Thursday, October 25, 2007

Kids Make Middle Eastern Garden Pickles

Kids love to prep vegetables. I mean the peeling and slicing and chopping. So I wondered if there was any way to construct a lesson for my "food appreciation" classes that might combine a mess of vegetables with my urge to pickle, pickling being a very seasonal activity right now, and we are all about being seasonal in our "food appreciation" classes.

I found the answer in a book called Quick Pickles, a kind of global survey of pickling techniques and recipes. There are pickles from China, Japan, Thailand, India, Central America, the U.S. and of course the kind of Old World pickles we are all so familiar with. There are also some fascinating pickles using ingredients you might not have thought of before--pickled peaches, mangoes, pineapples, turnips and cranberries, squash and sage. There's a wealth of ideas in Quick Pickles, and perfect for hour-long classes because these pickles don't involve canning or processing or any kind of exotic equipment.

The ingredient list for Middle Eastern pickles sounds a lot like the minestrone we made last week: carrots, green bell pepper, green beans, radishes, cauliflower, green cabbage, red cabbage, garlic cloves. The brine is a simple mix of white wine vinegar, water and kosher salt. Trim and cut the vegetables into bite-size pieces, then combine with the brine. Let everything sit for three days, then refrigerate. How simple is that?

One drawback to pickling is there's nothing after the lesson for the kids to eat. So I also brought some broccoli along for them to play with. Broccoli has such a bad reputation, but I find that most kids really like it, especially if they get to help with the preparation. I let them cut the broccoli into florets, which my assistant cooked in boiling salted water while we were reading this week's story.

I wanted to read Pickles to Pittsburgh, by the same authors who wrote Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. This is the story of two children who, inspired by a postacard from Gandpa, take off in a plane and find themselves in a strange land where the forests are made of broccoli spears and fruits and vegetables rain from the sky.

I suppose it's hardly surprising that the library here in the District of Columbia is not exactly overflowing with story books in which pickles play a central role. But I did find Pickles to Pittsburgh last year for our pickling session and hoped to do so again. The librarians searched high and low but could not find the copy of Pickles to Pittsburgh that was supposed to be on the shelves in the children's section. I had to improvise and ran across something called The Incredible Book Eating Boy, which does make some fascinating culinary connections as well as teaching the value of reading, as opposed to eating books.

Afterwards our broccoli was waiting for us, fresh out of the cook pot. I served it very simply, with just a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a dusting of parmesan cheese. Some of the kids balked at the cheese, but otherwise they agreed this was a most excellent snack.

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