One of my ongoing goals is to increase my cooking skills and eventually become a great cook.
Learning how to cook is a great way to improve and maintain your health, save money, and try new dishes to challenge your taste buds and expand your palate.
In college, I figured that I had to learn how to make more than peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to survive. Most of the time, I make my meals from recipes that I’ve found in cookbooks or online. Having a resource to list exactly how much of each ingredient I’ll need and steps for preparation makes cooking so much easier. It also allows me to trick myself into believing that the dish will turn out the same way every time I make it.
We encounter recipes very frequently at Indy Reads. In our classrooms, the general “bite-sized” text of a recipe serves as great starting point for practicing reading, pronunciation, and following directions. Outside of the mechanics of reading, lessons about recipes and food can range from health literacy to holiday celebrations. These lessons often develop into discussions where students share information about their home countries, cultures, and their families.
While ingredients, preparation, and the specific occasions that call for a particular dish differ across cultures, all students relate to the fact that making a meal for family, friends, and neighbors is an act of love that brings people together.
End of term celebrations and impromptu pitch ins are my favorite events because staff, students, teachers, and volunteers are able to share a meal together. The buffet-style fêtes are where recipes, tips, and accolades are exchanged, and we can all feel the camaraderie that comes with enjoying each other’s company as we eat and talk.
All students relate to the fact that making a meal for family, friends, and neighbors is an act of love that brings people together.
I received a recipe from Soheyla, one of our ELL students, for a Persian dish called kookoo sib zamini, a lightly fried potato and egg patty that’s often served for lunch or dinner. The word kookoo refers to any dish with eggs as the basic ingredient. And sibzamini is the Persian equivalent for “potato”. Even though Soheyla had given me a handwritten recipe and verbal instructions, my foray into Persian cooking was not as successful as I’d hoped it would be.
Many of our students are people I consider to be “real cooks,” those lucky individuals who can combine random, unmeasured ingredients and end up with an edible, unscripted masterpiece. For novice cooks like me, it can be scary to improvise and add new flavors if you’re not sure they’ll work together. One way I help myself feel like a “real cook” is by making soup.
All of the ingredients get simmered together and any vegetables get soft anyway, so it doesn’t matter if you can perfectly dice a carrot or mince onion without tears. (I’m hopeless at both of those skills).
To improve my soup education, I recently went to the Fountain Square library branch to attend the “Staying Warm with Soups” program. The program is part of an ongoing partnership between the Nutritional Services branch of the Marion County Health Department and the Indianapolis Public Library.
The presentation included information from a registered dietitian’s live demonstration of how to cook West African Peanut Soup. Versions of this dish can be found in cuisines across the African continent, where the signature ingredients and name depend on the country. In Senegal, the dish is called Mafé and is traditionally served over white rice. All of my fellow presentation attendees were surprised that a soup that included seemingly uncomplimentary ingredients like peanut butter, tomato paste, ginger, and sriracha could come together to create such a delicious flavor.
Individual items you choose when grocery shopping depends on your finances, food access, convenience, and nutritional needs. Our presenter shared these helpful tips about cooking, grocery shopping, and nutrition during the demonstration and presentation that I’ll be using from now on:
- Rinsing regular canned goods decreases sodium content by 40%.
- Beans and tofu are a great way to add protein to soups for vegetarians.
- As you’re cooking other recipes, save vegetable scraps and meat carcasses. They are freezable and can be added to water later to create a vegetable broth or meat-based stock.
- Bone broth is actually a type of stock that is thicker in consistency due to the collagen and proteins that are removed from bones during the long cooking process.
- If you’re looking for affordability and convenience, canned vegetables can be used in soups. Fresh, raw vegetables have the most nutrients. Frozen vegetables are picked and frozen at peak freshness and can be more convenient to store than fresh vegetables, which have a shorter shelf life.
Lydia Johnson is the Operations Manager for Indy Reads. She’s a writer originally from Gary, Indiana who loves tea, poetry, and the arts.