Around the World in Eight Children's Recipes
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We all get stuck in a rut of cooking the same old reliable dishes week in, week out. Indeed, it's been said that the average family has seven different dinners on a regular rotation, but those seven dishes look very different for families across the globe. The average Chinese, Russian or Cuban family has a very different set of seven dinners to my own. How hard could it be to explore family cooking from around the world? Not difficult at all, in fact, it's practically child's play!
Many children love to cook but parents are often reluctant to hand over control of the kitchen. Notwithstanding the potential mess, there are many great reasons why we must teach our children how to cook.
The ability to nourish yourself, to prepare and cook good food, is one of the most basic and essential life skills. No matter where life takes your children, they are going to need to eat. Moreover, children will generally eat just about anything they've made for themselves. Letting them do the cooking is a terrific start to broadening their culinary horizons, opening their eyes and their taste buds to a world brimming with possibilities.
Kids also love to turn the tables and challenge the grown-ups with something new. It’s fun and great for their self-esteem.
This past week, I pushed aside my simmering concerns about burnt pots and blocked drains. The time had come to step away from the hob and hand over the sharp knives.
I held up both hands in complete surrender. I gave my kids a stack of multi-cultural children’s cookbooks and encouraged them to surprise me with food from places we had never visited. They rose to the challenge and brought me on a culinary voyage of discovery.
1. C is for Cooking: Quesadilla
My youngest was first up to the chopping block. She used our beloved and tattered copy of C is for Cooking from Sesame Street to make a Mexican quesadilla.
This version, essentially a grilled cheese sandwich with a Mexican spin using tortillas. My daughter opted for the suggested ham and cheese filling. These were lots of fun to put together, quesadillas could be utilized to explore a whole world of variations and fillings.
This book has seen me through many a picky-eater phase. One of the nicest things about it is the multi-cultural selection of recipes.
2. Grover's African-style Peanut Butter Soup
Sticking with the same book, my middle-daughter took us to a new part of the world. She donned her onion-chopping goggles and dished up Grover's African-style peanut butter soup. Peanut-based soup is a staple of African cuisine with countless variations. This easy and accessible version includes chicken and a range of vegetables to make a really wholesome meal. It was a dish that I had never been brave enough to try making myself. It was absolutely delicious!
3. Aztec Chocolate Chicken
Taking us back to Central America, my eldest daughter used the Planet Cook Cookbook from DK to make Aztec Chocolate Chicken. The recipe is based on a traditional mole sauce which mixes spices with chocolate. It was a combination I had never considered but the results were great.
4. Azerbaijan Stew
She also discovered the World of Cooking series of children's cookbooks. This series isn't the prettiest, but it gives clear, easy-to-follow recipes from all over the globe including books on China, Egypt, Germany, and Thailand. We used the book on Russia to make an Azerbaijan Stew. This was a warming lamb casserole with fruity hits from apricots. It's great to see how different cultures interpret the same dish. While lamb stew is a common dish for those of us who grew up in Ireland, this version is quite different, but equally delicious and the whole family devoured it.
5. Homemade Pasta
My son, who takes great pride in being Italian by birth, went in search of Italian cookbooks. The legendary Italian cookbook, The Silver Spoon, is somewhat intimidating in its seriousness, not to mention the sheer weight of it. In contrast, The Silver Spoon for Children is a complete delight. It maintains the authenticity of the original while including charming illustrations and brilliant recipes. Most adults would be pretty content if they could cook everything in the children's version. My son loved it and set about rolling out some fine tagliatelle. It’s wonderful to see him get to grips with such a traditional part of Italian home cooking. My kitchen felt transported to the Mediterranean. Knowing how to make pasta means my son can now experiment with a whole host of sauces and dishes.
6. Fruit of the Forest Gelato
My youngest daughter turned to the pink pages of The Silver Spoon in search of something sweet, and churned up an excellent fruit of the forest gelato. It’s not quite a family dinner, but certainly a new family favourite. Gelato is not something I would have normally tried to make at home, but experimenting with new cuisines means trying out new techniques and I’m definitely glad to be able to add this delicious treat to my list of desserts.
Clafoutis is a classic French custard, usually studded with sour cherries. My teenage daughter put an Irish twist on it by making Rhubarb Clafoutis from Aoileann Garvaglia's superb children's cookbook, Yumee. This was luscious served warm with cream and equally delicious for breakfast the following morning.
8. Belgian Chocolate Cake
My middle daughter completed our week of culinary exploration with an indulgent, if not entirely authentic, Belgian chocolate cake from Aoibheann Garavaglia's second book Yumee World. The cake may not be Belgian, but using Belgian chocolate meant for a fun discussion on what ingredients are associated with which countries. It was a fun and simple recipe that yielded tasty results.
The kitchen takeover was declared a success and I now have a valid excuse to buy more cookbooks. They're not for me, you see, they're for the benefit of my children (I know, I'm an addict, I can't help it).
Our whole family loved watching Nadiya Hussein win The Great British Bake-Off last year, so I can't wait to get my greedy hands on her cookbook for children which will be published this month (Nadiya's Bake Me A Story).
The Nourishing Traditions Cookbook for Children is a real beauty. Lisa Wagner has a very tempting series of cookbooks for children ranging from Cool French Cooking to Cool Chinese and Japanese and lots more in between. She also has a book with a selection of the best, titled Cool World Cooking. If you think you'd like to venture even further afield, you might try An Alien Robot's Cookbook, which is going right to the top of my list.
Be brave. Loosen your apron strings, bury your head in a good book, and let your children take over the cooking.