Is a hatred of green food innate or learned? Generally speaking, green foods are vegetables: good for you, beloved of concerned parents, hated by children. So even when the food you place in front of a picky four year old is clearly NOT a vegetable, he will know that there is vegetable matter lurking somewhere in it and will rebel. At least, that is my experience so far with a fairly vegetable-averse picky four year old. He recently picked up the word "yucky" at his nursery and is very enthusiastic about applying it to my cooking, regardless of whether he does in the end like the dish and finish the lot. I'm starting to think the distrust is innate and some kids have it while others don't. Because my second son actually listens, head cocked and eyebrows slightly raised when you tell him, "Yes, I know it's green but I really think you'll like it." And then as the flavor starts to hit his taste buds, his little turtle mouth opens again for a second bite before the first is even on its way to his tummy. So I can only claim this is a half-successful attempt at child-friendly food. It's fully successful on adults, however and will be resurrected frequently once the grilling season has started. It is packed with flavor but not calories and takes minutes to assemble. And my second son loves it. Turkey, feta, garlic, spinach, what's not to like? Oh yeah - the spinach. If you are green-averse. But if you are not and have a quirky sense of humor, it's a fun addition and gives you loads of vitamins. Eat your greens: your momma told you so!
Green Turkey Burgers (makes 4 small burgers, 2.5 Weight watchers points each)
These are lovely served on a bed of lettuce with sliced tomatoes, thinly sliced red onions and a tablespoon of yogurt mixed with grated cucumber. The tzatziki - whether commercial or homemade - will cost you a half a point on the Weight Watchers regime, but it does add a lovely fresh flavor to the burgers and adds some needed moisture.
200 g skinless uncooked turkey breast
90 g cooked spinach, well drained
50 g feta cheese
1 slice of bread
1 medium egg
1 clove garlic
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
Place all the ingredients in a food processor and turn it on until the mixture starts to form a ball in the bowl of the machine. You may need to add a little more bread, depending on how moist it is and the size of your egg. It will still be squishy, but stick together well enough to make a ball. Flatten and cook over a very hot grill/griddle pan or in a well-seasoned cast iron pan. If the pan is nice and hot before the burgers go in, they will sear pretty quickly and should not stick. Cook for five to seven minutes on one side and then turn over and cook another five on the other side. The burgers should be firm to the touch and cooked through when you remove them from the pan. Serve with lettuce and tzatziki and tomatoes if you have them (our CSA box had one tomato, indicating, I think, that the local organic farm has a greenhouse!). If you are not on a diet, you could toss them into hamburger buns for added weight - but it really isn't necessary. The salty feta and spinach have a subtle flavor that will stand out beautifully on their own.
Early spring is the most frustrating time of the year for a cook. The relentless delivery of increasingly rubbery turnips and sprouting onions from our local organic farm can be pretty demoralizing when the world around you is seething with new green life and the birds are chirping in the hedgerows. In desperation, I even included a small package of asparagus tips in my latest order from the Big English Supermarket Chain. This proved to be a wasted gesture though, as the spears - flown from South America at great environmental cost - turned out to be somewhat woody and lacking in flavor. If nothing else, though, it steeled my will to wait for the first locally grown spring vegetables.
But although I do try to eat seasonal foods and ones that are grown locally, there are a few specialty items that I can't imagine living without and so do buy in small quantities even if they do come from another climate. Lemons, ginger, the occasional bunch of bananas. I try to shop sensibly but at the same time I don't want my children to grow up without these flavors.
So when I noticed a couple of small heads of bok choi nestled between the carrots and rubbery turnips, I thought of another bright, light flavor sitting in my fruit bowl: beautiful firm yellow lemons from Spain. The resulting dish isn't really oriental or Spanish or any specific ethnic variety. But it is bright and light and full of tang and most definitely a fitting spring supper. And for those following my Weight Watchers quest, it's a mere 3.5 points (plus another 2.5 if you are serving it over wild rice, as I did).
Spring Chicken (serves two at 3.5 points each, not including rice)
I recently rid our kitchen of the old Teflon pans that the Critic bought before we were together and replaced them with a couple of cast iron pans. They came pre-seasoned and worked beautifully at searing the chicken breasts with a minimum of oil. I am regretting that I didn't make this move years ago, as they are so worth the slight extra effort in hand washing them!
2 chicken breasts
1 tsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic
2 small heads of bok choi (spinach or Belgian endives would work equally well)
8-10 fresh basil leaves, reserving 2 for garnish
1 small red chili pepper
100 g frozen peas
1 cup chicken stock
juice of half a lemon
Brush two skinned chicken breasts with the olive oil. Smash two garlic cloves with a mallet. Heat up a nonstick frying pan with high sides on a medium high flame. Place the garlic cloves - without skins - in the centre of the pan and place a chicken breast on top of each. Sear the meat for a few minutes and then turn over. In the meantime, wash and chop the carrots, bok choi, basil leaves and pepper (finely for the latter two). Turn down the heat on the chicken breasts (they don't need to be cooked through), scatter the carrots, basil and peppers in the pan and add about a cup of chicken broth and the lemon juice. Cover and simmer for 10-12 minutes or until the chicken has cooked through and the carrots are tender. Add the bok choi or spinach and frozen peas. Cover and cook another 2-3 minutes, until the greens have wilted and the peas are tender. Taste for salt; if you have used home made chicken stock, it will need a generous pinch. Garnish with the remaining basil and server over a mixture of wild and long grain rice.