Congratulations to Alex Tschegg of Matthews! He’s the 8-year-old chef-in-the-making from Matthews, North Carolina who was the winner from North Carolina of the 2015 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge. Alex is one of 55 talented young people who will be dining with First Lady Michelle Obama at the Kids’ State Dinner at the White House on July 10th. (Here’s a list of all the winners and their recipes and a link to the free, downloadable cookbook that will be published by PBS after the event.)
While so much news is negative, disturbing, or sensationalized, the Charlotte Observer’s front page article about Alex was like a breath of fresh air.
There were a couple of things that really struck me about Alex:
- He’s been helping his mother Melissa in the garden since he was a toddler, and cooking with her since he was 4 or 5.
- He’s 8 years old – the same age I was when Julia Child became my first culinary hero.
- His recipe was vegetarian – Curried Chickpeas with Baked Tofu over Cilantro Rice.
I decided to make Alex’s recipe – and then to find a way to make it quicker, easier, tastier . . . and vegan. I was puzzled why a recipe that was “almost vegan” would lose its chance to appeal to the growing vegan community by adding a 1/2 cup of low-fat milk – which seemed unnecessary and didn’t add to the flavor of the sauce. I kept my version vegan by just using coconut milk.
I also found that the oven-baked tofu in Alex’s recipe was time-consuming to prepare. I got a better taste and cut 30 minutes out of the recipe by substituting Nasoya Sesame Ginger TofuBaked. It packs a better flavor than the nutritional yeast and garlic combination that Alex used and is organic, non-GMO, and super easy to use right out of the package – no need to heat up my oven on a hot Carolina day!
Instead of using curry powder (which gives a one note flavor), I used a combination of cumin, turmeric, coriander, and cayenne. If you like it more spicy, just amp up the cayenne a bit!
To get more color (and provide a different texture than the peppers), I added frozen organic green peas by Cascadian Farm. Although the fresh peas that I shell myself are wonderful, they have a limited season. I love the convenience of having a bag in the freezer which allows me to add a cup of tender sweet peas to a dish any time of the year.
Last but not least, I wanted to add some crunch and a textural contrast to the cilantro rice in Alex’s recipe – hence my suggested addition of toasted cashews or almonds.
Whether you prepare Alex’s version or my version, this is an easy low-cost dish that is healthy, colorful, and filling. If your kids haven’t eaten Indian food before this is a good way to introduce them to this wonderful cuisine.
Let’s encourage healthy eating habits in our kids. Many thanks to Michelle Obama for caring about our children’s health and congratulations to all of the winners of this year’s Healthy Lunchtime Challenge!
- 1½ cups uncooked organic brown rice
- 1 tablespoon organic coconut oil
- 1 large Vidalia onion, peeled and chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
- 1 large organic red pepper, seeded and cut into small matchsticks or chopped (your choice)
- 1 large organic orange or yellow pepper, seeded and cut into small matchsticks or chopped (your choice)
- 1 teaspoon organic ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon organic tumeric
- ¼ teaspoon organic ground coriander
- ¼ teaspoon organic cayenne
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 15 oz. can organic garbanzo beans, drained (save the liquid)
- 1 14 oz. can organic coconut milk
- 1 cup frozen organic green peas (we like Cascadian Farms)
- 1 8 oz. package organic Nasoya TofuBaked Sesame Ginger, cut into bite-sized cubes
- ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- ½ cup chopped cashews or almonds, lightly toasted
- Organic tamari or sea salt
- Put brown rice and 2 cups of water on to cook while you prepare your vegetables.
- Heat the coconut oil in a large skillet and saute the chopped onion.
- When the onion is transcluent, add the garlic and then the peppers and cook for about 5 minutes.
- Add the cumin, turmeric, coriander, cayenne, salt, and pepper, and stir for a minute over low heat until fragrant.
- Add the drained garbanzo beans and the coconut milk. Reserve the liquid from the garbanzo bean can and use a couple of tablespoons later if you need to thin the sauce. Reduce the heat and simmer for about ten minutes.
- Add the frozen peas and cook for five more minutes. Add the cubes of TofuBaked in the last two minutes of cooking.
- Season the rice with a little tamari or sea salt, toss with the chopped cilantro, and top with the toasted cashews or almonds.