Once again, we had a lot of chopping to do to make this week’s recipes for Vegetarian “Cheesesteaks” and Zucchini fries. But one thing I have learned in the ten years we’ve been doing these cooking classes: Kids love to chop. In fact, they actually love the whole process of cooking, from identifying the ingredients, to chopping, measuring, mixing, cracking eggs, and sautéing things on the stove. The kids take their jobs seriously and it is such a joy to see their skills improve and their confidence build.
So, chopping the onions, peppers, mushrooms and zucchini was not really a chore for these young cooks. And, they often enjoy sampling the things they are chopping.
“Can I taste it?” said Ariannie Morales, who was slicing a green pepper. “Sure you can,” we told her. Soon everyone wanted to try, and the raw peppers proved so popular with all the students, I feared there wouldn’t be enough to sauté for our meal. No one was eager to try the raw portobello mushrooms, which were sliced thin, and would sub for the steak in the sandwich. “I’ve had mushrooms on pizza before,” said Nathan. “But not raw like these.”
Slicing the zucchini into “fries” took a little bit of care to get thin strips, but every student took a turn. And the kids wanted to taste them too. “I like them,” said Ny’Asia Damon, “but they don’t have a lot of flavor.” They taste better when they are cooked, we told her, even better with breadcrumbs and cheese.
The boys manned the stove this week, with Nathan starting on the peppers, and Kyle Hunter working a second pan with onions. Then each added mushrooms to their skillet and stirred and sautéed, moving the last-in mushrooms to the bottom of the pan to get them browning. “Whose look better?” asked Kyle. “It’s not a competition!” they were told.
Ariannie and Ny’Asia worked together to mix the topping for zucchini fries, then took turns dipping the strips into the egg and milk mixture, then coating them with the breadcrumbs and cheese. “We dip in there and then in there,” Ny’Asia sang a little melody as she worked. “Ta do da do do do,” she sang, then announced “Boom,” as she laid a coated fry onto the sheet pan.
Listening to the conversations as they worked, it was clear there was more going on besides cooking.
“We never really talked in school, I don’t know why,” Ny’Asia said to Ariannie. “But now we do.”
The zucchini fries were in the oven baking, and when the vegetables were tender, the boys separated them into mounds and layered cheese on top. Once the cheese was melted, the mounds of vegetables and cheese were laid into hoagie rolls, and very much resembled cheesesteaks.
And then it was time to taste the result of their hard work. Both recipes were a hit. The girls especially loved the zucchini fries, which Ariannie thought smelled like the spices in “Oodles of Noodles.” Ny’Asia was not enthusiastic about the texture of the mushrooms, which she had never had before. But everyone else devoured them. Even, Kyle our pickiest eater, who had not expected to like them. He and Nathan both went back for seconds of both the mushroom “cheesesteaks” and the zucchini fries.
“It’s really good,” Kyle said.
“I love it,” said Nathan.