Welcome to part two of our series about eating with children. This second piece will introduce creating enthusiastic cooks by cooking the world. Though these are strategies I employ to expand my kids’ kitchen savvy, you can do the same with adults who maybe aren’t as skilled in the kitchen as you would like.
Years ago, my mom called me to tell me about a conversation she had had with my boys; they were probably in first and third grades at the time. They had been talking about marriage and qualities they wanted in a mate. R commented that she needed to be smart and like to go camping. My mom added, “ – and cute. I want cute great grand-kids.” R quickly added, “BUT, the most important thing is that she has to know how to cook. That’s what Daddy told me: you want a wife who can cook.”
D, the one I call my Enthusiastic Kitchen Elf, asserted, “I don’t need a wife to cook. I will learn to cook for myself.”
R, my Precise Kitchen Elf, shook his head, “I need a wife.”
It was then that I realized that not only did I need to teach them how to eat – with adventurous palates – but I needed to teach them how to cook. So, when I stumbled across the idea of “cooking the world” I realized that I had nearly 200 built-in cooking lessons. We launched our Cooking Around the World project several years ago and though we haven’t completed all the countries, it’s been a fantastic launching point to learn about different ingredients and cooking techniques.
I have even taken this project into the classroom where I’ve taught several six-week sessions of Cooking Around the World to kids at my boys’ school. For 90 minutes for six weeks I’ve planned dishes that a dozen different students can take part in creating. Talk about chaos in the kitchen! But they seem to love it.
I received an email from a mother of one of my students that I read whenever I want to throw my hands up in frustration from wrangling a dozen kids in one kitchen. She wrote, “He had a blast in your class. Thank you so much! I love cooking and he never got engaged with me. But, after cooking with you, he came home every Friday saying that he wanted to try to new things and cook!!!” Success!
My kids have grated carrots for Morotskaka, a carrot cake from Sweden; they have pounded meat into patties for Pljeskavica from Montenegro; and they have wrapped masa harina in banana leaves for Honduran Nacatamales. They have honed knife skills. They understand leavening agents. They braise. They blanch. They steam. And they even ferment. One of R’s favorite things to make is his homemade kimchi.
But I think there are two even more important lessons you need to teach someone about cooking. First, cooking is about creating meals to share with others. Certainly eating is about sustenance, but sharing meals is about feeding friendships with conversation and laughter. Second, cooking is a fluid process. It’s not just about following a recipe. While my goal has been to teach the boys about different countries and their culinary traditions; it has not been about creating wholly traditional dishes. Another goal has been to give my kitchen elves some creative license to experiment with herbs and spices, to get inventive, and to grow into confident cooks.
One of the dishes that embodies that flexibility is bobotie from South Africa and Lesotho, babute from the Congo, and Swazi babotie. However you spell it, it is a slightly sweet, spiced dish with ground meat in an egg custard with bay leaves floated on top. Instead of using bay, we got creative with our herbs.
- 1 lb or 450g organic grassfed beef, ground
- 1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- olive oil
- 1 tablespoon curry powder
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- ½ teaspoon ground smoked paprika
- freshly ground salt and pepper, to taste
- 3 tablespoons ketchup
- 3 tablespoons apricot jam
- 7 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 cup or 45g fresh chopped herbs + 2 tablespoons for garnish (we used a mixture of parsley, cilantro, and oregano)
- ½ cup or 120ml organic whole milk
- Preheat the oven to 350°F or 180°C and grease a 9x13in or 23x33cm oven proof dish.
- In a large frying pan, heat a splash of olive oil and cook the onions until translucent and softened.
- Add in the meat and cook until completely browned.
- Season with spices and stir in the ketchup and jam.
- Spoon the mixture into your well-greased dish.
- Combine the eggs with the milk and herbs and beat well.
- Pour the mixture over the babotie.
- Cover and bake for an hour, or until the custard has set.
- Remove the cover and bake for an additional 10 minutes, until golden brown.
- Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes in the pan before slicing and serving.
I hope this piece has bolstered your resolve to get into the kitchen with your kids, or even adults who are cooking averse. Cooking feels like less of a chore when you’ve added some adventure to the pot. How do you create interest in your kitchen? I’d love to hear your comments and suggestions on creating enthusiastic cooks.