Simple Sides: Shades of Green
This feature will focus on providing a child or a group of children, working together under the supervision of an adult, with two uncomplicated, healthy and delicious side dish recipe options centered around one seasonal fresh produce item that a child can contribute to the family meal. While many of these recipes may seem very basic, this is by design. It is hoped that these simple preparations will lay the culinary foundation necessary to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their confidence in the kitchen grows. Parents should always read through each recipe carefully to decide the division of labor based on age and ability as well as to identify where help might be especially needed.
The competing schedules of today’s 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 even be great fun. 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 your children some basic cooking skills and, more importantly, cooking with your kids will build memories that remain in all of your hearts forever.
St. Patrick’s Day provides a perfect excuse to enjoy a little culinary playtime for your kitchen helpers using healthy green veggies to prepare a color-appropriate side dish to go with that Corned Beef main course. Petroleum-based commercial food coloring products can be avoided in favor of nutrient-packed puréed or juiced leafy greens. Fresh produce also imparts a more natural shade of green than the bright neon tones of the store-bought alternatives. As fair as health is concerned, suffice to say here that eating neon is probably not a good idea. To learn more about the hazards of artificial coloring for food see this month’s Produce Corner, an article that was inspired by the research done for this feature.
After some fun experimentation, I found that puréed or juiced leafy greens added to the precooked rice resulted in the most vibrant color. Surprisingly, trying to cook the chlorophyll into the rice by combining the same green concentrate to the boiling water did not work. I tried this with juiced kale, parsley and spinach; white and brown rice. While the greens did impart their unique flavors to the rice, all were pretty stingy about sharing their color. Only the spinach gave white rice a very light pastel green tinge and even that faded out when refrigerated overnight. In fact, the color might have been just a case of wishful pigment content; after so much juicing, squeezing and mixing, one does start to see green in everything!
If you do not have a juicer, puréeing the greens in a blender and then straining the fiber out with a fine-mesh strainer or cheesecloth works just as well. Kale made the most vibrant green for the rice dish. Akin to Easter egg coloring, your young chefs will have fun turning the rice into a Dr. Seuss green. However, there is also an all-about-chlorophyll- photosynthesis teaching opportunity that comes with the concentrated green extract stage of the recipe, if you want to interrupt the cooking class for a few minutes! Not being a big fan of kale flavor is what inspired the pineapple juice and white soy sauce ingredients. They were added for a counterbalance to the earthy taste of the kale, deliciously I think!
The makings of simple mashed potatoes, green or not, almost does not qualify as being a real recipe; that is, unless you are six years old and wanting to help with the family meal. Once the potatoes are cooked, a child of almost any age is capable of smashing potatoes in a bowl while slowing adding the milk mixture and fresh green juice coloring. I choose parsley because it is very often sprinkled on potato in its fresh form. Cilantro and Spinach also pair well with the potato.
No doubt mom’s usual whipped-smooth version of this traditional favorite will be replaced with a, shall we say, more rustic rendition. That’s more than a fair trade for the broad smile of your youngest sous chef, who can claim full bragging rights for this contribution to the family meal. Of course, the choice of tubers to mash is also a matter of taste; a creamy white Sweet Potato could also be used. (The bowl of potatoes in the picture that accompanies this recipe was the culinary work of a friend’s seven-year-old son. Bravo Guthrie!)
Green Rice & Peas
1½ cups Cooked Brown Rice
2 teaspoons Minced Garlic
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
½ teaspoon Fresh Ginger Root, minced
¼ teaspoon White Pepper
½ medium Green Bell Pepper, diced small
4 Green Onions, rough chopped
½ cup Green Peas
¼ cup Pineapple Juice
¼ cup White Soy Sauce
3 Kale Leaves, juiced
What the kids can do:
- Prepare and measure out each ingredient before starting.
- Make the rice, adding the minced garlic to the rice pot at the start of the process.
- In a large nonstick skillet or wok, stir-fry the diced pepper in oil for 3 minutes.
- Add the rice, green onions, peas, pineapple juice, ginger and soy sauce.
- Cook until liquid is completely absorbed.
- Garnish with more green onion pieces just before serving.
- Oversee the initial cooking of the rice or have precooked rice ready to incorporate into the rest of the ingredients. At some point in their culinary education your kids are going to have to learn how to use the stove top safely; only a parent can know when that time comes. This simple stir-fry is a good way to begin as it is basically one pot dish to heat and stir.
- Supervise this very closely. Recipe II Irish Mashed! 4 servings Irish Mashed Ingredients 2 pounds Russet or Red Potatoes, peeled and quartered 2 tablespoons Butter 1 cup Low-Fat Milk 1 bunch Parsley (juiced or pureed & strained) Salt and Pepper to taste What the kids can do: Using a potato masher or electric beater, slowly blend milk mixture into potatoes until smooth and creamy.
- Once potatoes and milk are completely combined, add parsley juice and mix until green. What the supervising adult should do: It is presumed that your sous chef is too young to be “stove top certified”.
- Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add potatoes and cook until tender but still firm, about 15 minutes; drain. In a small saucepan, heat butter and milk over low heat until melted.
- Supervise the kids with the mashing and coloring, then take over for seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.