Simple Sides: 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.
Plums, plums and more plums! It’s August, so local fruit stands and grocery displays are overflowing with a wide assortment of these succulent fruits. Here’s an easy-to-prepare summer couscous salad dish that takes advantage of all this plum bounty. It’s the perfect side dish for that next backyard grilling feast; plus it has culinary lessons and tasks to suit a kitchen helper of almost any age.
Couscous is a great confidence builder for the beginning cook and pretty much foolproof compared to rice. It takes only the amount of time to boil water (or broth) plus ten minutes off the flame. Using Melissa’s Couscous with Lemon Seasoning, just follow the cooking instructions on the seasoning packet. While the seasoning packet is optional, the lemony flavor is deliciously compatible with plums and the flavors of the rest of the ingredients.
Using vegetable broth, instead of water, is a great culinary lesson that your sous chefs need to be aware of as an option that adds much more flavor to the couscous. In fact, it’s a lesson that they will use again when they “graduate” from the simpler couscous prep to making rice for the first time.
Any favorite variety or a mix of varietal Plums can be used for this dish depending on availability. There are not a lot of savory recipes using Plums, beyond the iconic plum sauce used in Asian cuisine, so this tasty combination, which demonstrates the fruit being used in a savory side dish, is a culinary lesson unto itself! Indeed, the plum can be more than just a juicy hand fruit.
Another interesting and simple-to-prepare component of this dish is the agave and balsamic dressing. White balsamic is used over the more common regular balsamic, which would discolor (darken) the couscous. Introducing your kitchen helpers to this option, and the reason for using it, is a cooking tip opportunity that should not be missed. Not to mention that this tasty dressing is another quick recipe that your kids can use on all sorts of salads.
While there are a parts of this recipe that require knife skills best left to an older child or adult, there are also tasks that a young child can perform. The mint can be pulled apart by hand into smaller pieces without a sharp blade; the goat cheese could also be crumbled by hand and even the job of whisking the two dressing ingredients together can be done by a young hand. The point is to cook together and enjoy the results together. All in all, this dish is just plum good, so enjoy!
Couscous & Plum Salad
1¼ cup Vegetable Broth
2 teaspoons Olive Oil
1 (6 ounces) package Melissa’s Couscous with Lemon Seasoning
3 ripe Plums, pitted and chopped
2 Green Onions, thinly sliced
2 ounces Goat Cheese, crumbled
½ cup Fresh Mint, chopped
3 Tablespoons Melissa’s Organic Blue Agave Syrup
3½ Tablespoons White Balsamic Vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste (optional)
What the kids can do
Prepare and measure out each ingredient before starting.
Into a medium saucepan add the broth, olive oil, couscous and seasoning packet contents.
Under adult supervision, bring to a boil.
Remove saucepan from heat; cover and let rest for 10 minutes.
Remove cover, fluff couscous with a fork, transfer to a medium bowl and allow to cool.
In a small bowl, whisk agave and vinegar until thoroughly mixed, set aside.
When couscous is room temperature add plums, green onions, cheese and mint.
Pour vinegar dressing over the entire mixture and gently toss.
Serve in a large bowl, family style.
What the supervising adult should do
Depending upon age and knife skills, you might have to slice up the plums and green onions or at least closely oversee a child old enough to do these tasks. The stovetop boiling and handling a hot pot is also an adult call. Certainly, under a watchful eye, fluffing up the cooked couscous involves your sous chef in the cooking process. Even the youngest of kitchen helpers can get into the family act with the final mixing of all the ingredients.