Simple Sides: St. Patty’s Day Fruit Salad
By Dennis Linden
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 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 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 of your hearts forever. “No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing” – Julia Child.
Here’s a fun and instructive fruit salad recipe that is also perfect for St. Patrick’s Day! Start with a trip to the local fresh produce department accompanied by your kitchen helpers for an ingredient search. The assignment: green-colored fruits only and let the kids roam the aisles on a fresh fruit scavenger hunt. Actually, while green is the shade of choice amongst veggies, the list of green fruits is surprisingly small though most retail grocers do carry: green pears, green apples, green grapes, kiwi fruit and honeydew melon. In summer, there are also green plum varieties that could be added but this is March. Still, just the experience of walking the fresh produce aisles with a purpose, rather than just tagging along with mom, maybe for the first time ever will contribute to your child’s self-confidence plus ingredient shopping is a part of the culinary experience.
The simple preparation of each fruit also lends to your kitchen helper’s culinary know-how. A younger child can be tasked with both balling the melon and juicing the tangerines for the dressing. The rudimentary knife work needed to prep the apples, pears, kiwi and grapes is great practice for an older child looking to hone his or her knife skills. There really is no real precision cutting necessary in this one beyond turning everything into bite-sized pieces.
The only stovetop work in this recipe is an important one, the reduction of the tangerine juice. While the reduction procedure is very simple, it is also one of the most valuable cooking lessons for the beginner cook. And if that beginner needs to stand atop a chair in order to take part, so be it. After all, the making and reduction of sauces will be performed hundreds of times in the years to come in their own kitchens! And the main ingredient in any reduction is patience. Constant attention, constant stirring and constant patience. Once the cup of juice has been measured and poured into the sauce pan, keep that measuring cup close by to demonstrate the progress of the reduction to your kitchen crew. That is, when about ¼ of the juice has dissipated confirm that reduction in volume by pouring the hot juice back into the measuring cup just to show the decrease. Then add in the agave and return the mixture to the flame for another ¼ volume reduction, which again can be demonstrated by cooling the remaining ½ cup of liquid back in the measuring cup.
Though I have railed against adding any kind of sweetener to fresh fruit in many of my past blogs on this site, this sweet tangerine dressing is the exception and with reason. Without this simple dressing, the acidity of the green apples and kiwi would likely overpower the flavor of the salad. Besides, this slightly syrupy reduction gives the salad a little “something special” on St. Patty’s Day as well as instilling a dash of culinary confidence in the young chefs who helped prepare it! And that’s no blarney!
Oversee the preparation of each fruit. A younger child can use a melon baller and juice the tangerines; an old child can do the simple knife work. To avoid culinary frustrations and mangled kiwi, it might be best to scoop out the kiwi halves with a spoon before handing the fruit over to you helpers for slicing. The stovetop reduction of the tangerine juice should be closely supervised.
What the kids can do:
Prepare each fruit variety into bite-sized pieces, per the above ingredient list by either chopping, slicing, halving or balling.
Place all the fruit pieces into a large mixing bowl, toss with lemon juice until coated completely and then set aside.
Place tangerine juice in a small pan on medium flame, constantly stirring until juice is reduced by about ¼ [to ¾ of a cup], then add in agave and continue stirring until reduced another ¼ of a cup [leaving ½ cup]. Remove from flame, allow to cool to room temperature.
Plating: Add tangerine reduction and parsley to the fruit and toss until blended. Transfer to a serving bowl and present family style.