Getting Kids Excited about Their Culinary Roots
By Cherry Dumaual, PR & Partnerships Director, The Monday Campaigns
The Kids Cook Monday (KCM) loves that as ChopChop Family aims to inspire families to cook and real food together, families also learn about their culinary roots in the process. Introducing children to foods from their parents’ culture leads to an appreciation of their culinary heritage.
Below KCM shares the story about how two American-born, pizza-loving brothers with Indian parents are beginning to embrace their culinary heritage by cooking as a family.
Despite their hectic schedules, Anita Raja, a professor, and Cephas Swamidoss, an anesthesiologist, make sure they set aside time to cook with their sons: Luke, who is eight years old and Andrew, who is five. Over weekends and holidays, you can often find the family shopping for ingredients to cook Southern Indian dishes, many of which are inspired by foods Anita and Cephas ate while growing up.
KCM spoke with Anita and Cephas about their culinary heritage and what tips they have on how to engage kids with cooking. They also shared a favorite family recipe that the boys enjoy cooking.
KCM: Anita, you were born in Southern India, and Cephas, your husband, was born in Kuwait. Your two sons were born here in the U.S. and grew up eating and enjoying foods that most kids living here do: pizza, burgers, macaroni and cheese...to name a few. How do you ensure that Luke and Andrew learn about, try, and appreciate Indian food?
Anita: Having the boys appreciate Indian food has been and continues to be a journey of small steps. The rule around our dining table is, “You don't have to like it, but you have to try it.” We started with having the children taste dishes that are mild versions of “the real thing” and added more complex spices and traditional dishes as they have grown. For instance, first came plain rice, then rice with yogurt, then rice with dhal, then rice with chicken curry. They have grown to love plain dhal and staples of South Indian breakfasts like aapams and chappathi. In the past year, they have grown to love chicken curry, pooris, and dosas.
KCM: What are effective ways to introduce your children to Indian herbs and spices?
Anita: We grow curry leaves and basil in our house. The children also grow herbs as part of their gardening class at school. The boys also learn by reading the labels on the spice jars and smelling the spices.
KCM: How do you involve your family in cooking Indian meals?
Anita: Cephas is the sous-chef, who shops for ingredients and chops with precision. I do the cooking. The children help with reading the recipes, preparing dry items, tracking time for cooking, and tasting the dishes as they are being cooked to see if they are properly seasoned. We regularly incorporate math into our cooking time by discussing ounces, pounds, grams, ½ cup versus ¼ cup, etc.
KCM: What food-related stories and recipes from your childhood do you and your husband share with your sons?
Anita: I have shared how my mother would wake up at 5 a.m. every morning and cook breakfast as well as a three-course meal before she would get ready and head to work as a high school teacher. When I was growing up, it was the norm to eat freshly prepared food every day, especially because tropical weather didn’t lend itself to refrigerating food for more than a day.
Cephas’ parents would often host 75-100 family and friends for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. His mother would begin preparing for the dinners a week ahead of time and would, by herself, prepare 20 delicious dishes—both Indian and American.
KCM: Do you think it's important to set aside time to cook and dine as a family?
Anita: Dining together during the week is an important time to connect. It provides a chance for the children to share with us the happenings of the day. In fact, they compete to speak and often try to speak over each other.
KCM: What practical advice would you give to parents, who grew up in other countries and are raising young children in America, about passing on food traditions to keep their culture’s culinary heritage alive?
Anita: Try simple recipes at first and have them get their hands dirty. Have them work on simple recipes. Most of all—persevere—it really is a journey of small steps.
KCM: Kindly share comments from your sons about their thoughts/feelings for learning about, eating, and enjoying Indian cuisine. It would be great to get their point-of-view.
Anita: We made poori and potato curry with the boys this weekend. Here is what the boys had to say:
Luke: “Making the pooris was fun and it was yummy.”
Andrew: ”It made me happy.”
Try this family favorite recipe for a traditional South Indian dish:
Poori and Potato Masala
(Cephas' recipe for pooris)
1-2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1. Sift flour with salt.
2. Slowly add water and knead the mixture until you achieve a smooth dough consistency. It sometimes helps to add a teaspoon of canola oil to make the dough smooth.
3. Set aside dough to rest for 15-20 minutes.
4. Roll dough into 1-inch balls.
5. Use a roller to make 1-inch balls into 3-inch diameter circles.
6. Dust with flour as needed, but shake off excess flour to prevent overcooking.
7. Heat canola oil to medium heat.
8. Individually fry rolled poori. They should puff up and become light brown and slightly crispy.
Potato Masala (With a slow introduction of spices to each kids’ palate)
2 large potatoes, boiled & peeled
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 tomato, chopped
½ teaspoon mustard seeds or 1/2 teaspoon of prepared mustard
5-6 curry leaves*
1 tablespoon ginger/garlic paste
2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon of coriander leaves cut up
1 1/2 cups of water
1. Cut up the boiled potatoes into medium-sized cubes.
2. In a pan, heat up vegetable oil on high heat.
3. Add mustard seeds to the oil and let them pop.
4. Add curry leaves.
5. Add ginger/garlic paste curry.
6. Add the onion and fry until translucent with 1 teaspoon of salt.
7. Add turmeric to the potatoes for bright yellow color and add the tomatoes.
8. Fry the mixture for 4 minutes.
9. Add coriander to the mix and fry.
10. Turn heat to medium, add 1 1/2 cup of water, and add salt to taste. Cover and let it cook 10 minutes. This allows the potatoes to soak in the flavors.
11. Serve hot with pooris.
*No curry leaves? No worries. Substitute 5-6 basil leaves + lime zest of a small lime.
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