Tuesday, December 6, 2011

So *you're* the one teaching my daughter to make that stinky food

As one of my heroes, Sandor Katz, once said, you can ferment just about anything. Well, a week ago, a roomful of adolescents and I made kim chi from the greens of daikon radishes. (We pickled the radish roots along with some beets and cucumbers during the following class, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Clearly, I am behind on the blogging about this fantastic project.) It was part of the sustainable food and garden club activities I've been running a couple of afternoons each week at a middle school in Suitland, MD, with my fearless co-instructor Jessica... and boy was it fun.

We started class with the students tasting some turnip green kim chi I'd made two weeks before. (See, this teacher is always thinking ahead: I wanted it to be good and spicy and stinky for them, heheh.) As they fished around the jar with chopsticks, we talked about Korean cuisine and food preservation methods. And, oh, the faces some of them made! It was hilarious. "Wow, that's really spicy!" and "Whoah, that really stinks!" echoed throughout the classroom. We passed around the various ingredients for students to see and smell and, if they wanted to, taste: fresh ginger, garlic, onion, red pepper flakes, sea salt. Then we hauled out the giant radishes that Jessica had brought from the farm, filled up some buckets with clean water for washing everything, and broke out the kitchen equipment.

The 7th and 8th graders really got into it, chatting and chopping and mincing and mashing away. If you've been following this blog for awhile, you might guess that it was a variation on the easy kim chi I've made a few times. (No, it's not exactly authentic kim chi. For one thing, it lacks the particular kind of peppers that are traditionally used. And it's vegan, so actually less fishy smelling than the real stuff.) If you're looking for the recipe we used, it's here.

I was tickled to find William showing a few of his peers the trick to removing garlic skins, to overhear Tiara and Tiffany discussing the complex smell of fresh ginger, to see sometimes rather rowdy teenagers mash, mash, mashing away one layer after another of greens and spices and asking each other if their jar needed more salt/pepper/garlic. I think it was one of the most popular classes to date. It was certainly one of the most intense on the nasal passages.

There was a bit of cleaning up to do afterwards -- note to self: end class 15 minutes early so the kids can help with the cleaning -- but it was definitely one of the more memorable classes for the students. And their parents, apparently. One mother who stopped in to pick up her daughter after the next class said that her teen had loaded up a hamburger with her homemade kim chi one night at dinner. (And here I thought the student wasn't paying attention when I'd casually mentioned doing something similar when Jessica and I had experimented with kim chi and hotdogs a few months ago. Who knew?) Another mother asked if I was the teacher her daughter had been talking about that sent her home with the stinky green jar. Yep, that's me. Sure, some of the food we're making can smell and taste a bit intense. But it's so good for you. And the kids are expanding their taste horizons. (And there is the added bonus of the kim chi's ability to mask the faint smell of garlic emanating from one's person. Or maybe that's just me.)

[Thanks to my dear friend Jeff for capturing some of this excitement on camera!]

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