I should have known, when the sun was shining brightly on the first perfect spring afternoon after so many wicked winter days, that it would be tough for 10-year-olds to focus on cooking.
On top of that, my fifth grade chefs had just completed six days of PSSA testing at Henry Lawton Elementary and they were having a hard time standing still, much less concentrating on one recipe - let alone two.
Frankly, it would have been a good day to make scrambled eggs.
But the plan, in my continuing quest for healthy, low-cost cooking, was to teach how to use up fresh ingredients - in this case, ginger, cilantro, and garlic - by employing them in more than one recipe: turkey lettuce wraps and corn salad.
We had a lot of prep work for both recipes, but what was on these kid's minds was who liked who and who said who liked who, who was cute and who was not. Way more important than learning to peel ginger, I grant you, but we soldiered on.
Nick Rodriguez and teacher Mark "Doc" Hawkins were peeling and chopping the garlic while I demonstrated how to peel a ginger root by scraping it with the edge of a spoon. The smell got everyone's attention.
"My mom makes tea with that when I don't feel good," said Kimberly Luu.
Once that was chopped, the girls moved on to washing the lettuce, while Nick started chopping the scallions.
We were using low-sodium soy sauce to flavor the ground turkey, a product with nearly the same taste as regular soy sauce but with far less salt. That's important, I told them, because too much salt can lead to high blood pressure and other diseases.
We mixed the soy sauce in a bowl with vinegar, cornstarch, and sugar before adding the raw meat.
"Now, you have to get your hands in there and mix it up," I told them.
Nysirah Hall and Kimberly just could not bear to get near it. The smell alone was too much. But Aneza Abalo was brave and dug her hands in - not that she liked it: "It's nasty!" she said.
"Don't overwork it," I said. "Just mix it in and then it has to sit and soak up the flavor for awhile."
Meanwhile, we had to get going on the corn salad. We heated oil in a skillet, swirling it, before adding the garlic and ginger.
We had the frozen vegetables set out: the corn, the peas, and the edamame beans - which none of them had ever seen.
"What are these?" asked Nick.
"They are young soybeans," I said. "They don't have a strong taste, but they are packed with protein."
They all loved pronouncing the name over and over and giggling. "Ed-a-mommy."
We added a little water and the kids took turns stirring until the frozen veggies were cooked. Then, quick, off the heat; transfer them to a bowl, because we needed our only skillet to cook the ground turkey.
The kids gathered the rest of ingredients for the turkey recipe: the ginger, the garlic, the red pepper flakes. It actually started the same way as the salad: heat and swirl the oil in the pan, sauté the garlic and ginger - but, wait, where was the garlic? Whoops, all the garlic chopped for both recipes was now in the salad. We had to chop more.
Then Aneza, who had been carefully measuring the red pepper flakes, confidently added them to the corn salad.
"Wait!" I cautioned, but it was too late. "The red pepper flakes go in the turkey not the salad," I said. "Well, our salad will have a little kick!"
Not the ideal way to teach that a recipe is just a guideline that can be adjusted, but effective nonetheless.
We finally completed both dishes, and gathered at the table to give thanks before digging in.
But not before - "Everyone says Nysirah likes him," said Nick.
"Well, she don't," said Aneza, in the age-old schoolgirl tradition of spokesperson. "So tell them to get over it."
The turkey wraps were devoured, as was the corn, edamame, and tomato salad, though Aneza, whose favorite vegetable is corn, said, "Actually, I'd rather just have corn."
Once again, there were no leftovers, even with omnivore Christian absent.
And Kimberly, who had eaten very little of anything we had cooked previously, finished her wrap and went back for seconds. Then, looking at the recipe, she was delighted to learn of its origin: "Is this really Chinese?" she said. "No wonder I like it."
I knew there was a reason we didn't make scrambled eggs.
Makes 6 servings
3 tablespoons low- sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound ground turkey
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons finely chopped green onion
About 20 cup-shaped lettuce leaves, such as Bibb, Boston or iceberg, washed and dried
Fresh cilantro for garnish
1. In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, vinegar, cornstarch, sugar, and salt and stir well to dissolve the cornstarch and combine everything into a smooth sauce.
2. Place the ground turkey in a medium bowl and use a spoon to separate it into five or six big clumps. Add the soy sauce mixture and gently mix the seasonings into the ground turkey, using your hands. Set aside for 10 minutes.
3. To cook, heat a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat until very hot. Add the oil and swirl to coat the pan and then toss in the ginger and garlic. Cook, tossing once, until fragrant but not browned, not quite one minute.
4. Add the ground turkey, and using a spatula or a large slotted spoon, break up the meat and spread it out over the hot pan to help it cook evenly. Let it cook until it changes color on one side, about two minutes. Then turn the uncooked side onto the hot pan and let it cook another minute or two undisturbed. Toss well, using your spatula to break up any large chunks. When the meat is cooked, add the red pepper flakes and green onions and toss well. Remove from the heat and toss again to make sure everything is mixed well.
5. Arrange lettuce cups on a serving platter and fill each one with a spoonful or two of the cooked turkey.
Per serving: 233 calories; 23 grams protein; 9 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams sugar; 13 grams fat; 77 milligrams cholesterol; 595 milligrams sodium; 3 grams dietary fiber.
Makes 6 servingsEndTextStartText
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 slices fresh ginger
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups frozen corn
1 cup frozen edamame beans, shelled
1 cup tiny peas
3 tablespoons water
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1. Heat a large deep skillet over high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the pan.
2. Add the garlic, ginger, and salt and toss well. Add the corn and toss to mix it with the oil. Add the edamame beans and peas and toss to mix everything together well.
3. Add the water and cook, tossing often, until the corn and the edamame and peas are hot and tender.
4. Add the tomatoes and sugar and toss gently to mix them in evenly and heat them just a little. Add the cilantro and toss well. Serve.
Per serving: 197 calories; 9 grams protein; 26 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams sugar; 8 grams fat; no cholesterol; 399 milligrams sodium; 5 grams dietary fiber.