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Simple Sides: Roasted Grapes ‘n Rice

Image of Grapes and Rice

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 bit of 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 and to identify where adult attention might be needed.

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Many of the recipes presented here will seem very basic; this is by design. We hope 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 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 basic culinary skills, and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all your hearts forever. “No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing” – Julia Child.

Here’s a very tasty one-bowl recipe that even the youngest of kitchen helpers can participate in preparing for the whole family to enjoy that goes with just about any main entrée. Basically, after a minimal amount of prep, all the ingredients end up in one large bowl that can either be served family-style or individually. Plus, the leftovers from this delicious side dish also make a hearty lunch with a quick warm-up.

Compared to white rice, wild rice has about three times as much iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc per serving and double the phosphorus. Eating mineral-rich foods, especially for children, is vital for bone, tooth and soft tissue health and structure, as well as muscular and nervous system function. More importantly, wild rice is just a lot more flavorful than white rice, which really depends on other ingredients for flavor.

Unfortunately, wild rice is about three times more expensive and not as practical as a regular menu item for most families on a budget. Solution: Several packaged and bulk “wild rice blends” on the market are much more reasonably priced by combining this unique seed grain with other varieties like long grain brown, sweet brown, red rice or black rice. Actually, wild rice is not rice at all but the grain from four different species of grasses that accounts for its color variation. The grain is commonly referred to as rice because of its rice-like shape and for practical marketing purposes. However, wild rice’s chewy texture has a very distinctly nutty, almost earthy, flavor that is so much more interesting than authentic rice of any variety!

While September is a transition month, weather-wise, from summer to fall, it also triggers the grape harvest as Brix (sugar content) reaches optimum after the last varieties of the season have spent the summer basking in the sun. Some 85 varieties of table grapes (distinguished from wine grapes) are grown in California. Green seedless varieties are still the most popular variety at retail. However, it’s really a photo finish with the red seedless nowadays that has steadily gained in popularity and acreage in the last two decades. More and more chefs are discovering that the red seedless can lend a unique flavor and splash of color to savory dishes. This recipe verifies that fact, as l think using green seedless for this dish would change the flavor profile tremendously. Hmm, that might be a fun culinary experiment for your kitchen crew! Prepare this recipe again in the near future using a green seedless variety! The exercise would be a tasty way to develop young palates.

In fact, because of those young palates, shallots were used in this recipe over a regular large onion variety to demonstrate the flavor difference. Knowing about the taste and texture of tiny members of the onion family and the perfect way to use them in food recipes will be of great value when your kids have their own kitchens. Shallots have a milder taste and smell than onions do. It is often common for shallots to be eaten raw since their flavor is so delicate and sweet. The two-part roasting process in this recipe reflects that the subtle flavor can be cooked out of the shallot if put in the oven WITH the grapes – a detail that should be explained to your helpers. Compared to most regular-sized onions, this variety has twice the calories, carbs, protein and sugar content! It’s a chef's choice ingredient!

This recipe was tweaked from a similar dish of pure wild rice, walnuts and rosemary. I have explained the practicality of a rice blend, and I prefer the texture and flavor of fresh sage over rosemary– especially if the herb is grown right outside my kitchen. Of course, any excuse to incorporate roasted pine nuts into a recipe is a no-brainer! Enjoy.

Wild Rice Blend w/ Roasted Grapes & Pine Nuts
Serves 4

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2 cups red seedless grapes, stems removed
2 shallots, sliced thin
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 cups cooked wild rice blend
1 package Melissa’s Pine Nuts, toasted
1 handful of fresh sage leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

What the supervising adult should do:
Depending on your helper’s age and kitchen experience, handle the removing of the roasted grapes from the oven after the kids have separated stems and prepared them along with the shallots. Same with the stovetop pine nuts – closely supervise this process.

What the kids can do:
Image of grapes
Slice the shallots and separate the grapes from stems. Then toss them separately in one tablespoon of olive oil in a small bowl until thoroughly coated. Transfer the grapes to a baking sheet that has been coated with cooking spray or lined with parchment paper. Roast at 350°F for about 10 minutes, then add the shallots and roast for another 10 minutes, or until the grapes are softened but not splitting.
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Roast the pine nuts in a small fry pan over low flame until lightly golden. Follow the directions on the package to cook the rice.
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Place the pine nuts and cooked rice in a large bowl; add in the grape-shallot mixture, sage leaves, and the remaining tablespoon of oil and vinegar. Gently blend all, being very careful not to smash the delicately cooked grapes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Image of Grapes and Rice
Serve warm in individual bowls or family-style.

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