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Simple Sides: Soup's On!

Image of Soup
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.
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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 basic culinary skills and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all of your hearts forever.

One of the best things about winter, probably going back to the first primitive chef de cave cuisine, is hot soup on a cold day. The dish can be prepared as easily as puréeing a few seasoned veggies in a little water, then heating the mixture on the stovetop; or steeping together a more complicated list of prepared ingredients in a pot over many hours. In either case, the art of soup making comes once the basics have been mastered using simple ingredients. Exposing your kids to these basics early will be one gift that will keep on giving for many cold winters to come in their own kitchens.

As I have stated in past blogs, for a child, tedium is the biggest enemy in the kitchen. While the butternut squash is a perfect hearty soup ingredient, with its naturally rich flavor and velvety smooth texture, it is a pain to prepare. The hard squash has a thick shell that does not peel easily for the experienced cook let alone a young kitchen helper. Plus once peeled, the awkward shaped squash must be cubed and cooked. I say there will be plenty of opportunity for a young child just starting out in the kitchen to learn how to skin and cook a hard squash from scratch once the love for cooking has been instilled. Handing a kid a potato peeler and a butternut squash is not the way to inspire. Instead, start with the Melissa’s Peeled & Steamed Butternut Squash to speed up the prep time. And if you would like to eventually introduce him or her to that potato peeler process, graduate to Melissa’s Peeled & Cubed Butternut Squash on the next attempt at this recipe before letting you’re your chefs work with a field fresh butternut squash.

Including parsnips in the short ingredient list adds a slight nutty sweetness to the soup that kids of any age will enjoy. If your helpers are just too young for knife work yet, the parsnips can be hand-snapped into chunks; the veggie is going to be puréed anyway so uniformity is less important than breaking up the parsnips small enough to cook quickly and fit into the food processor, the novice cook’s best friend in the kitchen. BTW, choose small to medium sized parsnips; large ones tend to be woody and tough. Parsnips are a good source of fiber, calcium and vitamin C. Also, as the second main ingredient, the parsnip demonstrates to your novice what cooking is all about i.e. combining different flavors in one pot to make a singular soup. After all, it would not be much of a culinary lesson to simply purée a pile of pre-cooked squash cubes and heat!

Lastly, and another familiar mantra of this blog, do not skip the pumpkin seed garnish. As with any garnish, this one adds to the flavor profile of the entire soup. In this particular soup the seeds also lend a little texture to a soup that could use something to chew on, so to speak. Once your sous chefs have mastered this simple recipe, they can try the more complicated, multi-ingredient soup recipe on the back of the Peeled & Steamed Butternut Squash package. Enjoy and stay warm!

Butternut Squash and Parsnip Soup
Serves 4
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2 tablespoons olive oil
1 Perfect Sweet onion, chopped
½ tsp Salt
¼ tsp black pepper
5 cups chicken broth
2 parsnips, peeled, chopped into small chunks
3 pkgs. Melissa’s Peeled & Steamed Butternut Squash
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Pumpkin seeds (for garnish)

What the kids can do:
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In a medium soup pot, sauté the onion in olive oil, salt and pepper until the onion starts to turn color, being careful not to burn. Add the broth and parsnips, bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer until the parsnips are fork tender.
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Add butternut squash to the pot and simmer for another 5 minutes to heat up the pre-cooked squash.
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Remove from flame, add in lime juice. Working in batches, purée the mixture in a blender until smooth.

Plating: Serve in bowls garnished with pumpkin seeds.
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