Simple Sides: July 4th Picnic Salad
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 a child some basic culinary skills and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all of your hearts forever.
Here’s a scrumptious, easy-to-prepare side dish that your young kitchen helpers can contribute to the family’s Fourth of July picnic table with just a little help. While the Hatch chile crop may still be a few weeks away, this simple dish is so head-turning good and so perfect for the July 4th menu that I decided to jump the gun a bit in sharing it this month. Substitute an Anaheim chile pepper for a July 4th serving; while there is no substitute for the rich flavor of the Hatch Chile pepper, the Anaheim will still lend a mild chile pepper tang to the dish. TASTE TEST TEACHING OPPORTUNITY: Next month, once the Hatch harvest is in full swing, have your kids prepare this dish again for a taste comparison! Your sous chefs’ palates need as much training as their hands-on culinary skills in order to discern, appreciate and make use of the subtle differences a change in one ingredient of a recipe can make. Besides, here’s the perfect excuse to enjoy an encore serving of this very flavorful dish!
The preparation of this dish is perfect for the beginner cook – a short ingredient list, yet lots of basic culinary lessons in the prep. There is virtually no cooking beyond the roasting of the chile pepper directly over the stove’s burner flame. Of course, the adult in the room needs to oversee this procedure closely – though roasting a pepper is kind of like roasting a marshmallow, so your kitchen crew has some experience here! In fact, the roasting, then steaming in a bag and peeling is a fun, hands-on technique that your helpers can add to their culinary toolbox for use in many recipes!
Removing the kernels from their cobs can be another great opportunity for a young person to hone his or her knife skills. This task can also be a bloody accident waiting to happen! Only the supervising adult in the room can judge if a child has experience to end up with a bowlful of corn without needing a Band-Aid or two after! If you have a doubt, then do it yourself by demonstrating the technique to your aspiring chefs. Try not to cut yourself either!
The rest of the prep is a matter of measuring and combining the two-ingredient dressing, then tossing this tasty mixture with the other three ingredients together in a larger bowl. Easy peasy! Still, this is one of those dishes that should not be judged by the length of its ingredient list – a short recipe that is very long on flavor! In fact, better have your kitchen helpers double the measures in anticipation of the demand for seconds! Happy Fourth!!
Hatch Chile, Blueberries and Corn Salad
1 fresh roasted Hatch chile pepper, peeled, seeded and diced (option, Anaheim pepper)
3 ears of fresh corn
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 TBS Lime Juice
Salt to taste
1½ cups fresh blueberries
¼ red onion, peeled and diced
What the kids can do:
Carefully hold the hatch chile over the flame of gas burner with a pair of tongs; rotate every 30 seconds or so until the entire chile is evenly charred. Transfer it to a plastic sandwich bag, seal it for about 5 minutes to steam the outer skin. Then, with the back of a knife, rub the charred skin off of the chile. Rinse, remove stem and seeds, dice and set aside.
Boil the corn in a large pot of water for 3 minutes, let cool, remove husks and separate kernels from the cobs with a sharp knife.
Combine the blueberries, corn kernels, diced red onion and diced chile in a large bowl. In a small bowl whisk together the olive oil, lime juice and a few pinches of salt. Add this dressing to large bowl and toss until the ingredients are evenly coated. Taste test and adjust the salt to taste.
What the supervising adult should do:
Direct the open flame roasting of the Hatch chile pepper – just like roasting a marshmallow! Cutting the corn kernels can be a little awkward for a novice; either oversee this task very closely or do it yourself by demonstrating in a “how-to” lesson for the next time. And there will be a next time once tasted!