Get ‘em cooking. That’s the mutual goal for nonprofit Common Threads, with its mission to get 1 million kids cooking through healthy-eating and culturally aware cooking classes, and for Chopping Block, Chicago’s renown recreational cooking school whose aim is to get people to cook.
This past week the two teamed up for a special Mediterranean cooking class at Chopping Block’s Merchandise Mart location, all proceeds going to Common Threads, with the enthusiastic and knowledgeable Chef Jeff Adamek as instructor.
In its cooking classes, Common Threads not only teaches cooking skills, but also how to make healthy choices through a variety of cuisines. Our Chopping Block lesson mirrored those objectives with a Mediterranean cooking class – with its focus on lean meats and seafood, vegetables, legumes, and heart healthy oils – Mediterranean can be one of the healthiest cuisines.
Chef Jeff guided us as we made baked pita chips and humus, falafel (not fried!) and tahini sauce, couscous salad with fresh grilled vegetables, and rose water scented yogurt berry parfaits. And while we all went home with the recipes, my favorite part was the editorial tips Chef Jeff provided along the way, like:
- You know Stacy’s pita chips? The ones you buy for $3-$4 a bag? They are ridiculously easy to make at home, at a fraction of the price. Here’s what you do (okay, this one is kind of a recipe): take a whole pita bread, lay it flat on the counter, and, with a serrated knife parallel to the counter, slice the outside ½ inch perimeter until you have two circular halves. Cut both in half so you have half moons.
Lay one on top of the other and cut each in half and then in half again. You’ll have something that looks very much like pita chips. Then, on a cooking sheet, toss the pita in olive or grape seed oil and sprinkle with smoky paprika and sumac (my new favorite spice, I need to get some of that!). Throw it in the oven at 375 for about 10 minutes, and you have your next party appetizer. For cheap.
- Speaking of oil, Chef Jeff made us a garlic infused grape seed oil that we used for pretty much everything by carefully simmering whole garlic cloves in grape seed oil prior to class. While the notion of heating up a pot of oil sort of terrifies me (speak to my mother – at 14 this was the cause of a not-too-little kitchen fire), the result makes it totally worth it.
- And just one more point about oil. Chef Jeff suggests using olive or grape seed oil for pretty much everything (even baking). I’ve always used olive or canola oils, but after this class think I need to add some of that grape seed oil, with its high smoke point, light taste, and high (heart healthy) polyunsaturated fat content, into the mix.
- The secret ingredient for hummus? Water. Somewhat counter intuitively, it adds a smoothness to hummus that just adding more oil does not.
- I have long made couscous in the microwave, but at Chopping Block we mixed boiling water into a bowl of dry couscous. This is particularly helpful to me because, on a
tmipersonal note, my microwave is currently bust (I swear we’re going to get it fixed/get a new one, as soon as we can find the time….).
- Instead of deep-frying the falafel, we kept the dish healthy by cooking it on a griddle (you can also use the oven) with a bit of chickpea flour dusted on the outsides to get a nice golden sear. Didn’t miss the frying at all.
- Have you ever heard of vanilla paste? It’s made of vanilla beans infused into a syrup, and has a richer, fuller flavor – and those great vanilla bean specs – than vanilla extra, which is made by macerating vanilla beans with alcohol, often bourbon. Chef Jeff says you can swap paste for extract in any recipe.
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