Simple Sides: Avocado, Orange and Jicama Salad
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, allowing even the youngest kitchen helper to contribute to the family meal. Parents should read through each recipe carefully to judge the division of labor based on age and ability and identify where adult attention might be 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 develop. 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. Enjoy your kids in the kitchen; they will be grown and gone before you know it! “No one is born a great cook; one learns by doing” – Julia Child.
While it may be a bit chilly outside, winter citrus can add both a splash of color and sweetness to the dreariest November day! This bright and refreshing salad recipe requires the whole family to join in preparing as there are definitely tasks suited for both the youngest helper and the adult in the room. Plus, your aspiring cooks will learn that a “salad” is not necessarily a bowl of lettuce. How about no leafy greens at all!
This recipe has two very hands-on “arts ‘n crafts” type tasks that should perk and hold the interest of young kitchen helpers, but adult preparation is needed first. To avoid a detour to the emergency room, both the navel oranges and the jicama require a bit of “pre-prep” before handing them over to the kids for the rest of the recipe. Shave off the thick outer rind of the navel oranges using a paring knife. Include in this cut the white material clinging to the rind and fruit segments, called the pith, and the cloudy thread-like membrane protecting the edible fruit segments, exposing the fruit on the outer side of each segment. The kids can take it from there, separating each segment and then removing the rest of the membrane from the other two sides of those segments. The segments are delicate with a supporting membrane, so some may break into smaller pieces—that’s okay.
Ask your helpers to peel the jicama using a potato peeler. The seemingly tough skin comes off surprisingly easily. Quartering this tough root and then slicing the quarters into thin slabs is not child’s play. The mandolin is a chef’s best friend, but also an accident waiting to happen in small hands. There is plenty of opportunity to practice knife skills for a child with some experience in turning those thin slabs into matchstick-sized pieces for this dish. No precision is really necessary, but you don’t have to tell the kids that for better practice!
Admittedly, the treatment of the avocado for this recipe was not in the first draft. Growing up with a tree of them in my backyard, I tend to forget that not everyone knows how to approach this creamy, delicious fruit! Briefly: slice in half lengthwise, twist halves apart, knife the pit to remove, slice ‘n scoop from shell. Simple and basic unless you are nine-years-old doing it for the first time. (Pause for a demo by the supervising adult, perhaps?)
The last part of the prep presents the perfect opportunity to include a very young helper not ready to handle a sharp blade yet wanting to participate. The dressing ingredients and cheese need measuring, which requires a little practical math practice. For an even younger child, the needed measurements could be marked with tape on the measuring cup and spoons. Salad dressings are interesting and another infinite category. This one takes its ingredient lead from the orange sections in the salad by combining the juice of the final navel with lime juice, vinegar and oil. Very simple and another dressing and potential marinade that your young chefs can file away and use in their own kitchens in years to come. I still enjoy a creamy vinaigrette my mom used to make (backyard avocado-based, of course!)
Avocado, Orange and Jicama Salad
4 navel oranges, divided
1 small jicama (1 pound)—peeled, quartered, thinly sliced, cut into matchsticks
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Hass avocados, thin-sliced
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
What the supervising adult should do:
Oversee the slicing of each avocado and the peeling of the jicama with a potato peeler. Peel three oranges; remove rind and white pith as well as the protecting membrane on the outside side of each orange, exposing the interior fruit. Also, quarter the peeled Jicama, then slice thin with a mandolin. Now, turn both over to your young helpers to complete the preparations of each below.
What the kids can do:
Working over a small bowl to catch any juice, separate the sections of each orange, then remove the membranes that remain on two sides of each section. Collect sections in a separate bowl and set aside. Note: some of the released sections may break apart; that’s okay.
Cut the slices of Jicama into matchsticks
Juice the remaining orange, then whisk in the lime juice, vinegar and oil; season with salt and pepper. Transfer jicama sticks to a zip lock bag, add the orange juice mixture, shake well and let stand for 15 minutes.
Transfer jicama sticks to a serving dish, then fold in the orange sections, avocado slices, feta and cilantro. Toss to combine and serve family style.