What makes a recipe kid-friendly? An adult could rely on his memory to decide, but Gaby Melian decided to go to the source: the children.
A kid-friendly recipe for bean and cheese tostadas
Total time:20 minutes
Servings:3 to 6
“All of the kids’ comments in the cookbook are real — real kids,” Melian said. “There are recipes that weren’t put in the book because the kids didn’t like them or because they were too harsh. And then there were the winners – the undisputed winners.
The chef, however, had his own wealth of experience to draw on. “I’ve been teaching kids all my life,” she said, noting that she’s taught cooking at public and private schools, nonprofits, and even at home.
If you speak with someone who loves to cook, you’ll often hear how they learned by watching a loved one at home. Melian is the same. In the introduction to her book, she writes: “I grew up watching my abuela, my mother’s mother, cook in our little kitchen in Buenos Aires. She started teaching me when I was very young.
“When I said this was the book I wish I had when I was 8, I meant that,” she said of her first cookbook, noting that the manual This colorful and lively instruction book could also help parents who don’t like to cook but want their child to have this life skill.
“If a child has an interest, this book can be a book that can bridge that gap,” she said.
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Throughout the cookbook, Melian notes, “When in doubt, ask an adult for help.” However, there are recipes that children can make themselves, especially if they follow his advice. It covers basic skills, from how to chop an onion and peel garlic to the best way to grate cheese and stem and chop peppers. She explains how to accurately measure wet and dry ingredients.
Make this recipe: Agua Fresca de Limon
While Melian is originally from Argentina, the cookbook draws on recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, snacks and drinks from Mexico, South and Central America and some Caribbean islands, and she first tasted a lot of it while going to culinary school and working in New York.
For each recipe, she provides the country of origin (there’s also a map and a Spanish glossary) and a level of difficulty (beginner, intermediate and advanced so a child can grow into the book). Each recipe is given a brief origin story, often featuring a cook or chef from that country. For example, an Ecuadorian chef shared the recipe for ceviche, which calls for briefly boiling the prawns rather than just “cooking” them in an acid like many recipes do.
“This book is for anyone interested in Latin American cuisine,” she said. (I agree. I love pupusas but I’ve never made one. After reading her crystal clear recipe and looking at the step-by-step photos, I’m going to make it.)
As I chatted with Melian, I couldn’t help but smile and remember my first cookbook: “Betty Crocker’s New Boys and Girls Cookbook.” Like Melian, I learned by watching my grandmother and my mother cook, but it was really unconscious – knowledge by osmosis.
This thin, spiral-bound cookbook got me started on my own, igniting that first spark of pride I still feel when I do something and hear the mmms around the table. I could pick a recipe and then cook for the family, make meatloaf or sugar cookies or junk joes.
Melian is doing this for a whole new generation, with his takes on pupusas, alfajores de micena and arroz con pollo. Let’s drink to that.
Tostadas de Frijoles y Queso (Tostadas with beans and cheese)
Melian writes that tostadas were “invented to use up leftovers. Grilling or frying stale tortillas makes them crispy and delicious. And then you can top them with other leftovers. Consider this simple recipe as a starting point. You can add leftover chicken, pork, or sausage, or jazz up your beans with spices. Serve with Melian’s Agua Fresca de Limon (see recipe here) if desired.
REMARK: If you don’t have cream, you can substitute sour cream : In a small bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup sour cream and 1 tbsp water and lime juice until smooth. until everything is well mixed.
Storage Notes: Refrigerate remaining beans for up to 5 days.
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- One can (15 ounces) refried beans (black or pinto)
- 1/4 cup water, more as needed
- 6 toasts
- 1 cup (6 ounces) crumbled queso fresco or shredded mozzarella cheese
- 4 romaine or iceberg lettuce leaves, thinly sliced
- Flesh of 1 large avocado, sliced
- Mexican cream (crema) (can be substituted with sour cream; see NOTE)
- Hot sauce, such as sriracha, for serving
- Lime wedges, for serving (optional)
Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.
In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the beans and water, and heat, stirring with a rubber spatula, until the beans are hot and spreadable, about 3 minutes. Add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, if needed. Remove from fire.
Place the tostada shells on a large rimmed baking sheet. Divide the bean mixture evenly between the shells, spreading in an even layer. Sprinkle cheese evenly over top.
Transfer the baking sheet to the oven for about 5 minutes or until the tostadas are heated through.
Divide the tostadas between plates and top each with lettuce and avocado. Drizzle each with cream or sour cream and hot sauce, and serve with a lime wedge, if using.
Per serving (1 tostada, 1 tbsp cream, 1 tbsp sriracha)
Calories: 275; Total fat: 17g; Saturated fat: 7g; Cholesterol: 32mg; sodium: 736mg; Carbohydrates: 22g; Dietary fiber: 6g; Sugar: 2g; Protein: 11g
This analysis is an estimate based on the available ingredients and this preparation. It should not replace the advice of a dietitian or nutritionist.
Adapted from “Gaby’s Latin American cuisine” by Gaby Melian (America’s Test Kitchen, 2022).
Tested by Ann Maloney; questions by e-mail to [email protected].
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