I’ve been re-reading my copy of Jennifer Tyler Lee’s “The 52 New Foods Challenge” cookbook and finding inspiration from other cooks who’ve created recipes based on her list of 52 new Foods that kids should be trying.
If you haven’t read my post about Jennifer’s book, you learn more about her book here. Like many people at this time of year, I’ve thrown myself into all things seasonal. We’ve been drinking wintry cocktails and using the rolling pin to smash peppermint candy canes to top our hot chocolate. We’ve lugged home a tree, and decorated it with a pound of tinsel. Holidays are a full contact sport in our household. Though I have yet to bake anything since my big Christmas cake effort in November, my food has been holiday-spirited nonetheless.
Pomegranates are one of my kids’ favorite fruits although they’re still getting used to the tiny seeds. I had my own experience with new foods, so I understand their trepidation. You may recall that my stepfather gently encouraged me to eat the rind on my Brie cheese, or else – or so I was told – I would be the laughingstock of all of Paris. I learned to eat rind, our summer visit to France was a success (minus the traffic accidents. Plural.) And I came away with an understanding that foods sometimes require a little warm-up period.
Without any harsh consequences playing on their young, impressionable psyches, my kids are slowly learning to eat their pomegranate seeds without spitting out the, er, seed. They love the flavor, the juice, and the vibrant red streaks that cover their hands and get under their nails. I can’t resist pomegranate seeds either – that color! That flavor, they’re positively luminescent. So, I tend to use them abundantly during the holidays. Like gemstones, pomegranate seeds make everything a little more festive.
After my last read through the “52 New Foods Challenge” cookbook, I was excited about cooking for my kids using a mix of familiar flavors, with a few new ones. My kids are becoming more adventurous with food, and it was high time they were introduced to ingredients like garlic and soy sauce.
The ribs were a hit, and I felt confident that I could push their buttons a little further with a new recipe. Yes, we’d have some familiar foods in the form of pomegranates and steak. But I’d also introduce some new ingredients. New to them, and with one in particular – new*ish to me.
Preserved lemons are typical in French and Morrocan cooking, and you’ll see them scattered through other parts of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. But I hadn’t been using them in my cooking at home. I was hell-bent on a mission to make them from scratch, but the project kept getting delayed. Years later, I still refused to buy pre-made at the store. That would be admitting defeat, and who wants to do that?
But in short, I caved. The lemons were calling my name, and I just didn’t see my project happening for the forseeable future.
The first time that I opened a jar, I was taken aback by the smell. Think of your favorite organic lemon cleaning product and then make it 1,000 times more potent. I was initially afraid that they might not be so “daisy fresh”, as my stepfather would say. However, bottle #2 reassured me that my preserved lemons, had in fact been preserved properly, and hadn’t been the subject of microbial invasion. So my message to you: get past the first doozy of a whiff, chop ‘em up and use them abundantly. They’ll add a fabulous salty/bitter quality to your dishes. It’s fine to go easy if you’re trying them for the first time, but soon you’ll be using them with a heavy hand.
Since this was a dish that the kids would be eating, I was conservative with the preserved lemon, and added a hint more of lemony flavor with a squeeze of the more familiar Meyer lemon juice. My kids love Meyer lemons – they’re sweeter than your standard lemon; perfect for kids’ palates.
A second unfamiliar ingredient in this dish – to them, but one of my favorites – is Castelvetrano olives. I adore their meaty texture and buttery flavor and they go so well with any kind of meat. I often pair them with oranges or lemons and roast them alongside chicken thighs. Or I’ll chop them up and use them as a garnish for steaks and bread (think tapenade).
So the question that you’re likely asking right now – what have I done with this seemingly incongruous mix of ingredients?
I’ve riffed on the classic South American chimichurri, which is used to top those famous Argentine steaks with a heady mix of olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic and herbs. I left out the garlic, but added the parsley, pomegranate, olives and those pungent preserved lemons to the olive oil and red wine vinegar.
The result – in addition to being flavorful, and popular with the more adventurous of my kids – is a dish that so completely evokes the spirit of the holidays. It’s rich (yet not in the steak with bernaise kind of way); it’s festive, with bright flecks of red and green; and it’s a meal that the whole family will enjoy.
In the spirit of honesty, did I have to scrape off some of the chimichurri to appease the pickier under-5 set? Yes, but that’s a usual occurrence. And they’re not the kind to freak out if a speck of parsley is still visible on their plates. In fact they love parsley. It was those darn olives that freaked them out. But my 6-year old loved her dish, and so did the adults. So my advice? Unless you have a food blog where by law you’re required to shoot the food together, keep the meat and topping separate if kids are involved. Let them scoop it onto their own plates (or at least try one speck of olive and pomegranate to see if they like it first). You may be surprised when they smack their lips and declare it delicious.
If you’re looking for a holiday gift for anyone with kids – or if your own family struggles with picky eating – be sure to check out Jennifer’s book. It’s been by my side for the last few weeks as I tinker with recipes that my kids will enjoy, and I hope that you’ll have success with it too.
- 2 strip steaks (about 1.5 lbs)
- 1 cup pomegranate seeds
- 2/3 cup castelvetrano olives
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Meyer lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon of chopped preserved lemon
- 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses (purchased or homemade)
- Large handful of parsley, chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat a large saute pan or a stove top grill pan to medium-high heat.
- Season both sides of the meat with salt and freshly-ground pepper.
- When the pan is hot, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan, and then sear the steaks on each side. Depending on the thickness of your steaks, you can either cook them entirely, for a few minutes per side, on the pan. Or, if your steaks are thicker, you can sear them on the stove to get a nice crust, and then transfer them to a 350 degree oven for 5-8 minutes to finish cooking.
- When the steak has finished cooking, let it rest on the counter, loosely tented in foil, for 10 minutes.
- When the steak is resting, you can prepare the chimichurri by mixing the remaining olive oil along with the other ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Taste the mixture – if it needs a little more sweetness, add a touch more pomegranate molasses, extra acidity, add more red wine vinegar. For salt, you can either season with more salt, or if you like the flavor of the preserved lemons, you can add a touch more of these.
- When you’re ready to serve, slice the steak and mound it on a platter, spooning the chimichurri over the top and letting the oil and flavors mix with the steak juices.