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Simple Sides: A Soup for the Season

Image of Broccoli Spinach Quinoa Soup
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 bit of 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 and to identify where adult attention might be needed.
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Many of the recipes presented here will seem very basic; this is by design. We hope 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 your hearts forever. “No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing” – Julia Child.

October signals a real change in the seasons for most of the country. A slight chill in the air turns leaves from greens to brilliant oranges, yellows and reds in their last gasps before falling. That temperature change also brings a change in the family’s weekly menu to match the weather, which should include an opportunity for your kitchen helpers to learn the art of soup making! Here is a hearty soup packed with nutrition and deliciousness, which will take the chill off any blustery fall day. Plus, finicky eaters have an issue with fresh vegetables, it’s amazing how they are so much more open to trying this mostly veggie dish simply because they had a hand in making it! Call it chef’s pride no matter the age of the chef!

Those fresh ingredients are also key crops from the fall harvest when broccoli, red onion, spinach, and our own Baby Dutch Yellow® potatoes are at peak quality. So, first, a child with rudimentary knife skills can be tasked with rough-chopping all these ingredients to get things started. And if that helper has no blade experience but is judged old enough, this is a great practice cut for a beginner that needs no precision since all will eventually end up puréed in a mixer.

Speaking of kitchen novices, there is no getting around the culinary fact that soup is prepared on the stovetop. So, if your kitchen crew has only been involved in preparing ingredients on a countertop or cutting board, they’ll need to graduate to another level. Only the supervising adult can judge those abilities. Simply put, it’s time to pull up a chair to the stovetop for a shorter helper and very closely oversee every minute of the process. We have all been there. I still remember the first time I was invited from my station at the kitchen counter to an up-close view of the stovetop to help stir something, as I recall. A universal culinary passage of childhood for most if their mothers cooked! (Happy Meal kids are robbed of this experience, so sad.)

What gives this soup body is the quinoa, which is toasted for a few minutes uncooked in the bottom of the soup pot before adding in the broth. BTW, the ten cups of vegetable broth is a tweak from the original recipe that I found on the ‘net, which was written by someone who obviously had never cooked quinoa or this recipe for that matter! (Don’t believe everything you read on the ‘net, Alice!) Luckily, I realized the measurement was way off as the liquid in the pot was being absorbed too quickly by the grains, or this would have turned into a quinoa-vegetable sauté, not a soup; I quickly doubled up on the broth. While quinoa has extremely high fiber content, its softly firm texture is much less dense than other grains – almost light – perfect for soup making in that its lightness lends a subtle fluffy texture and nutty aftertaste to the soup’s overall profile. Actually quinoa is not a grain but rather tiny, bead-shaped seeds with little tails that unfurl when cooked. Unlike wheat or rice, quinoa is a complete protein – containing all eight of the essential amino acids. Amino acids are molecules that combine to form proteins. Amino acids and proteins are the building blocks of life. When proteins are digested or broken down, amino acids are left. The human body uses amino acids to make proteins.

One recipe note: The croutons called for are made from a couple of hearty bread slices (NOT STORE BOUGHT). It adds texture and flavor to this soup. However, the supervising adult might want to have these readied before inviting their young assistants into the kitchen. (Plenty of time to learn proper crouton toasting at a later date.) Keeping it simple will keep wandering attention spans focused on THE SOUP POT. Still, the kids can get some practice at presentation by placing both the croutons and feta garnishes artfully to finish each bowl. Enjoy!

Broccoli Spinach Quinoa Soup
Serves 8
Image of Ingredients
Ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, chopped fine
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2½ quarts vegetable broth (10 cups)
5 cups broccoli crowns, chopped
3 Baby Dutch Yellow® potatoes, chopped
6 ounces spinach leaves
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 cup feta cheese (garnish)
½ cup hearty bread croutons, 2 slices small diced, lightly toasted (garnish)

Directions

What the supervising adult should do:
Prepare the homemade croutons in advance: toss cubes in olive oil, then bake for few minutes until toasted. Closely oversee every step of both the chopping up of the veggies and stovetop stages of prep.

What the kids can do:
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Start by preparing the vegetables needed: dice the red onion, chop the broccoli, chop the potatoes and measure out the spinach leaves.
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Heat olive oil in a large soup pot. Add onion, salt and pepper and cook for 10 minutes, until tender. Add quinoa and garlic, stirring for two more minutes to slightly toast.
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Add in vegetable broth, broccoli and potato. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to low. Cook for 35 minutes, covered. Quinoa will double in volume.
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Remove cover and mix in the spinach, salt and pepper. Cook for just a few more minutes until the spinach begins to wilt, then remove pot from heat and let cool.
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Once cooled, work in batches transferring pot’s contents to a blender to be pureed. Return each batch to the pot. Reheat on a low flow.
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Serve individually, garnished with a generous sprinkle of Feta and several toasted croutons.
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