Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wilting Spinach at Washington Youth Garden

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

The Washington Youth Garden, located at the National Arboretum here in the District of Columbia, does some wonderful work reaching out to local schools with science, cooking and gardening instruction. It's very much like the Edible Schoolyard that Alice Waters started in Berkeley, CA, except that in addition to the actual gardens and programs that take place there, Youth Garden instructors travel to teach classes in city schoolrooms as well.

Yesterday, one of those classes was invited to the garden for a cooking demonstration with me as the guest chef. Keep in mind, this is all happening al fresco, under the shade of a huge tree, except that it was cold and cloudy and threatening to rain the whole time. The Youth Garden has a propane stove to cook on and a few rudimentary tools. I brought along my big, iron wok and a plan to show the kids how to wilt spinach.

I wasn't sure exactly what was growing in the garden. So I brought along plenty of supermarket spinach--enough to feed 25 curious kids and their teachers.

First we had some fun washing the spinach with the hose and spinning it dry. The kids took turns. They love doing things like spraying water and handling the salad spinner.

Next we cooked some minced garlic at the bottom of the wok with extra-virgin olive oil. Then add lots of spinach leaves. This is why I love to use the wok. It holds lots of greens. I showed the kids how to press the spinach leaves down with their hands to make good contact with the hot oil. Then they took turns turning the spinach and garlic.

We improvised a lid using a metal bowl. That helped the spinach cook faster. Then we drained it out of the wok and dressed it with a little more olive oil, some salt, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

Do I need to tell you how much they loved the spinach? They were crying for second and third helpings.

They also got to pick a little spinach before it started to rain and forced them back on their bus.

Kids love to pick vegetables. Does that make them better vegetable eaters? The teacher said they're crazy for the salad bar they have at school. I'd like to see that.

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree that kids are better vegetable eaters when they get some hands-on experience with gardening and food preparation. I'm a volunteer for a program called CookShop, run by the Food Bank for New York City, that teaches kindergarten through 2nd graders in low-income neighborhoods about fresh food and how to make healthy eating choices. In my classroom of 24, not a single student refused to eat anything we made (they even loved eating raw broccoli and cauliflower), a far cry from the fussy white-food-only kids that I knew when I was that age.