Just for the kale of it!

My first experience with gardening was in fourth grade when gardening and home economics were still part of the curriculum in public schools. I grew up in one of the rural cities in the Philippines, where schools had plenty of real estate for running, playing, and yes, gardening. It was a high poverty school but it taught me plenty…and it had good teachers, whom I remember to this day. At this school, each student from fourth to sixth grade had a 3 feet by 5 feet plot of land to till, plant, and harvest. Some of the crops we grew were radishes, daikon, potatoes, yams, peanuts, greens, and okra. I think that I liked the harvesting part of gardening, but tilling the soil and the constant caring for the crop were not the most fun for me. Shovels, hoes, and rakes were not the kind of stuff that thrilled me at age 11. While I am pretty sure that the humidity and heat in the Philippines in the early eighties were just as bad as it is now, I am certain that I didn’t appreciate then the point of it all and the knowledge it gave me. We were also allowed to bring home the crops that came from this small garden harvest for our family meals. The objective of this class is now clear to me: teach me where food comes from, teach me to eat healthy, teach me to work hard, teach me commitment, and teach me independence. I know now that that 3 feet by 5 feet piece of land was a grand privilege, and I am thankful for all that it gave me.

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to do a cooking demo at a local grade school in Los Angeles, to feature the crops that they have at their garden. This particular school (much like my son’s school) has a garden. They have a brand new, decent-sized plot, and some really nice crops. Beautiful artichokes, radishes, mizuna, lacinato kale, all sorts of herbs, leeks, cabbage, and much more. It was a sunny winter day too, so we held the demo at the garden. It was students from third to eighth grade.

I shouldn’t be nervous to do a cooking demo to a bunch of kids, but I was. I was nervous because I was going to prepare a salad with kale, mizuna, and herbs. I know many adults who would not be interested in that, and I have failed miserably over and over again in introducing vegetables to my son’s meals. So, yes, I was terrified that these kids would not eat what I had planned to prepare. But once again, luck saved me. The kids’ attention was on me when they heard the two big places I’ve had the privilege to work, and they certainly kept their interest when I answered their question about the biggest celebrity for whom I’ve cooked: The First Lady Michelle Obama. I think that they would have tried fried frog legs after that.

It was a terrific experience for me, and one that got me inspired. Who knew that kale and mizuna would be such a hit in this age group?

We had a really nice and simple salad recipe. Adding fruit to salads also make it easier for young people to get over the slight bitterness of the greens. Making the dressing in a mason jar is also a lot of fun!

I hope that you enjoy this recipe as much as grade schoolers did.

– Chef Mayet

Download recipes HERE