Healthy French Food Recipes

 I am very excited, and honored, to be doing this guest post for Karen. Her work and crusade are so worthwhile. I am a French mom living in LA, raising a 19 months old son, and writing my FrenchFoodieBaby blog about our journey in educating his taste buds and making him a gourmet and healthy eater, the French way. And I’m here to debunk some of the myths and mystique behind French family cuisine, and try to show families that the French approach is much simpler than it seems.

The French way of eating, and their approach to educating children’s taste buds, has definite benefits (including the fact that kids actually enjoy eating vegetables, and have lower rates of obesity). So the next logical step would be for more people to implement and adapt those methods for their family. And a lot of families have indeed been inspired by it, as demonstrated by the great deal of interest in Karen’s book and work in general. But I have found in my interactions with a lot of moms and families mostly in the US, that there’s this ingrained belief that French food is fancy. I say “French-style cuisine” and a lot of people visualize intricate sophisticated dishes, hours laboring by the stove, expensive ingredients… all of which would make it quite impractical to most families, and wasted on young children. (Note that I talk about “French-style” cuisine or “French way of eating”, because I’m not so much talking about what the French eat and French cuisine per se, but how the French eat, the way they approach food and nutrition. You can adopt that approach with any type of international cuisine, and in fact, a lot of French families cook from a variety of cuisines from around the world.)

I started becoming more aware of those preconceptions about French cuisine when I started my son on solids when he was about 5 months old. I was following a Mommy & Me class which happened to be around lunch time, and started bringing my homemade baby purees to class. Soon came the era of finger foods, around eight months, and I started bringing a mini-version of a “4 course meal” for Pablo in class, basically a finger food as appetizer (hearts of palm, green beans, cauliflower, etc.), a homemade protein & vegetable puree, a kind of cheese, and a bit of fruit compote or yogurt for dessert. There I was, thinking I was doing nothing out of the ordinary. And one day, another mom commented on the “gourmet meals” I was making Pablo, and that he was the “best fed baby in LA.”

This same perspective a lot of North Americans have of French cuisine, shows up again when you start telling them what French kids are served for lunch in school. When I first told my husband we were served a sit-down hot four-course lunch, he just couldn’t believe it, rethinking with some nausea about the sloppy Joes, pizzas, stale spaghetti and overcooked burgers he ate in school.

Karen’s brilliant idea to post the menus from French school lunches on her blog, really shows some concrete examples of what goes on every day in French schools, and by extension, what they eat at home too.

I am often asked by busy moms browsing through Pablo’s menus, “How can you do these fancy meals for Pablo every night?” Well, I hate to kill the bubble and gourmet aura around French family cuisine, but I’m here to tell you that it’s just not that fancy. Well… it is, and it isn’t.

If by fancy, you mean that it tastes really good, then yes it’s the idea. If by fancy, you mean some thought and finesse has been put into the dishes that compose a meal, then absolutely. If by fancy, you mean that care was put into presentation and preparation, definitely. That approach is the cornerstone of the French view of food as a pleasurable, worthwhile, sharing experience.

However…

If by “fancy”, you mean I slaved by the stove all day to prepare them, well, that’s…

Myth #1 – French style meals take hours to prepare.

Most French moms work, and are definitely back at work by the time they start their babies on solids, so they can’t spend the whole day by the stove. I found that most family dishes we cook on a weekly basis require 20-25 minutes of preparation with some additional cooking time, during which other stuff can get done.

As Karen has mentioned, studies show that the French do spend on average 13 more minutes cooking per day than Americans, cooking on average for a total of 43 minutes per day. Feeding a family a fairly balanced diet with a wide variety foods, vegetables in particular, doesn’t require a lot more time, but it does require a bit of thinking and effort. I think the French think of “the education of taste” as an important parenting and family priority. They find a way to devote it a little bit of time and effort, because eating well as a family is of value to them, the same way they would devote time to homework, or getting their kids to practice the piano.  

Tip: It is mostly a matter of being a bit organized, by making a meal plan, having some cooked veggies or soup made ahead for the week, and planning on a balance of simple preparations (smoked salmon or canned sardines or a slice of ham, or pan-fried meat or fish, or crock pot recipes) to help keep busy nights stress-free. (If cooking is stress provoking, kids will pick up on it, and it will definitely put a dent on that food/pleasure association in their mind). It is also a matter of accepting to take a little extra time to do it. Trying to think of cooking not as a chore, but as an opportunity to slow down, be in the moment, and do something really good for our family.

If by fancy, you mean that French-style cooking uses hard to find, obscure ingredients for intricate dishes, that’s…

Myth #2 – French style meals are very complex and sophisticated

To the contrary, I would argue a lot of French family dishes shine by their simplicity, from chocolate mousse, with only a few ingredients, to mixed vegetable salads simply tossed together. Most French family recipes are not any more complicated (often less) than making chocolate chip cookies, muffins or pancakes.

One French secret is the way they name their dishes. It always sounds sophisticated. As Karen reported recently, Cornell researcher Brian Wiansick found that using attractive names for foods do make them more appealing. And to children especially. And if you peruse the French school lunch menus, you will see many “fancy” names for very simple dishes. For example, saying “Jardinière de légumes” sounds better than “mixed vegetables”, it gives the image of a garden where the vegetables grew. The French, known to take food very seriously, wouldn’t give foods silly names to get kids to eat them (not on the official school menu anyway), but even the restaurant-like names on those menus might just make the kids feel like they’re important enough to be served “fancy” dishes.

And the dishes also often look sophisticated, as care is definitely given to presentation, for children included. The French really consider that the aesthetics of food is key to children’s education of taste and appreciation of cuisine. All five senses are involved in the pleasure of eating.

Tip: I pick a lot of fairly simple recipes that make their ingredients shine. For that, it is important to choose good quality ingredients and fresh produce as much as possible.

Another secret is the use of herbs and certain condiments to add some subtle flavor to dishes. My mother can’t cook without thyme and bay leaves. Tarragon, parsley, basil for salads. These simple herbs are the “je-ne-sais-quoi” of French cooking.

If by fancy, you mean that it costs an arm and a leg, that’s…

Myth #3 – French meals are expensive

I guess that this is relative to every family’s budget, and certainly the price of food has gone up everywhere. But in our family, using seasonal produce, cooking with fresh (or frozen) foods and planning our menu has eliminated a lot of waste and saved us a lot of money. We’re not talking

truffle and lobster here, but peas, carrots and chicken.

Tip: Finding ways to cook with what we’ve got left in the fridge can lead to very creative recipes and fun meals. Also the advantage of cooking on a regular basis, is great money-saving leftovers. I’m pretty thrilled on an exhausted evening, to find we have leftover watercress soup, mustard pork tenderloin and sauteed apples and onions in the fridge…

In an attempt to illustrate my points here, I picked a lunch menu served last October in a French school in St Manvieu Norrey, Normandy, sharing the recipes with you here. It sounds really nice, but is actually very simple to make, with inexpensive ingredients, taking a reasonable amount of time to prepare (with the possibility of making some of it ahead.) And last but not least, it is really delicious, and offers a wide variety of vegetables in one meal. So why not try it?

Appetizer: Tomato mozzarella salad (not much of a recipe, just slice, drizzle with olive oil, add herbs and serve!)

Main course: Chicken cutlets with “sauce chasseur” (hunter’s sauce, cool name), with jardinière de légumes (this is a fancy name for gently sautéed vegetables)

Fromage blanc (rough equivalent here would be Greek yogurt)

Dessert: Wafer cookie (store bought)

(For a home meal, I would forgo the cookie, give a piece of cheese, and the Greek yogurt as dessert, sprinkled with a bit of sugar or a few berries.)

Chicken fillets with sauce “chasseur”

Serves 4

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time – 15 + 10 minutes

Age for babies: 10-12 months in small quantity, to give a taste of the sauce. The mushrooms make a good finger food.

Note that you can use this sauce with any poultry. You could also serve it with a cut up chicken, or a whole roasted chicken.

4 pieces of skinless chicken (either breast or thigh)

1 lb mushrooms, washed and sliced

6 tbsp of butter

4 shallots, peeled and minced

2 heaping tbsp flour

1/2 cup white wine (or white grape juice, or juice from canned mushrooms, if you want to go alcohol-free)

1/4 cup chicken broth

1 tbsp of tomato concentrate

1 bouquet garni (in a piece of hollow celery rib, put some thyme, parsley, sage, 1 or 2 bay leaves, cover with another piece of celery rib and tie with kitchen tie.)

Salt & pepper

5-6 sprigs of fresh chervil (if you can find it, I’ve had a hard time finding it in LA), stem removed, minced

5-6 sprigs of fresh tarragon, stem removed, minced

Cut the chicken in strips and set aside.

For the sauce:

In a saucepan, melt the butter and sauté the mushrooms. Add in the shallots, and cook for a few minutes.

Sprinkle flour, stir and let it get a bit of color.

Stir in the wine and broth. Add the tomato concentrate, bouquet garni, salt & pepper.

Stir and bring to a boil. Cover and let simmer over medium low for about 15 minutes.

At this point, you can keep warm, covered, on very low heat, while you cook the chicken.

In a frying pan, heat some olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the chicken strips until cooked. Salt & pepper to taste.

Before serving the sauce, remove the bouquet garni, and incorporate the minced chervil and tarragon.

Pour sauce over the meat and serve immediately!

Jardinière de légumes (Mixed vegetables)

Serves 4

Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 35-40 minutes

Age for babies: 8-10 months, the veggie pieces make great finger foods.

I use two magical ingredients here, which make the vegetables taste delicious and slightly sweet: the sprinkle of sugar, and the coconut oil (which is so good for you too). Kids usually love it.
You can add more vegetables or omit some, adjust quantities to your liking. This tastes really great reheated, so you can make a big batch, refrigerate and eat the next couple of days.

7-8 carrots, peeled, diced
7-8 mini turnips, peeled (or 1 or 2 medium, peeled and quartered)
15 small potatoes, peeled (fingerling type, or medium red potatoes, peeled and quartered)
2 handfuls of fresh green beans (or frozen)
2 handfuls of shelled fresh peas (or frozen)
6 pearl onions, peeled but left whole
2 garlic cloves, peeled but whole (optional)
Fresh thyme (leaves from 3 sprigs)
Bay leaf
Coconut oil
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp sugar
Salt & pepper

In a large pot, melt the butter & coconut oil over medium heat. Sprinkle with the sugar, stir a bit, and wait until the sugar has melted.

Then add carrots, turnips, potatoes, pearl onions, garlic, thyme and green beans. Add salt and pepper, stir and cook for about five minutes over medium heat, stirring once in a while.

Add 1/4 cup of water, and cook on low, letting the water evaporate, stirring from time to time, about 20 minutes.

Add another 1/4 cup of water and the peas, and let cook until the water is almost evaporated and vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. (There should be a little “sauce” in the bottom, a treat to soak it up with good bread!)

Bon appétit! And I’d love to hear your thoughts, if you do try these recipes and this multi-course meal!

Apple Recipes

On another beautiful day spent at Gopher Springs Farm with Franka, Eric, Dexter and Pepe the cat, we were invited to help with the making of apple cider.

Grandmothers wheel Dexter and Pablo on a cart around the property as they happily munch on apples, and watch, unphased, teamwork in action. Next to a high pile of red & golden apples, Franka and her father-in-law wash and cut the fruit. These are some of the apples we harvested a couple of weeks ago, from the many fruit trees here. There are three varieties of apples, and the trees are still full to the brim, apples falling and rolling downhill to our feet.

Eric has designed and built a wooden apple crusher requiring a high level of coordination for the novice that I am. Turning and crushing. After going through the crusher twice, the apples are put inside a cheesecloth, and placed in the apple press, to produce unfiltered apple juice.

With the help of some yeast from Austria and time, about a month, this apple juice will become cider.

In the meantime, when you have lemons, make lemonade. Or in our case, when you have apple juice, make turnip gratin. This is a very simple gratin recipe, where the sweetness of the apple juice compensates the slight bitterness of the turnip, with a touch of salt and crunch brought by the pancetta.

Turnips au gratin with apple juice & pancetta

Adapted from Idées futées pour inviter
Serves 4 people

Age for babies: 8-10 months, the turnip can be given as finger food, cut up in small pieces (though I wouldn’t give baby any pancetta)
1 cup + 1/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup + 1.5 tbsp unfiltered apple juice
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1.5 lbs turnips
6 strips of pancetta
Salt & pepper

Preheat the oven at 400°F.

Peel and slice the turnips.

Pour the cream and apple juice in a large saucepan, bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for about 2 minutes. Add salt, pepper and the mustard.

Put the turnip slices in the juice-cream mixture (stirring to coat all pieces, if needed) and cook for another 5 minutes.

Cut the pancetta in small pieces, and sauté in a non-stick frying pan for a few seconds.

Pour the turnip / cream / apple juice mixture in a baking dish. Sprinkle with the pieces of pancetta.

Bake for about 25-30 minutes, until the gratin is golden on top.

Gnarly roots recipes

I like gnarly things. Gnarly faces. Gnarly trees. Gnarly
truffles. Gnarly vegetables. Earthy, rooted, tough, intricate, complicated. Yet beauty
and nuance come out of gnarly things. And that wonderful contrast is perfectly illustrated by the celery root.

I don’t know that there is a more gnarly-looking root (and if
there is, do let me know asap!) than the celery
root (though the sunchoke gives it a run for its money, plus it’s got a
cool alias, “Jersulem Artichoke”, but I digress… more on sunchokes very soon).
That thing looks like it’s going to jump out and bite you, doesn’t it? A far cry from its ham of a sibling, the celery stalk, all sleek and leafy up
top. And yet it has such a delicate subtle
taste, which makes wonderful purees, for baby or the whole family (My truffled celery
puree is always a family favorite at Christmas dinner).

Aside from their many health benefits (lots of fiber, lots
of potassium, vitamin C and a flurry of other good stuff), roots have very unique
flavors. Sometimes on the sweet side (rutabaga, parsnip, beet, carrots),
sometimes on the bitter (turnip), or just unlike anything else (celery root,
sunchokes), they add a very interesting set of flavors to a baby’s palate.

A roots puree can be any combination you wish, depending on
your baby’s taste. If your baby tends to like carrots or have a bit of a sweet
tooth, start with a rutabaga/parsnip/celery puree. Beets (of various shades) or
carrots add a nice color component to these purees. For a pretty pink color,
add a touch of beet (though the color of beet quickly takes over, so if you’re
going for light pink, go easy on the beet! I used a whole, albeit small, beet
in the puree below, and see the result…)

Three Roots Puree

Age: 6-8 months, consult with your pediatrician. (As always,
start by offering a puree of each root individually for any potential allergies,
and then mix and match…)

Makes 5 x 2 oz containers

1 small beet

1 medium celery root

½ turnip

Some fresh sage and chives

Peel the celery by cutting off the rough outer edge and
stalks, and cut it up.

Peel the turnip and beet, and cut up in pieces.

Steam the roots with the herbs for about 15 mn, until
tender.

Mix in food processor, adding some of the cooking juices to
obtain desired consistency.

Other possible variations with roots:

Celery puree
Steam 1 cut up celery root with 1 small red potato and mix with some cooking
juices (I even go as far as adding a tiny drop of truffle oil now, which
marries itself so beautifully to celery. You can also mix it with a bit of
fresh goat cheese in the processor, adds a touch of tanginess, calcium and
protein)

Turnip-carrot puree
– A good way to introduce baby to turnip, since it’s slightly on the bitter
side, the carrot makes up for it. Steam ¼ turnip with a few carrots and mix.

Beet – I usually
steam, puree and freeze one large beet into 1 oz container, that way I always
have some when a recipe calls for a bit of beet, you can just add a touch for
color and taste.

Parsnip &
Rutabaga
can be steamed and pureed on their own (or together). The purees
come out very smooth, nice for a young baby who isn’t used to chunks yet.

Three great French recipes

For this guest-post, I wanted to share three recipes for a French meal – appetizer, main course and dessert. The dessert is a little more elaborate than a typical school night meal, but it is so delicious and summery I couldn’t resist sharing it with you. So here’s your menu, if you choose accept this little challenge of eating like the French for a meal
Cold Sorrel Cucumber Soup

Cooking time: This is fairly quickly made, 10-15 minutes, but does need to chill for a few hours. You can make it the day before or a few hours ahead.

4 slices of bread, crusts removed
1 bulb of fennel, stalks removed, bulb sliced
1 cucumber, peeled and sliced
A large handful of sorrel leaves
1/4 green bell pepper, cored, seeds removed
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp cumin
3/4 cup of cold water + some to soak the bread
1 1/2 tsp salt

Soak the bread in cold water.

Meanwhile, chop all the vegetables.

Drain and squeeze the water out of the soaking bread. Place wet bread in a blender.

Add the fennel and some of the cold water and blend on high until liquefied.

Add the cucumber, sorrel, bell pepper, cumin, vinegar, olive oil, salt and rest of water, blend on high until very smooth.

Place the blender pitcher, covered, in the fridge for a couple of hours at least, until chilled.

When ready to serve, blend it one more time for a few seconds, and pour in bowls.

 Veal Blanquette

Adapted from At Home with French Classics by Richard Grausman, as well as my mother’s recipe.

Cooking time: Ok, I’ll admit this is a bit involved. You should count about 90 minutes to complete this dish, with some downtime while it cooks. But it is well worth it and is even better the next day!


3 pounds of veal shoulder, cut into bite-size cubes
1 onion, studded with 2 cloves
1 large carrot
2 leeks, washed
1 turnip
2 stalks of celery
3/4 lb mushrooms, washed and sliced
1 Bouquet Garni: 1/2 stalk of celery, 2 or 3 sprigs of fresh thyme, 1 bay leaf, 4-5 sprigs of Italian parsley
25 – 30 pearl onions (the easiest is to buy them frozen if you can find them. Otherwise, peel, trim the root end but the onions must stay whole)
2 1/2 tbsp butter
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground pepper
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 cups (dry) of rice of your choice

Place the veal in a large casserole or Dutch oven and pour 8 cups of cold water over it. Bring to a boil, skimming the foam from the surface frequently.

Meanwhile prepare the bouquet garni: take a piece of celery stalk, cut it in half lengthwise. Place 2 or 3 sprigs of fresh thyme in the hollow of the stalk, cover with 1 bay leaf and 4 or 5 sprigs of Italian parsley. Cover with the other half of the stalk and tie together with kitchen twine (see photo above).

As soon as the water with the veal boils, add the studded onion, the carrot, leeks, turnip, celery and the bouquet garni (all the vegetables go in whole, as they are not meant to stay in the dish, but to give the stock flavor). Reduce the heat* to a gentle simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes.

(*It is important not to let it boil very strongly, or the broth will evaporate and you will not have enough to make the sauce and cook the rice.)

Add the pearl onions (if they’re frozen, just run some cold water over them first) and simmer (still covered) on low for another 35 minutes.

Add the mushrooms and cook for another 10-15 minutes.

Drain the meat and vegetables, reserving the stock. Put the veal, pearl onions and mushrooms in a large saucepan. Discard the bouquet garni.

The remaining vegetables (leeks, celery, turnip, carrot, half of the onion) are typically discarded, but I find that to be a shame. If you have a baby, toddler or young child, mixing all those veggies makes for a very tasty soft puree with lots of vegetables. You can mix in a food processor and place in 2 oz container (or ice-cube tray), and freeze if needed.

Cook the rice in a saucepan or rice cooker, using 2 cups of the stock and 2 cups of water.

Reduce the remaining stock by boiling over high heat (uncovered), until you have about 3 cups left.

In a small saucepan, heat the butter over medium high heat. Add the flour, and cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture (called a roux) is pale yellow and frothy, 30 to 40 seconds. Add 2 1/2 cups of the reduced veal stock, and whisk until the sauce thickens and comes to a boil, 2 or 3 minutes.

Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, and add salt and pepper. Whisk vigorously for 10 seconds. Simmer gently, whisking from time to time, until the sauce is the consistency of heavy cream, about 5 minutes. Skim off any butter at the surface.

Reduce the remaining 1/2 cup of reserved veal stock over high heat, until only a few teaspoons remain, and whisk that into the sauce. Remove the sauce from heat.

In a small bowl, mix the egg yolks and cream together, and gradually whisk in 1/2 cup of the warm sauce. Then whisk the egg/cream mixture back into the rest of the sauce. Return to the heat, bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. Remove from heat and pour it over the veal, mushrooms and pearl onions, coating them with the sauce.

Serve a portion of rice, with the veal and sauce mixture on top, spoon over some extra sauce. Bon appétit!



Notes:
1. This keeps very well and is known to taste even better the next day. You could even make it (the veal, not so much the rice) a day prior to serving it. Just let cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat in a boiling water bath: by placing the veal in a bowl, and placing that bowl in a larger pan with boiling water over low heat. Stir gently and reheat for about 15-20 minutes.
2. I highly recommend finding veal shoulder, and not settling for veal “stew meat” or other cuts you might find. Shoulder meat is very tender and perfect for this dish, otherwise, the meat might be somewhat chewy.

Cheese

Serve cheese as the French do, towards the end of the meal, with a simple green salad with vinaigrette (1 part vinegar, 3 part oil, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, salt and pepper), to help digest.


Peach Gratin Soufflé

Adapted from Cuisine Actuelle.fr

Cooking time: This takes about 30 minutes total to make, but I swear, it is like a warm cloud of summer in your mouth!

4 ripe peaches
2 eggs
1/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup milk
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tbsp butter
1 pinch of salt
1 pinch of cream of tartar

In a saucepan, combine the milk and cream. Cut the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the milk cream. Toss in the bean as well. Bring to a light boil, remove from heat and cover, letting the vanilla infuse for about 10 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean.

Meanwhile, peel the peaches, take out the stone and quarter them. Butter a baking dish.
Place the peaches in the dish.

Separate the yolks from the white.

In a large bowl, whisk the yolks with the sugar, add the flour. Then add the milk/cream/vanilla mixture, whisking well. Pour the whole thing back into the saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. It will thicken into a cream consistency. Remove from heat and let the cream cool completely.

(The recipe can be prepared to this point a few hours in advance. Then you just have about 10-15 minutes of prep/cook time before serving. In a French meal, I would start doing this last part while the guests are eating the salad and cheese, chatting and digesting…)

Preheat the broiler at 500°F.

Beat the egg whites with a pinch of cream of tartar until they form peaks. Incorporate gently into the cream, “folding it in” (don’t stir) with a rubber spatula.

Cover the peaches with this mixture. Place in the broiler (in the middle of the oven) for about 5-7 minutes, until golden on top.

Take out of the oven and let it cool down to warm.

Serve warm in bowls with a spoon. (If you have leftovers, you can refrigerate and serve chilled.)

French Foodie Baby

You say tomato, I say gazpacho…

Just say “gazpacho” out loud three times… and see if you can help smiling… It’s the happy food of summer! In fact, it’s so popular in Europe that the past few years, Tropicana has been selling it in cartons along with the orange juice there!

In honor of Pablo’s Spanish origins, his love for tomatoes (and mine!), and the beginning of warm summer days, I decided to introduce him to gazpacho. I have such a fondness for Spanish cuisine and culture… Last time we were in Europe, it seemed that as soon as we drove across the Spanish border, we felt this breath of relaxation and enjoyment of life… That “aaahhh” you feel as you sit down in a lounge chair on a terrace or a beach, daydreaming about the next meal as you smell the aroma of fish or garlic or “patatas fritas” in the air. When I make gazpacho, I’m able to conjure up that wonderful experience and it just makes me smile… That integration of food, life and its lovely experiences is one of the things I hope to instill in my son on this journey of educating his palate… We can teach our children that food is nourishment for the body, but I also want to teach Pablo that it can be nourishment for the soul.

But enough philosophizing for now… When we went to the farmer’s market last week-end and saw those beautiful organic heirloom tomatoes, well… I knew what needed to be done!

Pablo had had every single ingredient in the gazpacho, so I had full faith my little “gastronome en culotte courte” (literal translation: gourmet in short breeches) would like it. I used the classic Andalusian gazpacho recipe I found in the LA times a couple of years ago, as well as in my Spanish cookbook.  I did adapt it to suit my needs… I didn’t have any bell peppers on hand, so I added a bit of cucumber instead… I reduced the quantity of garlic (1 clove instead of 2) to make it milder. And as one of my missions is to introduce Pablo to the subtle flavors of herbs (I want to do a whole separate post on that topic soon!), this was a great opportunity to add some herbs from the garden. Chives and basil it was. Though it could have been sage and thyme. I’ll have to experiment with those next time…

When it comes to what I call “pursuing the rainbow”, meaning the way to know if your child is getting all the vitamins and nutrients he needs, is by feeding him/her foods of many different bright colors (the brighter the colors, the more vitamins!), this is a winner. With its red (and yellow and green if available) tomatoes, green herbs and cucumber (and colorful bell peppers if you choose to experiment with those – this is actually a pretty good way to introduce a child to bell pepper), gazpacho is a healthy, tasty, refreshing appetizer chock-full of goodness for the whole family!

As the images will tell you, Pablo enjoyed his first gazpacho thoroughly! We were all delighted to see him clap his tongue at the tinge of garlic and cumin, before sticking his nose back into the glass to drink up some more. Plus drinking it out of the glass all by himself must have added to the fun of it all (this is a fairly new skill…)

I will now always have another wonderful association to this Spanish concoction… The smell of tapas, lounge chair, the “aaahh” feeling, and my son’s taste buds tingling in a mouth clap of tangy satisfaction…

Andalusian Gazpacho

Inspired from the LA Times (June 2010) and “The Food of Spain” by Claudia Roden

Age: 10-12 months, depending on where you’re at with the introduction of the different ingredients in the recipe. Make sure you have your child try each individual ingredient over a few days in case of any potential allergies, and as always, check with your pediatrician.

The recipe makes about 1.5 quarts, so you can enjoy it as well for a couple of days…

4 slices of organic bread (I use buttermilk), crusts removed

1 ½ cup of cold water

2 pounds of organic heirloom tomatoes

1 clove of garlic

¼ organic cucumber (the traditional recipe calls for ¼ green bell pepper, you can add both, or experiment with red and yellow bell pepper as well…)

Fresh organic herbs of choice (basil, chives, thyme, oregano, sage…)

¼ tsp of ground cumin (optional)

2 tsp salt

¼ cup + 2 tbsp of olive oil

2 tbsp of white wine vinegar

Soak up the 4 slices of crustless bread in some water until soft.

Remove the cores from the tomatoes, cut them into chunks and puree in a blender of food processor. Press the juice and pulp through a sieve, discarding the bits of skins and seeds. (This is the most tedious part of the recipe, the rest is a breeze. You can also use a juicer to make it extra smooth.)

Squeeze the water from the bread and place it in blender or food processor with the garlic. Blend until smooth.

Add the tomato pulp, cucumber, (bell peppers if you use them), cumin, herbs and salt. With the processor running, add the olive oil in a slow stream. Blend in the vinegar and some of the 1 ½ cups of cold water.

Place the gazpacho in a pitcher and add the remaining cold water.

It can be chilled, but I found that my baby doesn’t like super cold liquids, so I served it to him at room temperature. The flavors also come out better at room temperature, in my experience.