Wondering how to cook vegetables for kids, even vegetables you’ve never seen before?
These culinary curiosities will bring great tastes to your family’s summer table
I like to think of myself as a fairly educated consumer of all things food—I have worked as a cookbook production editor, I went to culinary school and cooked on more than a few kitchen crews, and I am an avid reader of cooking magazines, websites and blogs.
And yet as I reached into a bag of fresh vegetables my husband handed me from our community farm share (CSA) late last summer, I was completely stumped. What was this weird thing that I had pulled out?
“Honey,” I queried my husband, “did they have a list at the pickup of the vegetables this week?”
“Why, don’t you know what it is? Didn’t you take out all those student loans for cooking school?”
The Dreaded Unidentified Vegetable Object (UVO)
Embarrassed, I admitted I had no idea what this giant, gnarly greenish UVO was. I quickly logged onto the CSA website to see what vegetables were included in our weekly pickup.
“It’s kohlrabi!” I called out to my husband.
“So, what do we do with that?” he asked.
Stumped again. Luckily the website also had helpful recipes.
When cooked, kohlrabi tastes somewhat like a cross between a broccoli stem and an apple. I peeled and cubed the root and tossed it with olive oil, salt, and pepper before roasting on sheet pan. We all enjoyed the caramelized cubes that came out of the oven. My son even declared it “sweet.” How to cook vegetables for kids? Bring out the vegetable’s sweetness by roasting.
After that successful foray into unfamiliar food territory, I wondered what other unusual UVOs were out there and if other home cooks knew what to do with them.
Connie Findley of Cure Organic Farm in Boulder, Colorado, says that the vegetables the farmers gets the most questions about from their CSA members are fava beans (“many people have never seen them”) and fennel (“most people think it’s dill”).
“Fava beans are one of our favorite unusual veggies, and once people taste them, they usually fall in love with them,” Connie says. To cook veggies for kids, you can look at unusual veggies that might surprise your family with their flavor.
I’d have to agree—fresh fava beans, also known as broad beans, are incredibly delicious and have a very different taste and texture than the dried favas available year-round. Just picked, they look like giant, bumpy string beans. Have your kids help you out by pulling out the skinny strings along the sides of the pods and pop out the beans.
Once freed from their pods, you need to parboil them and slip off their waxy coating to reveal the bright green beans within. Then it’s up to you—they can be sauteed, fried, steamed, and mashed with butter and cream. And their creamy, nutty flavor is high in iron and fiber, to boot.
As for fennel, you want to cut off those fronds that look like dill and concentrate on the bulb. With a light licorice flavor and a great crunch, you can sliver the fennel and toss with avocados, mandarin oranges, and a light vinaigrette for a refreshing summer treat. Fennel is also wonderful sauteed with olive oil, salt and pepper or added to a stir-fry for a wonderful counterpoint to the other ingredients. Fennel is high in vitamin C and potassium.
So what should you do when you come across a UVO? Connie advises using your nose: “Smelling veggies is a great way to start to identify them.” How to cook vegetables for kids means getting them involved in the smelling and identifying also.
Is the smell a bit grassy? Could be a type of lettuce. Do you smell citrus? Maybe you have your hands on a stalk of lemongrass. A bit funky? Perhaps a cabbage family member.
Get the kids involved and try using all your senses to identify the UVO. Is it leafy or gnarly? Does it look like a root or a vine? Does it feel soft or is it in a hard shell? As you smell and look, you can decide how to cook the vegetable for kids in a way they would like it.
If you are trying to cook veggies for kids and all else fails, swallow your pride and ask the kids to do an online search, do it together if your kids are too young to do it by themselves. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll soon be able to identify most UVOs—or at least determine which vegetable family they belong to.
The world is full of UVOs, and which ones you find depend on your local growers and markets. Try finding some rutabegas, jerusalem artichokes, or broccoli rabe. The web is a good first stop in finding out how to prepare UVOs—remember one person’s UVO is another person’s staple veggie! It’s important to remember to involve kids when possible in the selection, planning, and smelling when you are deciding how to cook vegetables for kids.