Anyway, my volunteer partner and I were talking and we, I mean she, realized we needed more cilantro and jalapenos. There are small fridges under the work stations so it is usually not necessary to resupply. But today we needed more. “Let’s go to the walk-in fridge,” she says non-chalantly. Cue scary music.
I’m claustrophobic. It’s a phobia that has thankfully decreased in severity as I have aged. I worked in food service in college and so I have walked into big fridges cautiously before. But lockable semi-large walk-in fridges are not something I usually sign up for. Entering the walk-in feels sort-of like going into the county morgue. Brr and scary…now with vegetables!
The walk-in was far away from the kitchen stations. We hustled over to it and thankfully it was well lit and narrow not box-like and dark. I was relieved. I still stood in the open door just to make sure it didn’t close after me. I mean, how long can someone even survive in one of those things? I knew that there was little to no traffic over to that part of the kitchen. How quickly would I be an ice cube? Shiver.
With our cilantro and jalapenos in hand, we marched back to the area to hear the chef discuss today’s cuisine: Peru! Cool, yet another place I had never visited, but was eager to learn more about. The menu included Seco de Carne (beef stew with cilantro-based sauce), Tacu-tacu (Peruvian rice and lentils), and Cebiche de Atun (Peruvian canned tuna ceviche). Every group was doing all three recipes.
During the chef’s lesson, she tells the group that lentils and rice are a “complete protein.” I didn’t know that and I’m sure that was new information for the kids too. I have learned doing this project that basic nutritional knowledge is important. Where are kids going to learn about “complete proteins” if not at school? The chef also had a beach ball globe, which she used during lessons to point out the location of countries whose cuisine was prepared, cooked, and eaten. The chef also showed the students the beef, its grain, and how to cut it. I thought it was a great lesson and the kids paid great attention as they crowded around the station.
After the lesson we broke out into our groups. Nobody wanted to chop onions today. One girl volunteered to chop the jalapenos. We cautioned her to be careful and not to touch her face or eyes. She de-seeded them and diced like a pro albeit at a slower rate than a trained chef. One student in my group said, “I don’t like tuna.” But she was willing to open the can and do much of the preparation for the dish.
My favorite dish from this grouping was the tuna ceviche. Earlier this summer I shared that I really enjoy tuna. The recipe for canned tuna ceviche is really a great way to make a whole different kind of tuna for a sandwich for lunch. The recipe called for onions, jalapenos, cilantro, a tomato, lime juice and olive oil. Basically you stir it all together and then serve it. The camp counselor explained to her students that this was a great way to do a whole different kind of tuna salad without mayo. My husband does not like mayo and I made a mental note to try this with him.
I was surprised how much the kids like their food with spice. They showed no fear of jalapenos. No wonder these kids get bored with regular school lunches. Processed food cannot compete with the pow of good seasonings and the occasional jalapeno.
The rice and lentils are cooked ahead of time so that the kids can focus on prep and working at the stove. The chopping and the cooking went well and quickly. The cooking went fast today, but I attribute that to my spectacular volunteer partner. The rice and lentils were precooked so after the chopping was completed, stove top cooking was all that was left.
The kids set up the little bowls and plates and everyone got to have some of the tasty food. The trio of dishes was popular with the kids as they devoured everything. And just like that the afternoon was over!
I got a couple questions about why I didn’t photograph the food. We were working together in a large commercial kitchen. Everyone had clean hands for food preparation. If I had ducked away to the far side of the room to find my cell phone in my purse and then come back and tried to take a picture that would have been very odd. Trust me that the food was colorful, hot and just plain delicious.