The Chef: Nita Mehta, cookbook writer, who has published more than 200 titles. Some have won international recognition. Flavours of Indian Cooking, for instance, was winner of the Gourmand International Cookbook Award. Mehta, who runs a cooking academy in Delhi, says her interest in cooking started early in life when she used to hop across to her aunt’s house to assist her. “She’d let me mix the batter for a cake, or roll the dough for the cookies, and it made me feel very important. And when the cake tasted nice, she would tell everyone that I had helped,” says Mehta. Slowly, Mehta started baking cakes and cookies on her own and was soon in demand. “For every birthday or any other occasion in the neighbourhood, I was asked to bake and that felt really good.”
Mehta likes to cook dishes that don’t take too much time and use easily available ingredients. Of course, they should be healthy and delicious, too.
Her secrets to encouraging kids in the kitchen:
Start them young. “Give them real tasks, like mixing the flour and sugar, or beating the egg yolk, and as they grow older (around seven), let them help cut or sauté vegetables. But do supervise to avoid mishaps,” advises Mehta. Also, encourage your kids to be adventurous about food. “Let them try out different cuisines, take them out to good restaurants so they learn about presentation and taste different dishes,” she says. While teaching children how to cook, start with dishes they like to eat. Cut vegetables and fruits in interesting shapes and include as much colour as you can.
“Never get hassled if they do something wrong. This is not the time to lecture them on being super neat. Let them spill stuff or make small messes—it’s all part of learning how to cook. Let them use their hands as much as they like. Kids like to feel things rather than use spoons or spatulas.” Mehta points out that having your child in the kitchen with you will help you unwind and also increase your interaction time with them. Finally, be patient, even if they are of no real help; remember having them watch while you cook is also a great way to get them interested in the process of cooking.
Here are two recipes you can start with your seven- to eight-year-olds.
This no-cooking, refrigerator cake combines readymade ingredients.
200 gms Marie biscuits (or any plain biscuit)
¼ cup (10-12) glace cherries, finely chopped (or use candied fruit pieces)
1 tbsp raisins
10-15 almonds, blanched and chopped
1 cup chocolate sauce (or Hershey’s chocolate sauce)
2½ tbsp cream
Line a cake pan or a small square Borosil dish with a large piece of aluminium foil, with a bit of foil over the edge of the dish. Break the biscuits into tiny pieces and put them into a shallow pan. Add the cherries, setting aside some for the top. Add raisins and almonds to the biscuit mixture. Then add cream and chocolate sauce. Mix well. Put the mixture into the cake pan or Borosil dish and level it with a spatula. Place remaining cherries or fruit on top. Cover the mixture with aluminum foil and press down firmly. Put the cake in the fridge for about two hours until it has set hard. Remove foil and serve.
Your children can make this cake without any help, so sit back and enjoy.
Paneer Tikka Sandwiches
Marinated paneer (cottage cheese) lightly sautéed to make a tasty sandwich filling. Serves 4.
200 gms paneer, cut into small pieces
1 small capsicum, chopped
4 slices bread, lightly buttered
2-3 lettuce leaves, shredded (optional)
Oil for frying
½ cup yogurt, hung in a muslin cloth for 15 minutes
½ tsp roasted cumin powder
½ tsp red chilli powder
½ tsp chaat masala
½ tsp salt to taste
½ tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp garam masala
½ tsp dhania powder
1 tsp ginger-garlic paste
Mix all ingredients of marinade. Add paneer and capsicum. Set aside for 15 minutes. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a pan, add marinated paneer and capsicum. Cook on low heat for five to six minutes or till dry and golden brown from some sides. Sprinkle ¼ tsp each of cumin, salt, garam masala and dhania powder on the cooked paneer. Toss well and remove from fire. On each lightly buttered slice of bread, spread some paneer tikka mixture. Sprinkle some shredded lettuce. Cover with another slice. Press gently. Toast in a pan with 1 tsp oil till golden brown on both sides. Cut into two triangles.
Instead of triangles, you could cut the sandwiches in interesting shapes with shaped cutters available in the market.
Three- to four-year-olds: Can wash fruits and vegetables, help stir ingredients in a bowl, line or grease pans, peel or mash food items.
Five- to six-year-olds: Can measure ingredients, garnish dishes, chop roughly (under supervision) and mix ingredients.Seven- to nine-year-olds: Can use a rolling pin to shape chapatis, sauté food (under supervision), chop reasonably well and use a microwave.
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