It’s a sad reality that kids today are crammed into classrooms forced to “solve for X” and memorize the date of Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination, when most don’t know how to prepare a simple, healthy meal.
Marcus Samuelsson, NYC restaurateur, winner of Top Chef Masters, and Harlem resident is doing his part to change that. On Friday, the chef and co-owner of Aquavit gathered 150 young junk food addicts at the Harlem YMCA to teach them how to prepare a tasty and nutritious meal.
“There are many ways you can make healthy foods taste good,” Samuelsson told Tonic before he took to the kitchen for the 2nd Annual Youth Health Forum. “Slow cooking is one way. Fresh, seasonal ingredients are important. And use spices.”
That pretty much summarizes what the chef cooked up for the kids on Friday: Grilled chicken, tomato and watermelon salad and couscous.
“Learning how to cook, learning where the food comes from and engaging with the food makes it taste good,” says Samuelsson whose newest restaurant venture, Red Rooster Harlem, will open its doors around the corner from his home this fall.
But how does a family manage nutritiously and economically when Taco Bell is serving a two-dollar meal deal just down the block?
The chef says families should take meat off the menu on occasion. A big box of couscous, which can feed a family (and happily so when prepared with a few fixins), sells for less than two dollars. “Portion control,” he says, is also important. But maybe most important of all is a good recipe.
Here are those served Friday at the YMCA:
Tomato and Watermelon Salad with Almond Vinaigrette – 6 servings
2 tablespoons sliced almonds
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons harissa or chili powder
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 cup watermelon, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 jalapeño, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons torn Italian parsley
2 tablespoons torn mint leaves
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
6 heirloom tomatoes, roughly chopped (about 2 1/2 pounds)
1/2 cup goat cheese, crumbled
1. To make the vinaigrette, combine the almonds, garlic and harissa in a small sauté pan over medium heat and sauté for 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
2. In a separate bowl, combine the olive oil, vinegar, lime juice and shallots. Whisk in the almond-harissa mixture.
3. Toss the watermelon, jalapeño, parsley, mint and capers in a large bowl. Season with salt and a few grindings of fresh pepper. Add the tomatoes and toss with the vinaigrette.
4. Garnish with goat cheese and serve immediately.
Grilled Chicken – serves 6
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons chopped basil
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon crushed black pepper
6 large skinless boneless chicken breast halves, pounded to 1/3″ thinness
1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and half of the garlic and sauté until translucent, about five minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
2. In a large bowl combine the lemon juice, lemon zest, paprika and the 1/3 cup olive oil and garlic. Stir in the sautéed shallots and garlic, basil, parsley, cilantro, salt and pepper. Let cool.
3. Heat remaining olive oil in large grill pan over medium heat.
4. Brush shallot-parsley mix evenly over chicken breast.
5. Place chicken breast in pan, working in batches to avoid overcrowding. Grill chicken for 4 minutes on each side.
Yellow Couscous Salad – 4 servings
1 cup uncooked semolina couscous
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 red finger chilies, chopped with seeds and ribs removed
1 ear or ½ cup corn, shaved off cob
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon cumin
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon salt
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 medium red onion, sliced
1 head frisée lettuce
1. Bring 1 1/2 cups of salted water to a boil. Add the couscous and bring back to a boil. Turn off heat, cover and let sit 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic, chilies and corn, sauté until fragrant, about 3 minutes Stir in the turmeric and cumin, and sauté for another 30 seconds. Remove from heat and add the couscous, cilantro, salt and lemon juice. Mix to combine.
3. Toss together the onion and the frisee.
4. To serve, place the couscous in a bowl. Top with the frisée mixture