For seven weeks, I am teaching a course at Anser Charter School in Boise called the Great Veggie Challenge for students in grades 1-3. The course description starts by saying:
Are you ready to take the challenge and prove to yourself and your parents that you can eat – and actually like – vegetables? During this course, we’ll jazz up the old routine by learning how to cook traditional vegetables in new and different ways. We’ll even experiment with some mystery vegetables you may have never tasted before.
After two weeks of teaching the Great Veggie challenge, I have decided the real challenge will be finding a veggie the kids don’t like, as opposed one(s) they do. The children I’m teaching have open-minded attitudes and refined palates, making my job quite easy.
Nonetheless, I’m learning a lot through this experience and enjoying my time as well. Here are highlights of our experience with roasted root vegetables and fake fried favorites.
Roasted Root Vegetables
Our first task for the day was preparing root vegetables to roast, as we knew the cooking time was lengthy.
- Carrots, scrubbed
- Parsnips (which look like carrots but white in color), peeled
- Turnips, peeled and cut in half
- Rutabagas, peeled and cut in quarters
- Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut in thirds
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
First, place the turnips, potatoes and rutabagas in boiling water for four minutes. Then add the carrots and parsnips and boiled another five minutes. After draining them and placing in a bowl, drizzle olive oil, salt and pepper and mix thoroughly. Spread them out evenly on a baking dish, and bake vegetables for one hour at 400 degrees. Note that we deliberately chose a cutting system that would allow us to distinguish which vegetables were what after they were cooked. Many of them look alike!
Possible variation: You could also add fresh rosemary and garlic, but we kept is simple today.
Fake Fried Okra
While the vegetables were baking, we prepared the okra. Most of the children had never seen or eaten okra, but I explained that fried okra is a staple in a Southerner’s diet! Because okra can have a slimy texture when boiled or added to gumbos, “frying” it dries the vegetable. In the South, okra is usually breaded and deep fried, but I actually like the healthier, “fake fried” version better.
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
Chop okra into bite-sized pieces and place in sauce pan. Sprinkle salt, pepper, olive oil and corn meal on top of okra. Cook on low to medium heat about 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Be sure to taste along the way and add more salt and/or corn meal as needed.
I was happy to see that all the children gave the okra a big thumbs-up!
Fake Fried Summer Squash
We also made fake fried squash in much the same manner as above (slicing the squash into a thickness of about 1/4 inch or less), placing the squash into a pan, sprinkling salt, flour and oil on top.
As a test, we prepared a second batch of squash in a more traditional way, by coating the squash in a cornmeal/flour mixture before placing it in the pan. Cooking it this way requires a bit more oil, however. When I asked the children which batch they preferred, more selected the healthier first batch than the second. Interestingly, the parents, who had grown up with memories of the more traditional preparation, tended to gravitate to the taste they had long known. I think this is proof in the pudding that children have an openness to healthy cooking preparations, as long as we parents are willing to experiment, too!
The Root Results
As with everything else prepared on day #2, the children (and parents!) liked the root vegetables. I also got some great feedback when comparing the vegetables’ tastes against one another. Here’s what we decided:
Rutabagas: Taste was a cross between a carrot and sweet potato. Appearance is yellow, like a sweet potato.
Parsnips: This vegetable had a hint of cinnamon and ginger (at least the parents thought so!).
Turnips: The texture was a little softer; taste was somewhat like cabbage. Some noted an aftertaste.
Potatoes: Well, we all know what a potato tastes like!
The children liked all of the root vegetables, though turnips got the fewest first place votes. It’s hard to deter children from a crop native to Idaho!
Separate from the other root vegetables, we also roasted some beets. First, we scrubbed 3-4 beets, then placed them in aluminum foil. After adding some olive oil, salt, marjoram and balsamic vinegar, we wrapped them up, closing the foil seams, and cooked them about 70 minutes.
Once thoroughly cooked, we sliced the beets and sampled. We decided they tasted best with a little extra olive oil and a douse of balsamic vinegar.
And the winner is…..
This week’s adventurous award goes to Autumn, who loved everything she sampled (including the turnips) and ate as much as time would allow!
And kudos to Emme for slicing and dicing squash like I’ve never seen before!