Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Cooking With Kids for Social Change/Mee Goreng

A few weeks ago, Officer Bill Baxter of the Boston Police Department, told me about a partnership he helped develop with the Police Department, Boston Public Schools, and Haley House Bakery Cafe ( Haley House is a great social enterprise that provides training in culinary arts for people who face challenges in gaining skills and employment. It's mission-driven and also produces high-quality, healthy, delicious foods. Haley House has become a central meeting place for activists, politicians and area residents. Good stuff!

Middle school students from the Boston Public Schools prepare dishes from foreign countries with the help of local chefs and cooks, using Haley House's restaurant kitchen. The idea is to promote gang awareness and prevention through cooking, which is a great way to appreciate different cultures and break down barriers between people and groups. Officer Bill (as he is known) gave me an example of how the program works. The kids made a salad and Bill asked them about taking out particular ingredients. They understood that all the ingredients were necessary to make a great salad and that it would be incomplete if one were missing. The kids made the connection between that salad and their social world. Powerful, positive stuff! Bill asked me if I wanted to cook with the kids.

How could I turn down the opportunity?

I couldn't.

So I started exchanging emails with Laura Zientek, who works at Haley House and helps run the cooking classes with the middle school students. I emailed her the recipe (Malaysian mee goreng, a spicy pan-fried noodle dish) and brought the special ingredients, while Haley House supplied everything else.

Yesterday was the big day. I took my son, Brooks, who always helps me in the kitchen when I cook. He was very excited about the class and had been telling his teachers and friends about it. I picked him up from school early and off we went to Haley House, which is located in the Dudley section of Roxbury in Boston.

The cafe is very hip and cool, with exposed brick walls and hardwood floors. It has a warm, cozy atmosphere that makes you want to hang out. While I chatted with Didi Edmonds, a co-founder of Haley House, my son chatted up the guy working behind the counter, trying to talk his way into getting a piece of pastry. Needless to say, I was glad when it was time to go to the back to get ready for the kids. LOL

Laura and Julie, a volunteer from Boston College, helped set up the cutting boards, knives, aprons and bowls for the six junior cooks who would take the lead in making the mee goreng.

The kids, along with Officer Bill Baxter and his wife, Gayle Baxter, came in at about 4pm and we started. The first fifteen minutes were devoted to a lesson about Malaysia, which was facilitated by a big map that Laura brought to show the kids. We talked about Malaysia's location, its rich culture and the evolution of its cuisine, which reflects the influences of China, India, Portugal and other countries. I have visited Malaysia twice and brought cookbooks, crafts and postcards to share with the kids, who were quite engaged.

After the lesson, it was time to start cooking. We decided to quadruple the recipe so that there would be left overs for the kids to take home. Making that change was a great opportunity to review fractions with the kids. Had to keep them on their toes.

I gave everyone a task -- chopping, mincing, rinsing, measuring, stirring, etc.

All six junior cooks (plus my son, Brooks) participated with interest and enthusiasm! They smelled Sriracha, oyster sauce, and shao hsing with great curiosity and learned about fermentation. I was impressed that they were determined to put the full amount of Sriracha into the dish. They wanted an authentic mee goreng!

Mee Goreng (Spicy Fried Noodles), from

Fresh Chinese egg noodles, chili sauce, dark soy, oyster sauce, shao hsing wine and fried shallots are available at Asian markets. Serves 5-6 as part of a family-style meal, 3-4 as a main dish.

2 cups fresh Chinese egg noodles
2 Tbsp chili sauce (Sriracha), or more to taste
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tbsp oyster sauce
3 Tbsp ketchup
2 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil
2 eggs
1 tsp minced garlic
1 cup mung bean sprouts, rinsed
1/2 cup shredded cabbage
1/4 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 lb boneless chicken breast, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (or leftover shredded cooked chicken)
2 Tbsp shao hsing wine
1/4 tsp white pepper
2 Tbsp scallions, sliced
2 Tbsp fried shallots (available packaged at Asian markets)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the noodles for 30 seconds, drain, and rinse with cold water. Set aside.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine chili sauce, dark soy, sugar, 1/4 tsp salt, oyster sauce and ketchup. Stir to combine, and set aside.

In a large wok (at least 12 inches in diameter) preheated over high heat, add the oil. Crack the eggs into the wok, stir vigorously until the eggs are lightly scrambled and just set, then add the garlic, noodles, bean sprouts, cabbage, shrimp, chicken, and 3/4 cup water.

Stir-fry continuously until noodles are cooked, 3-5 minutes (depending on the heat of your wok), making sure to also cook the chicken and shrimp. Add chili sauce mixture, and keep stirring until well combined. The noodles should begin to get a bit drier (no liquid left in the bottom of the wok).

Add shao hsing wine and white pepper, stir to combine, and remove from heat.

Garnish with scallions and fried shallots.

We skipped the fried shallots, but that's ok!

Time to serve the mee goreng!

We enjoyed the eating the fruit of our labor! I'm happy to report that there were no left overs to take home!!!

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