Our younger child, Polly, will be three-and-a-half at the end of this month. As she grows, she becomes more agile and able in the kitchen, and asks more and more often "Can I help make dinner?" As much as possible, I say yes, for all the reasons described here: she's more likely to eat what she has helped make, she's learning her way around a kitchen, and it's easier to have her up beside me than pulling on my legs! So we grab a sturdy stool, and get to it. Last week, we made fishcakes together.
I've posted before about little kids helping with breading fish for Simple Fried Fish, and this is a similar task. I asked Polly to squeeze the mixture in her fist into a ball, then drop it into the flour, then flatten it. She did quite well! This is a recipe I make quite often using canned, oil-packed tuna, cooked quinoa, fresh lemon, and other staple ingredients. This time I used fried mackerel in place of the tuna, and it was slightly drier, but still delicious. I also forgot to put in the raw egg - the mind can wander when little ones are at hand! So that would also account for the drier mixture. (Coming soon: a Fall post about taking advantage of pantry staples for quick dinners!)
Later this week, Polly helped whisk up the dressing for fattoush salad, right at the dinner table. As I've talked about before, I like to serve dinners family style, so everyone can help themselves - that way, children have control over their own portion sizes, and (ideally!) less food is wasted. It's also beautiful and friendly. I made this simple, summery salad from chopped cucumbers and tomatoes, fresh parsley and torn romaine. I fried whole-wheat pita pieces to make chips to garnish the salad, and made this lemony dressing from olive oil, lemon juice, salt and a pinch of sumac, a key fattoush ingredient. The flavours are bright, and the salad is full of different textures. Young kids can help tear the pita bread before frying it, wash and tear the lettuce, pull parsley leaves off the stems, and chop cucumbers with a butter knife (or small chef's knife, see photo below). They can help you squeeze the lemon juice and mix the olive oil for the dressing, and whisk it up.
End-of-Summer Salad with Fried Pita Chips
This is my version of the Middle Eastern fattoush salad, a dish you can read more about here. It features beautiful summer produce and lots of crunch. It's a great way to use up leftover/stale pita bread, too.
2 large whole wheat pita breads, torn or sliced into medium pieces (see photos)
Olive oil, for frying pitas
Half an English cucumber, diced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
5 large leaves of romaine lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
10 or so parsley stems, leaves pulled off
2-3 Tablespoons lemon juice (from 1/2 a lemon)
1/3 cup olive oil
salt to taste (I use about 1/4 tsp)
2 pinches of ground sumac
Place enough olive oil in a 9" skillet to cover the bottom, and heat to medium-high. Fry pita chips, turning once, until golden brown. Dry on paper towels, and season with salt.
Combine cucumber, tomato, lettuce and parsley in a large bowl.
In a separate bowl, whisk lemon juice, olive oil, salt and sumac. Taste for acidity and salt (let your kids do this part! "Do you think it needs any more lemon? Any more salt?"), and adjust as necessary.
Serve the three elements separately, and let family members dress their own salad at the table with pita chips and lemony dressing.