Last night I cooked curry. We had an aromatic prawn and tomato dish, vibrant red and pulsating. A white basmati rice barrier kept the sharp sauce apart from the relative sweetness of the chicken dish that beamed yellow across the plate. The whole delicious combination was delicately contrasted with a light, green scattering of fresh coriander. Mm mm mm mmmmmm!
I’m an organised cook, and had extracted the necessary spices in advance from the depths of the shelf where they live in harmony alongside the herbs. These brightly coloured jars were like a magnet to my little boy. He found a stool and clambered up next to me, all busy and full of excitement.
“Mummy, me taste this?” he asked, proffering a jar of shockingly extra-hot chilli powder.
“Erm, no sweetie, not that one. How about this?” I offered the jar of cloves as an alternative.
Intrigued, he scattered them across the worktop (and the floor, and the stove, and down his jumper). Then he tasted one.
“Bleurrrgh!” he said. “I not like that.”
“Well,” I explained, “these are flavours. We add them in little bits to the food, and together they mix with all the other stuff in the pan and make it yummy.”
We spent the next 20 minutes opening jars of aromatic coriander and cumin, blinding yellow turmeric, woody cinnamon sticks and nutty cardamon pods. We worked our way along the line of 20-30 spice jars, sniffing, dipping fingers, and rolling shapes and textures between our fingers. We had a ball. When at last we’d finished I got on with cooking, Joe keeping a watchful eye on me from his car in the corner.
“Can me have for tea?” asked my lad when I’d finished. He is game to try anything edible.
So today we had what I call “Little Boy Curry” for lunch. A mild chicken korma, packed with flavour, but light on spicy heat. He loved it.
It got me thinking about flavours.
I’m pretty passionate about food, and love to cook. I’m not always great at it, but can turn out a decent meal. For me, getting the kids involved in food, and in the process of cooking, is really important. I want them to learn about how to make healthy food choices. It’s important they know that chips are made from potatoes. But most of all I want to give them options. If they choose later in life to stuff themselves with unhealthy processed gunk that’s their choice. At least they will understand what they are doing, and know how to make a change if they want to. So I encourage my kids to experiment, and take them shopping whenever I can. When I have time, we grow our own veggies too.
Here is a great game to get pre-teens thinking about the food they eat:
- Decide on a flavour that can be found in many different forms. Mint, Orange, Chocolate and Strawberry all work well
- Select 5-10 edible things that contain that flavour and create little samples on a plate – keep this hidden from the kids
- Sit your child down and blindfold them – working in a small group works best, as they get all giggly and really have fun
- Give them a little sniff, and then a taste of each food, and invite them first to guess the flavour, and then the food itself
- NEVER force a wary child to sample something if they are afraid – you can do it without the blindfold if necessary
This game is a great way to encourage children to engage with food, and to really think about the flavours they experience every day, but may never even consider. You can talk about where the flavour comes from, how it is added, and other foods that might taste good as a complement. It works best with the more adventurous child, but in a gentle form with only 3 different variations that you know will be a hit, it can also be used to encourage cautious kids to try new things.
Here are a few suggestions for sample foods for the flavour MINT:
- A leaf from the herb itself
- Toothpaste (just a little, we’re not going for fluoride overload here!)
- A mint sweet – tic tac, polo, mentoes, humbug, any of these will do
- A peppermint cream
- Minty chocolate, such as an After Eight or Matchmaker
- Mint sauce/jelly
- Mint tea
- Cucumber and Mint raita – a refreshing accompaniment to curry, made by mixing plain yoghurt with chopped cucumber, dried or fresh mint, and salt
- Minted peas – cook the peas and toss with a little butter and fresh or dried mint
- Minty chewing gum