Cooking with students. Brightly colored bowls of pesto, plus a blender, cheese grater, cutting boards, knife, and crackers.

As many of you know, I spend half my week with the Burlington School District working with students on an assortment of food-based projects. And during the long Vermont winter, much of my time is dedicated to cooking classes and taste tests.

Each month I pick a new recipe inspired by Vermont Harvest of the Month to tackle with students during weekly hour-long cooking classes. For January, the featured Harvest of the Month vegetable is beets, so we’re making beet hummus, a simple recipe that has proven to be a real crowd pleaser.

Christine explains to the class that she hates beets.

Now, I have to be completely honest, I do not enjoy beets. And I’ve let every single class I’ve worked with know this. Some students have looked at me aghast once I’ve revealed this information (“Ms. Christine doesn’t like a vegetable?? I thought she liked all vegetables!”), while others have repeated back to me our adages about food preferences (“Everyone has different taste buds and that’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with liking or disliking specific foods”).

While I’ve gotten a kick out of the first response, it’s been particularly rewarding hearing students reassure me that it’s completely fine to not like beets. We spend a lot of time in classes talking about how we all have different taste buds and that it’s alright to have different opinions about food as long as we express our likes and dislikes in a respectful manner—i.e. “don’t yuck my yum” and the converse, don’t make someone feel bad for not liking something.

These concepts are at the heart of the cooking and tasting activities I lead. My goal is always to create a safe and welcoming space where students can share their honest opinions and won’t feel judged for their food preferences. There’s no pressure to say you absolutely loved something on the first try and there’s no shame in firmly declaring that this new flavor was not for you. As I often remind students, there’s no right answer to the question “did you like x?”

In fact, rather than simply asking students “did you like it?”, I encourage them to identify the ingredients and flavors that stood out the most and think about how they might change a recipe to better fit their tastes buds. Our classes are just as much a time to practice assorted cooking skills as they are a time to practice understanding our food preferences—learning the flavors, textures, and smells we like and don’t like, and figuring out how we can creatively customize recipes based on these inclinations.

At the end of the day I want to minimize the uneasiness and anxiety surrounding trying foods for the first time. Ideally, students will feel increasingly comfortable stepping outside their comfort zones and expanding their tasting horizons, becoming adventurous, confident cooks and eaters who feel empowered to explore and experiment with foods both familiar and new.

Beet Hummus

Combine the following ingredients in a food processor or blender:

  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 small cooked beet (microwaved, boiled, roasted, your choice!)

P.S. I said I don’t like beets, but I do love this beet hummus recipe—that earthly flavor I’m not so comfortable with is lost amidst a powerful combination of garlic, lemon and olive oil. Many non-beet-loving students who at first assured me they’d hate the hummus, have come to this same conclusion.

 

Blog by: Christine Gall

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