easy steps, your young helpers will have turned pears and red bell peppers into an outrageously flavor-filled dish. This healthy and nutritious soup inspired by the fall harvest will nourish culinary confidence for the whole family.
Steps 1 & 2:
2 carrots, peeled & chopped
2 shallots, peeled & chopped
3 D’Anjou pears, firm ripe - peeled, cored & chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 jar Melissa’s Fire Roasted Sweet Red Bell Peppers
1-32 oz. container chicken broth
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup green onion tops, diced (garnish)
What the kids can do:
Prepare carrots, shallots, and pears.
Step 2: Melt butter with oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Then add carrots, shallots, pears and sauté 8 to 10 minutes until tender.
Step 3: Stir in jar of red bell peppers, chicken broth, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low, simmer 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool 20 minutes.
Step 4: Process soup, in batches, in a food processor until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides. Return to the soup pot and keep warm until ready to serve. Garnish with green onion tops when serving.
What the supervising adult should do: Oversee the knife work required to prepare the carrot, pears, and shallots. Shallots – DIY? The transfer of the simmered pot of ingredients to the food processor and back again could be a disaster waiting to happen – perhaps another DIY moment?