Simple Sides: Green Beans & Dried Figs
By Dennis Linden
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 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. 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 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 children some basic cooking skills and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all of your hearts forever.
Here’s a healthy and delicious side dish that also contains several valuable culinary lessons that will stay with your kids for a lifetime. First, there’s an all-purpose vinaigrette formula that will serve them in all sorts of delicious ways, from marinades to zesting up a leafy green salad, for years to come. Then, for a teen who has a little slicing and dicing experience, the recipe provides the opportunity to learn the technique of segmenting citrus. Even the initial cooking of the green beans contains a lesson in how to stop the cooking process with an ice bath. All basic skills of the kitchen wrapped up in a simple, two-component warm salad dish that will have your kids lining up for seconds.
Even the youngest of culinary assistants can have a hand in the preparation of the dressing. Just replace the bowl and whisk, which an older child should be taught to use, with a twist-top jar. Then help with the measuring out of all ingredients into the jar, which is then sealed for a fun shake-shake-shake! Of course, with an older child, the legacy lesson here is in practicing the more traditional two-part emulsion process by incrementally incorporating the oil after the other ingredients have been combined.
As for segmenting the citrus, buy a few extra oranges for this part of the recipe as it really takes one sacrificial “practice fruit” to get the hang of it. Besides, one orange now is worth a thousand fruit salads in the future! For a review of the technique, see Melissa’s Cooking Tips section of this site: Citrus – Sectioning. All knife work should be closely supervised. I used Cara Cara Oranges because they are in peak season right now and are sweeter than regular Valencia Oranges; however, the citrus variety used for this recipe can definitely be a matter of taste and availability. All will be equally tasty!
Recipe option: If your helpers are just too young for knifes, switch out orange segments for sections of a seedless tangerine variety, like the Pixie, which is also at their highest quality of season this month. In that case, the kids will need only to separate and clean off the stringy, white membrane on each tangerine segment but leave the thin skin of each segment intact. After all, it’s all about cooking together and making sure that there is a place at the kitchen counter for all ages. Technique will come with age and the interest perked by each cooking experience with the family. For a complete meal, serve this dish with roasted chicken and a simple rice pilaf from Melissa’s recipe archives.
Warm Green Bean & Dried Fig Salad
2 Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
2 teaspoons Fresh Thyme Leaves, chopped
2 teaspoons Melissa’s Organic Blue Agave Syrup
1 teaspoon Whole Grain Mustard
1 Shallot, minced
2 Shallots, thinly sliced, chopped
½ cup Olive Oil
1 pound Green Beans or French Green Beans, trimmed
3 small Cara-Cara or Valencia Oranges, peeled and segmented
1 cup Dried Calimyrna Figs
¼ cup Italian Parsley, chopped
½ cup Pine Nuts
Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper, to taste
What the Kids can do:
Prepare and measure out each ingredient before starting.
The segmenting of the citrus should only be attempted under adult supervision.
Combine vinegar, thyme, honey, mustard, and the minced shallots together in a small bowl.
Whisk to dissolve the agave.
Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and whisk again.
Slowly add the olive oil while whisking until all the oil has been incorporated.
Segment the citrus sections, then slice them in half pieces.
Combine cooked green beans, figs and parsley in a large mixing bowl, toss with half the vinaigrette.
Once green bean mixture have been warmed up on the stovetop, transfer back into mixing bowl and add citrus pieces, sliced shallots and pine nuts – toss and serve immediately.
What the supervising adult should do:
Demonstrate how to use an ice bath in pre-cooking the green beans. Bring a medium-sized saucepan of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add green beans and cook until just tender to the bite, about 4-5 minutes. Drain and run cold water over the beans until cool to warm. Pat dry for the kids to combine with the figs and some of the dressing.
Heat up the remainder of the vinaigrette in a saucepan and add the green bean mixture and cook heat over medium heat until warm. Remove from heat and transfer back to mixing bowl for final blend of the rest of the ingredients by your helpers.
Serve family style.