Growing the fresh fruits and vegetables is only the first step in improving the health in our region. The next step is learning healthy and pleasing ways to prepare and eat those fruits and veggies. In a partnership with a Community Engagement Grant with the University of Kentucky, we are offering a series of Healthy Cooking Classes. We shop for fresh produce at the Letcher County Farmers Market on Saturday and supplement with additional items from the grocery. Our cooking classes are the last Monday of the month and we just had our second.
Our first class was exploring different salads and dressings.
Jenny Williams, host of WMMT’s What’s Cookin Now! radio cooking show has been a talented and gracious host for these events.
Participants did leave with recipes, but a big part of the class was assuring participants, a recipe is not always needed. Jenny reinforced that we have the freedom to suit to taste. Using a supply of healthy ingredients, participants had the opportunity to make their dressings to taste.
After we all complete dishes and have tasting session, we all have a share time on what we like or don’t like about the recipe and what we might do differently. Anticipate whether our families will like these recipes, how we can entice our children to try something different.
Our session this week was focused on alternatives to frying.
I remember as a young wife and new mother, being so happy and proud to be making a meal with fresh vegetables from our garden. The stove was gleaning w/a layer of grease, a skillet on every burner. Fried pork chops, fried green tomatoes, fried okra, fried squash, fried potatoes and to make it really special-fried cornbread fritters. I remember my daughter, about three hovering around the kitchen and innocently asking about the watermelon on the counter, “Are we going to fry that too?”
Batter frying is good and we all know how to do that, perfecting our own dipping and rolling recipes, but now we know we have to do better. Jenny was here to offer alternatives. The group had a welcome session, sharing whether we had tried anything from the month before. Several in the crowd had. I know had cole slaw w/out mayonnaise for the first time in my life at Sunday dinner at Mom’s. It was good. Another participant, shared she made zucchini a new way for the first time in her life, she’s 80.
After group discussion and talk of what we are going to make w/our veggies, we divided into four stations to make our dishes. The first table was doing blistered beans. This was a family w/four generations working together to string and prepare the blistered beans. This dish was most folks favorite and I made the next night. This is a fine alternative to French fires or just a snack.
The blistered beans were pretty easy, just string, French cut if they are full, this means slicing down the middle lengthwise w/a “spine” in the middle of each half. When beans are cut, washed and dried, drizzle w/olive oil and bake in a 500 degree oven until blistered.
Another table made spaghetti squash salad, with spaghetti squash from the market. The spaghetti squash was quartered, seeds removed and baked at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes. Then the fun part, just scraping the squash out. Participants made their own choices about what else they wanted in their salad from the market table. Ours added red and yellow tomatoes, olives, cheese, onions and finished w/vinegar and olive oil.
Spaghetti Squash Salad
Another table was doing Zucchini Ribbon Salad. This was a pretty one and also a favorite. A vegetable peeler was needed for this one to make the pretty ribbons.
Our last dish was baked stuffed peppers, they worked in the kitchen, so I missed their pictures. This recipe was also one of my favorites, just slice a pepper, your choice how hot, wash and fill w/favorite choices. We had some grains, w/just a little sausage flavor on some, and a sprinkling of cheese. I made these the next night also and they were nice and easy as a side dish or appetizer.
Participants left w/a selection of grains to add to their pantries. Sometimes at the grocery, there isn’t extra cash to try something new that the family may or may not eat. Participants can take home and try w/out the risk and decide if they want to add to their grocery list. The best part of the Market meals for me was watching the kids engaged and meeting new adults. I feel a little odd to be this age and taking a cooking class because we are failing at cooking healthy. I try hard to not make it feel like a remediation cooking class, but a fun experience that folks might pay to attend in some settings. These women and men are wonderful cooks, have been pleasing their family for years/decades with delicious foods. I stress this is like a talented musician learning a new instrument. I also know it’s hard to alter our taste preferences. Some in the room don’t want to taste everything, some do anyway, and are surprised. This plate may look like dinners you are used to, but for me and many here, this is a different way, but we are trying to get comfortable with growing, preparing and eating our daily vegetables.