My boys are game eaters. I don’t mean rabbit and pheasant, though I’m sure they’d dig it if presented with it, I mean that they try everything. From fish eye balls to octopus and Brussels sprouts to sardines, the rule of our house table is “always try one bite—you’ll never know if you like it if you don’t try it.” This didn’t happen overnight—I didn’t like, present them with a bowl of fish eyeballs and say, “hey, guess what’s for dinner!”
Raising a good eater, and moreover, an adventurous eater, takes persistence and patience by parents. The parents have to be just as game and willing as the kids. I mean, a three-year-old doesn’t have control of what is being taken out of the fridge (or dialed on the phone) for dinner. A child’s palate is first and foremost shaped by the parents. Sure, kids can want chicken nuggets and pizza every night of the week. But it’s up to parents to say, “uh, yeah, right. And I want foie gras torchons and chocolate soufflé every night too, but you know what, tonight we’re having pasta and broccoli.” You try and try and try—broccoli steamed, broccoli stir-fried, broccoli in soup, broccoli in a frittata, broccoli roasted. And then you adjust. Perhaps broccoli baked into a bacony quiche. Or chopped and mixed with cheddar and shredded leftover chicken for an empanada. Sometimes you have to think outside of the argument.
So, today: gorgeous, hot, sunny. One of my older son’s best friends and his mom joined us—and the child, well, he’s my favorite picky eater. He’s my project. To avoid conflict at the table, I have learned that when he comes to dinner, I make a myriad of options. I put them all on the table. And everyone can pick and choose what they want to eat. That way, everyone’s plate is a customized canvas of options, with no one having to say “eeewww” or “I don’t like…” “I don’t like isn’t an option when there are options. Often times, because no one is hounding him to eat what’s on the plate, he reaches for something new. He may not dig it, but he tried it, and let me tell you, that’s like winning a major battle.
I made turkey burgers and kebabs from the same ground turkey base. I pumped it with flavor from some gorgeous inky-purple opal basil, fresh farmers market garlic, Worcestershire sauce for a necessary dose of umame (turkey often needs all the help it can get), herbes de provence for backbone, and some panko to keep it all together on the grill. I also made simple steamed broccoli, grilled garlic bread, orecchiette with butter and Pecorino, and grilled mushrooms tossed with garlic-butter and flakey salt. There was a nice salad of baby arugula, a soft and ewe-y Spanish cheese, thin-sliced cukes, lemon, and extra-virgin. Everyone was happy and no one was criticized because everyone had something to put on their plate. And my favorite picky eater? He tried the garlic bread (victory!), turned his nose up to the turkey burger (defeat), and devoured the pasta with Pecorino (yes!).
Which only meant more turkey kebabs for the rest of the table. So really, we all won.
Turkey Kebabs (or Burgers) with Garlic, Basil, and Umame
Makes 4 kebabs or burgers
2 tablespoons finely chopped basil
2 garlic cloves, minced or smashed through a garlic press
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce (or 1 tablespoon soy sauce)
1 teaspoon herbes de provence (preferably homemade)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 pound ground turkey (dark meat)
2 tablespoons neutral oil (canola/grapeseed/vegetable) for greasing the grill
Mix the basil, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, herbes de provence, and salt together in a medium bowl. Stir in the panko and then add the ground turkey in small knobs (adding it in chunks makes it easier to work into the other ingredients without over working the meat, ensuring you get a juicy end result). Use your hand(s) to mix everything together. Divide into 4 equal parts and form in a long cigar-shape around 4 skewers (for wood skewers, soak 20 minutes in water before using) or pat into 4 burgers. Place on a foil-lined sheet pan and refrigerate.
Heat a charcoal or gas grill to medium-high (you can hold your hand above the grill grate for about 3 seconds before it gets too hot). Pour the neutral oil into a small bowl and using tongs, dip a folded bunch of paper towels into the oil and brush the oil over the grill grates. Remove the kebabs from the grill and place on the grates, grilling until all sides are brown and char-marked and the meat springs back to light pressure (there should be some spring to it—it shouldn’t be rock solid), about 8 minutes total. Remove from the grill and serve on garlic bread, grilled pita, or with rice.
Homemade Herbes de Provence
Makes about 1/2 cup
Homemade spice blends are so simple to make and are always fresher than pre-blended mixes. Herbes de Provence is an incredibly woodsy and herbaceous blend that can be easily adjusted to suit your taste—if you’re not crazy for one of the spices below, just cut it and boost up the quantity of another. I love using my microwave to dry herbs in a flash. They’re like a bazillion times more flavorful than packaged dried herbs and take less than a minute to zap (see below).
6 tablespoons dried basil
2 tablespoons dried thyme
4 teaspoons dried fennel seeds
4 teaspoons dried marjoram
4 teaspoons dried rosemary
2 teaspoons dried lavender
2 teaspoons dried sage
Place the basil, marjoram, thyme, rosemary, fennel seeds, lavender, and sage in a spice grinder and process until powder fine. Transfer to a small bottle and store in a cool, dark, and dry spot for up to 4 months.
If drying in a microwave: place herbs in a single layer on a paper towel-lined plate. Microwave for one to three 30-second increments, until the herbs are shriveled and papery-dry. Let them cool and then crumble them into a jar to use the next time a recipe calls for dried herbs.