Simple Sides: Anaheim Peppers & Zucchini
While many of these recipes may seem very basic, this is by design. It is hoped that these simple preparations will lay the culinary foundation necessary to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their confidence in the kitchen grows. Parents should always read through each recipe carefully to decide the division of labor based on age and ability as well as to identify where help might be especially needed.
The competing schedules of today’s 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 even be great fun. 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 your children some basic cooking skills and, more importantly, cooking with your kids will build memories that remain in all of your hearts forever.
Here are a couple of simple recipes with a Spanish flair that your kitchen assistants can have fun helping to prepare in keeping with May’s Cinco de Mayo celebrations. Both share two ingredients, Anaheim peppers and zucchini, used in two very different ways, which is just one of the many valuable culinary lessons your sous chefs will learn during the prep of both these dishes.
Anaheim peppers are extremely mild, with very little to no heat at all, so it is the perfect chile pepper to introduce your kids to as a flavorful ingredient. Still, provide gloves for all your kitchen helpers before they are allowed to handle this or any chile pepper. It’s a good habit to get into and the ceremony of putting the gloves on provides a teaching opportunity to demonstrate how to remove the hot parts of a chile, using one of the Anaheims sliced lengthwise. That is, slicing off the top of the pepper at its shoulder, removing the seeds and scraping away the inside ridges of the pepper, where most of the capsaicin (heat producing chemical compound) is found. No knife work is necessary, so this is a gloved-kid-friendly job; the sharp edge of a measuring spoon or a melon baller works great for this task. You will need to do this for both recipes.
There is a bit of arts and crafts connected to this one that a child of any age will enjoy. Using the same washed off melon baller, each zucchini half needs to be turned into a dugout canoe! Also, this recipe is a great introduction to Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa), which is a very healthy grain-like substitute for rice, in so many ways. Actually quinoa is not a grain, but more of a grass and closely related to spinach and Swiss chard with all the same antioxidant attributes. Its nutty taste and fluffy texture is sure to be a hit with your kids. The stuffing mixture itself is a tasty blend of some very basic fresh ingredients that can be chopped up by an older child under supervision; then measured, mixed and spooned into the “boats” assembly-line style by a younger child.
This recipe is a lot healthier than it looks, which is one of the primary culinary lessons for everyone in the kitchen, adults as well as kids. Using soy cheese, instead of cheese, as well as a nonfat sour cream in the toppings will drastically decrease the calorie count of this dish without losing an ounce of taste. This time, both the zucchini and the Anaheim pepper become flavor and texture components within a casserole. Again, this recipe has something for kids of all ages to participate in. There is plenty of measuring, mixing and layering of the prepared casserole ingredient for your youngest helper, as well as some careful thin-slicing for your oldest to practice on.
- Do not think that you can skip the seemingly unnecessary step of sautéing the zucchini before incorporating the slices into the casserole, assuming that they will cook in the oven. Actually, the casserole contains very little natural liquid, so the zucchini really does require a jump-start on the cooking process to soften in spite of the 5O minutes of oven time. This is a lesson learned by experience! Profit by this erroneous assumption on my part!
- If you have a gas stovetop, there is a fun and efficient method you can use to peel a tomato instead of parboiling the flavor away. Demonstrate to your kids the quick-fire method. Using an oven mitt to protect ones hand from the heat, pierce the stem end of the tomato with a fork and hold it over the open flame until the skin begins to wrinkle slightly. Keep turning the fork constantly, holding it just above the flame for optimum heat. It should take no more that 15-20 seconds to do a whole tomato. Let them cool for a minute before the kids easily peel the skin off by hand.
Stuffed Zucchini Boats
4 Organic zucchini, medium (as straight as possible)
5 Anaheim peppers, seeded and chopped
3 Organic green onions, chopped
½ Crimini mushrooms, chopped
½ Bunch Swiss chard, chopped
2 Tbsp. cumin
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup quinoa (uncooked)
2 cups chicken broth
Salt & pepper to taste
What the kids can do:
- Prepare and measure out all ingredients in advance.
- Cut the zucchini lengthwise. Spoon out the insides, making 8 dugout canoes.
- Dice the zucchini scraps, then combine in a large bowl with the mushrooms and onions.
- Toss the vegetables with olive oil, add the cumin, salt and pepper, mix thoroughly.
- Once vegetable mix has been cooked, combine with quinoa.
- Spoon quinoa/vegetable mix carefully into zucchini boat.
Preheat the oven to 350°. To speed up the process, it is probably best to cook and cool the quinoa before the family gets started on the preparation. Of course, supervise your helpers in every phase of their tasks. The sautéing of the vegetable/quinoa mixture is probably best left to the adult in the room, unless you trust an older child’s ability to work the stovetop. Serve two halves per serving and you might want to think about doubling this recipe anticipating the demand for seconds!
Green Chile Soy Cheese Bake
1 cup brown rice (uncooked)
4 cups chicken broth (for fluffy rice, see text)
3 medium organic zucchini, thinly sliced
4 Anaheim chile peppers, seeded, scraped and coarsely chopped
2 cups (about 8 oz.) cheddar flavored soy cheese, shredded
2 cups (about 8 oz.) mozzarella flavored soy cheese, shredded
2 large organic red tomatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
Salt to taste
2 cups nonfat sour cream
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh organic garlic, diced
½ cup organic green bell pepper, chopped
½ cup organic green onion, chopped
What the kids can do:
- Prepare and measure out all ingredients in advance.
- Butter the inside of a three-quart casserole dish.
- Combine the two soy shreds in a large bowl until thoroughly mixed together
- Cover bottom of dish with a layer of cooked rice.
- Spread the Anaheim peppers over the rice.
- Sprinkle half the soy shred mixture on the peppers.
- Arrange the zucchini over the cheese.
- Add a layer of tomatoes and lightly salt.
- Combine sour cream, oregano, garlic, green bells, onion and salt.
- Spoon this mixture over the tomato layer.
- Scatter the remaining shreds over the top.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare and cool the rice ahead of time, though there is a cooking lesson here for any interested older child. That is, for extra fluffy rice, cook the grain like pasta. Bring 4 cups of broth or water to a rolling boil, far more than the one cup of rice could ever absorb, and then add the rice. Cook until almost done. Strain the water and rice through a sieve for 10 seconds only, then pour the wet rice back into the pot and cover for 10 minutes. The secret to light, fluffy, no-stick rice! Also sauté the slices of zucchini the kids have prepared and let cool while they are preparing the rest of the ingredients. The other demonstration the adult must handle is the quick-fire tomato peeling as explained in the text. Be the judge of whether any of your kitchen helpers are old enough to do the slicing and dicing under supervision.