Simple Sides: Holiday Hash
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 recipe for a festive-looking dish that is simple enough to allow your novice chefs to have a role in the holiday menu preparations. For a child who has had some experience with slicing and dicing, the prep of this dish’s short list of ingredients provides a great opportunity to sharpen (no pun) those culinary skills – always under supervision, of course. In fact, the word “hash” is derived from the French verb “hacher” -- meaning, to chop. Though this hash strays from tradition, being meatless, it still fits the definition in spirit since all four of the recipe’s fresh produce main ingredients are basically chopped up and cooked together…aka a “hash” though I guess this would be a vegetarian version…I just call it healthy eating! Besides, a sure-fire way to get kids to eat their vegetables is to teach them to cook them!
One of the obligatory traditions of any holiday table is a sweet potato dish, usually baked (as in “candied”) or mashed. Instead, this recipe simmers sweet potato cubes in apple cider for some old-fashioned comfort food goodness. Prepping the sweet potatoes for this simmer provides an opportunity to teach your assistants a little culinary short-cut to both cooking and cutting up this rather difficult to handle ingredient. That is, once your helpers have finished peeling the sweet potatoes, placing them in the microwave for just 2 minutes will soften the hard texture just enough to make the task of cutting them into small cubes much easier and safer. Also returning the cut-up sweet potato pieces back to the microwave for another few minutes will jump-start the cooking process and shorten the simmering time needed to ensure that the sweet potatoes cook through while still maintaining a firm texture and shape.
Orange sweet potatoes, as their interior color indicates, are one of nature's best sources of beta-carotene. The human body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A. Vitamin A supports healthy skin and the immune system, as well as good eye health and vision. Several recent studies have shown that sweet potatoes can raise blood levels of vitamin A in adults to some degree; however this increase is much more measurable in children!
Red cabbage is another ingredient that adds flavor, a splash of color and good nutrition to this dish. Shredding about a quarter of a medium-sized head should net the 1 cup needed. This task can be split in two to include an older helper slicing the cabbage into thin, ribbon-wide sections, then handing each pizza-like “slice” of cabbage off to a younger child to separate the tight layers of leaves—a fun little job that will keep a younger sous chef’s attention! The rich dark red strands laced through the dish definitely add some festive whimsy to the plating. The color itself indicates the presence of antioxidants that are believed to be essential to the body’s overall good health and a front-line protection against cancers. Cabbage and fresh apple seem to bring out the best in each other, flavor-wise, and are also a traditional holiday pairing. I prefer a Fuji apple for its sweet flavor and ability to hold shape during the cooking process; a Granny Smith would also work, adding a hint of tartness to the hash’s flavor mix.
O.k., so the dried cranberries sprinkled throughout this dish have very little nutritional value, lots of calories and a high sugar content. Still…’tis the season! A few empty calories, in the spirit of the holiday season, that also adds a little sweet-tart flavor and color to this holiday presentation is my only culinary justification and I’m stickin’ to it!
While most of this recipe’s take-away cooking lessons and experience is on honing knife skills, a younger child can still be included by being assigned the tasks of measuring out the apple cider as well as the fun job of crushing the pine nuts for the garnish! I like crushed pine nuts rather than whole as the oil content in the nuts are released, making for a much more pronounced flavor additive. Of course, the actual stovetop cooking of this dish is best left to the supervising adult in the room; maybe with the assistance of a child, protected in too large of an apron, standing on chair with a long stirring spoon—a selfie opportunity for posterity and another tradition that should be encouraged during the holidays!
Sweet Potato Holiday Hash
¾ cup Apple Cider
16 ounces Orange Sweet Potatoes, peeled and cut into small pieces
½ cup Dried Cranberries, chopped
1 Fuji Apple, cored and chopped into small pieces
1 cup shredded Red Cabbage
3 Tablespoons Melissa’s Organic Blue Agave Syrup
4 Tablespoons crushed Pine Nuts
What the kids can do:
Microwave for 2 minutes to soften slightly, then cut the sweet potatoes into small cubes; place cubes in microwaveable container with a little water and microwave for another 3 minutes, covered, just to start cooking process.
Warm apple cider in a large skillet, then add sweet potatoes and cook for about 5 minutes, covered.
Chop up the cranberries, apple pieces and shredded cabbage, then add them in with the sweet potatoes, stirring to blend and simmer on low-medium flame for another 10 minutes. Remove from stovetop, add in the agave syrup and stir to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to large bowl, sprinkle with crushed pine nuts and serve family style.
What the supervising adult should do:
As mentioned in the text, this recipe is all about chopping the ingredients into small pieces and that means overseeing this process very closely. The sweet potato really needs a few minutes in the microwave to make the cutting of this tuber both easier and safer. Only the supervising adult can judge the ability of your young helpers to work with an open flame for the stovetop cooking of this recipe. It’s a part of the learning process, just be attentive. Stress that kitchen safety and fun are the best pairing of all!