Simple Sides: Savory Summer Plums
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.
The June harvest is really just the start of a three-month parade of assorted sizes, colors and flavors of a favorite hand fruit synonymous with the long days of summer: juicy fresh Plums. Over the coming season the entire color spectrum will be represented, from bright yellows, reds and greens to shades of blue, purple and even black. Plus each variety offers the palate a different balance of sweet-tart taste that vacillates with ripeness. With such a diverse choice in colors and flavors, it’s a great opportunity to teach your young kitchen helpers how to use their favorite snack fruit in a vegetable side dish on the family dinner table. In fact, it being the summer grilling season, this easy side dish will take your young chefs about the same time to prepare as the platter of backyard-grilled chicken to go with it!
Besides being the perfect kid-sized serving, Baby Bok Choy is a great vehicle for this plum sauce dish as it is packed with nutrients and has a slightly sweet, cabbage-like flavor. Bok Choy is an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin A, as well as a large concentration of manganese and zinc, which are core antioxidants. The other nice thing about this pint-sized leafy green is that the entire small head is edible, no trimming required. A good cooking lesson for your helpers is found in the initial quick sauté of the whole baby bok choy called for in this recipe, just to seal in both flavor and nutrition that boiling, for instance, would almost completely lose. The tender texture and subtle flavor of baby bok choy really works well with the savory plum sauce.
If you have a child old enough for stovetop work under supervision, attention to the stages of a sauce’s texture is the key to emphasize during the process. The plum sauce prep contains several teaching moments that your helper will use for a lifetime to come. Firstly, the sauce starts as a liquid simmer of the ingredients that cooks the flavors into the braising baby bok choy. Once the veggies have been removed, a lesson in sauce reduction can begin with some continual stirring over a low flame. The key ingredient here to encourage is being patient. As the mixture transforms from liquid to syrup and finally into a full-bodied sauce, young eyes will widen and, who knows, maybe a future saucier has just been inspired! Of course, the overall take-away lesson here is the combining of four seemingly very odd ingredients that would not figure to be a good match with fresh plums that turns a simple hand fruit into a scrumptious dinner sauce. Enjoy!
Plum Braised Baby Bok Choy
1 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil
8 heads Baby Bok Choy
1 cup Fresh Plums, rough chopped (approximately 3 pieces depending on size & variety)
1 clove Garlic, minced
¼ cup Vegetable Stock
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
1 teaspoon Ground Ginger
What the kids can do:
Chop plums into bite-sized pieces and measure out all other ingredients.
Under adult supervision, in a deep sauté pan, carefully heat up the oil over a medium flame, then sauté four baby bok choy at a time until slightly browned (about 2 minutes on each side). Be careful to not overcrowd the pan. Transfer each batch of four to a plate and keep warm until ready to serve.
Using the same sauté pan, add in the chopped plums, garlic, stock, soy sauce and ginger powder, then bring the mixture to a simmer.
Add all of the bok choy back to the pan, lower the heat to medium-low, cover the pan and braise the bok choy for 5 minutes.
Remove the bok choy from the pot and set aside. Raise the temperature to medium and simmer the plum sauce for 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally, until thick.
Pour the sauce right over the braised bok choy. This dish can be plated individually (one baby bok choy is the perfect child’s serving) or plate family style on a large platter. Either way -- enjoy!
What the supervising adult should do:
If your kitchen helpers are old enough to learn to handle a little stovetop cooking, then this recipe just needs focus overseeing the process. Emphasize the need to do things slowly and deliberately when working with heat. And if you have a very young helper, he or she can still assist in pouring the ingredients into the sauté pan and maybe standing on a chair for a bit of stirring with a long handled spoon—very closely supervised, of course. Standing on a chair at the stove, helping my mom in the kitchen and feeling involved, is still one of my fondest childhood memories.