On my travels down South recently I had the privilege to eat some very delicious food. I expected excellent seafood (I was in Charleston) and certainly was not disappointed. But what really struck me was the close attention paid to traditional cooking of vegetables and grains. Everywhere I went there was an abundance of well-seasoned, exciting, and healthful traditional dishes. Here are a few tips for creating kid-friendly, Southern-inspired dishes with local springtime New York ingredients.
Make a big pot of greens
Okay, so most kids snub greens in favor of other foods. But during May the markets and Community Supported Agriculture baskets are overflowing with spring greens.
Keep trying different preparations and types of greens like the sweet and sour greens in the recipe below. You never know, they may just like it! If anything, you can have a pot of leftover cooked greens at the ready for weeknight side dishes.
Experiment with ingredients
You can purchase polenta, grits, oats, wheat, barley, and beans from green markets all over New York City, online as well as at specialty food markets. Kid-friendly grits make a substantial and delicious meal, especially when topped with fish or shrimp!
Many kids love the sweet and sour taste of pickles. Pickling is a great way to preserve the delicate spring bounty so you can enjoy for months to come, long after the short growing season of these vegetables has ended.
Make your own pickles, experimenting with different seasonal veggies, such as ramps and snap peas. The whole family will be proud of the pickles they produce together. Information on pickling techniques is very easy to find online and in cookbooks.
Buy meat directly from farmers and use sparingly
Our green markets are full of meat and seafood purveyors that often have a hand in raising or catching the animals that we eat. By forming a relationship with these purveyors, we enhance our connection to where our food is coming from. When we develop respect for the meat we eat, we tend to use meat more sparingly in our cooking.
Try using pancetta to season a sauce for farro, or a bit of pastrami or smoked turkey in sweet and sour greens. Stretch one duck breast into a meal for the whole family by slicing thin and putting into a bahn mi sandwich, maybe with some of those pickled vegetables.
Give rhubarb a try!
I love to use rhubarb in my springtime cooking. My son and I slice it up and cook it into a quick compote with some strawberries and sugar. This is a great topping for pancakes or waffles. Make a big batch and keep it in your fridge in a mason jar for use throughout the week. My favorite way to eat this compote is on top of a steaming bowl of oatmeal!
Joanna DeVita is executive chef at Léman Manhattan Preparatory School. She graduated from the University of Maryland in 2002 and the French Culinary Institute in lower Manhattan. DeVita is the mother of two (ages 5 and 2), and loves nothing more than spending time with them in the outdoors and sharing her love and respect for nature, good ingredients, and the joy of cooking with her family.
2 big bunches of greens, such as collard, mustard, or kale, cleaned and sliced into ribbons
¾ cup water
2 tbs red wine vinegar
1 tbs sugar
2 tbs olive oil or other mild cooking oil
2 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
Salt and pepper to taste
Chili flakes to taste
DIRECTIONS: Heat oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over a medium flame. Add garlic and toast until fragrant, being careful not to brown the garlic. Pour the water, sugar, and vinegar into the pot and allow to come to a boil.
Add the greens, a pinch of salt, a pinch of chili flakes, and a few cracks of fresh-ground pepper. Wilt the greens into the hot liquid and turn down to a simmer. Allow this to simmer for about 30 minutes, checking occasionally that there is still liquid in the pot. There should be just a bit of liquid left when the greens are tender. Put more liquid if the greens get too dry during the cooking.
Check the greens for seasoning and add more salt, pepper, chili, vinegar or sugar depending on how you like it.
If you would like to use meat in this preparation, sub out the oil in the beginning for bacon fat and add crumbled bacon to the finished greens. Enjoy!
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