The last few days of school are here, and soon the kids will be free.
Childhood and summer are a perfect pair. Did you ever notice how much they grow over the summer? I once bought my daughter sneakers on the last day of school. Three weeks later, they were too small!
I loved summer and having my kids home. I also loved giving them the freedom to choose more of their day-to-day activities. They did go to Jewish camps, but they were home by four o’clock, leaving us hours in late afternoon to swim, garden, go on long walks, work on art projects, and more. We often baked, but mostly we all relaxed and had fun.
I found that spring and summer were the perfect seasons to do some hands-on learning about the growing process. Our garden was huge, about 30x45 feet, and we grew everything from strawberries to pumpkins. We watered together and checked for bugs — a favorite activity for my kids. We learned about the flowers that needed bees to help make the tomatoes or zucchini, and how we could pick lettuce leaves every day and come back the next day for more. We also learned that some plants last a really long time. The rhubarb plants that my dad put in next to his house in 1971 were transplanted to my house in 1988, and are still doing beautifully today.
My kids each had their first real tomatoes as toddlers: they picked one, washed it in a tub and ate it, still warm from the sun. The taste is incomparable. Everyone should have the pleasure of a sun-ripened, homegrown tomato.
I heartily suggest growing a vegetable garden. If you don’t have a lot of space, use containers. I recommend green beans, cucumbers and tomatoes, as they grow fairly easily in containers. Growing vegetables encourages children to learn to eat (and hopefully love!) vegetables. Summer can also be a time to teach kids how to prepare food in simple, nutritious, and delicious ways.
An important thing to consider about spring and summer recipes is that we don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. We all want those last hours of sunshine and warm weather, and we want to be outside! I hope these fairly quick meals will give you more time to spend with your kids as the temperatures climb and the days continue to get longer.
Salmon, Avocado and More Dinner Salad (Pareve)
Great with fresh or leftover grilled or poached salmon. If your kids don’t like salmon, use sliced hard-boiled eggs, or tuna fish or egg salad.
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 to 2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
3 to 4 Tbsp. freshly squeezed orange juice, more to taste
2 Tbsp. very finely minced shallots, more or less to taste
1 tsp. Dijon style mustard, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
Optional: honey or pure maple syrup, for an extra bit of sweetness
12 to 18 ounces cooked salmon, cold or hot
6 to 8 cups mixed field greens, or any kind of lettuce or baby spinach
2 cups your preferred microgreens or sprouts
1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup shredded purple or green cabbage
1 cucumber, peeled and sliced
2 ripe avocados, sliced and cut into bite sized pieces
1 small red onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
2 cups fresh orange segments or canned orange segments
Toasted, chopped walnuts, hazelnuts or pistachios
Optional: sliced strawberries
Place the dressing ingredients into a container with a tight-fitting lid. Close the lid and shake vigorously to emulsify. Taste and adjust ingredients. Set aside. Flake the salmon into bite sized pieces and set aside.
Place lettuces, microgreens or sprouts, carrots, cabbage and cucumber in a large bowl. Toss to mix. Drizzle with some of the dressing and toss to coat.
Divide evenly on 3 to 5 plates. Add a mound of salmon in the middle of the plate. Add the orange segments and avocado to the plates. Garnish with onions and nuts and drizzle with more dressing, as desired. Serves 3 to 5.
Chicken Finger Salad with Crispy Rice Noodles (Meat)
This is great with leftover chicken of any kind. You can use bite-sized pieces of chicken rather than chicken strips, if that works. Add any and all veggies your kids will like. Kids love to watch the noodles “explode.”
2 to 4 cooked cold chicken breasts
4 to 6 cups mixed greens or lettuces
2 cups thinly sliced carrots
2 cups shredded purple cabbage
2 cups cherry tomatoes
1 cup thinly sliced scallions
1 to 2 cans Mandarin orange segments, drained
Thai Crispy Rice Noodles
3/4 to 1 cup canola oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Place the vegetables in a large bowl and toss to mix. Set aside.
Slice the chicken into strips or pieces and set aside. Heat a large skillet and add half the oil. Heat for about 1 minute, or until a thermometer reads 400 degrees.
Break the noodles into 2 to 3 inch pieces, separating them if they are stuck together. Drop one noodle into the hot oil. If it immediately puffs, add about half the noodles. If not, wait a few seconds and try again. They should immediately explode into a puff of white noodles. Turn once quickly with tongs. After a second pouf, remove and place on a paper-towel-lined plate. Sprinkle lightly with salt.
Add the remaining oil and repeat with the rest of the noodles. Top salad with a mound of noodles. Serves 4 to 6 people.
1/3 cup orange juice (freshly squeezed is best)
2 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
1 to 2 tsp. sesame oil
1 Tbsp. canola or corn oil
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 to 2 Tbsp. tamari sauce, to taste
Tiny pinch cayenne pepper, or 1 to 2 drops chili oil
Place all ingredients in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Shake well, taste and adjust ingredients to taste. Makes about 1/2 cup.
Place the greens on plates, add the oranges and scallions, and top with chicken. Drizzle with dressing and top with noodles. Serves 4 to 6.
Baked Spaghetti (Dairy)
8 ounces spaghetti or thin spaghetti
2 to 4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 to 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 small onion, finely minced
Optional: several finely snipped basil leaves
1 jar (28 to 40 ounces) pareve marinara sauce
8 ounces ricotta cheese
12 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Generously grease a 3-quart glass or ceramic baking dish. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt generously.
Heat a skillet and add the olive oil. Add the onion and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté for another 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Add the spaghetti to the water and cook until barely al dente, 1 to 2 minutes less than directed. Drain and place in a large bowl.
Add the sautéed vegetables and any oil in the pan to the spaghetti and mix well. Add the ricotta cheese and mix until well-blended. Add half the mozzarella cheese and half the Parmesan and mix well. Add the basil, if using, and salt and pepper.
Pour about 1/3 of the spaghetti mixture into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Drizzle 1/3 the tomato sauce over the layer. Add half the remaining spaghetti and then half the remaining sauce. Finish with the spaghetti and then the sauce. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan over the spaghetti and place in the oven for 20 to 35 minutes until just bubbly. Check often so the cheese doesn’t burn. If it gets too brown, lower heat and cover lightly with foil. Serves 6 to 8.
NOTE: You can add lots of veggies to this, if you like. Add mushrooms to the sauté pan and cook until all liquid is reabsorbed. Add chopped peppers, shredded carrots, diced zucchini and more.