Simple Sides: Citrus Infused Rice & Lentils
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 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 can 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 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 your hearts forever. “No one is born a great cook; one learns by doing” – Julia Child.
This very simple recipe will teach your kitchen helpers how to make one of the world’s most essential foods, white rice, with a few tasty twists. After all, measuring a few cups of uncooked grains into a pot of water, even if it’s the first time, will not grab the attention of young wandering minds for more than a few minutes – so let’s elevate the process with other interesting ingredients and paint the dish tangerine!
First, while the traditional ratio for cooking rice is 2 cups water to one cup of rice, I have found that the secret to fluffy rice is cooking it more like pasta. This basic tip will be remembered and carried by your young helpers right into their own kitchens years from now. That is, use a lot more liquid brought to a rolling boil before adding the rice. Now cook it like spaghetti until almost done (al dente), maybe 20 minutes; remove from flame and pour off most of the remaining liquid, leaving just a little in the pot. Cover and set aside for about five minutes to let the rice absorb the rest of the liquid—fluff with a fork.
For this dish and to perk young chefs’ interest, make 3 cups of that liquid tangerine juice. This is readily available at most full-service grocers, or use orange juice if not. As for the fresh fruit called for in the recipe, at this time of the year, Satsuma tangerines are in abundance. They are seedless with a skin that is loosely attached to the fruit, making them super easy to peel and extremely kid friendly. Satsumas are considered the juiciest of the tangerine-mandarin family, with a balanced sweet-tart flavor. They are worth the effort to find them. Task your helpers with peeling and separating the segments – small hands working small fruit, so this job should go quickly.
Since eye appeal should also be a part of any cooking lesson, the kids should superficially remove the white pith hanging from the fruit. However, this stringy, spongy white stuff between the peel and the fruit is high in fiber and contains as much vitamin C as the fruit itself, so the segments do not have to be totally void of this material. It’s also a very simple job to slice the segments in half crosswise; that is, unless you are a young child who has never been allowed to cut ANYTHING in the kitchen before, and then it can be an excitingly new experience!
There are no cooking lessons to be learned with Melissa’s Steamed Lentils, and that’s a good thing! Your sous chefs will have years in their own kitchens to learn how to cook these tasty dried legumes from scratch. Melissa’s Steamed Lentils are a very good source of dietary fiber, protein and folic acid and are preservative-free. Just heat them in the micro to make this “combine all in one bowl” preparation even more enjoyable.
Tangerine Infused Rice and Lentils
Serves about 6
3 cups water
3 cups tangerine juice (option – orange juice)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoons salt
2 cups white rice
3-4 Satsuma tangerines, peeled, segmented, halved crosswise
2 pkgs. Melissa’s steamed lentils, heated
½ cup of Italian parsley, rough chopped (more to taste)
What the supervising adult should do:
Pouring the hot liquid out of the pot of hot rice is not child’s play - DIY. Supervise the slicing of the segments, especially if this is a first-time slicer; (i.e., Demonstrate where fingers should and should not be.)
What the kids can do:
Bring the water, juice, oil and salt to a boil in a large saucepan, then add the rice, cover and reduce heat to a low. Simmer until rice is cooked and most of liquid is absorbed, about 25 minutes. Pour off most of remaining liquid and fluff with a fork – orange-colored rice!
While rice is cooking, prepare the tangerines and parsley, and set aside. Heat the lentils according to directions on package, stovetop or microwave, set aside.
Transfer the hot rice to a large mixing bowl, then add the lentils, tangerine segments and parsley. Mix thoroughly and serve family style.