But it’s not all about cooking and eating. The food is really just the vehicle for reaching greater goals. The program is designed to use food to awaken mindfulness (so important in a time when teenagers’ eyes are almost continuously fixed to the screen of their phone), foster confidence and empowerment, build leadership skills, and connect the students to their community. All tall orders, I know - but Food can handle it.
Lately, I’ve been working with the students to develop healthier snacks that are easy to prepare and that, most importantly, they actually like. For the first several weeks of recipe testing, they seemed to be focusing entirely on sweets: granola bars, oat cookies, almond-stuffed chocolate-dipped dried apricots. I pushed them to create a savory option, but inspiration was nil. Fortunately, my intern mentioned a puffed rice snack that is a popular street food throughout southern India. According to the results of a quick Google search, there are many versions of this nosh, but most recipes agree it should be loaded with peanuts, fresh chiles, salt, sugar and spices - perfect for those teenagers who opt for peppery, pungent, florescent orange chips.
The first few attempts were a miss. They wanted something that was less salty, a tad sweeter and a little less hot. The snack needed to last for days and needed to be eaten easily by hand (most recipes resulted in a trail-mix-like concoction, in which all the tiny rice pieces remained separate). So I had to take a step back from all of the recipes and suggestions and invent something new that would satisfy their palates and suit lifestyles. Finicky teens? Yes. But the students’ feedback led me to develop a wonderful recipe that is equally addictive to adults. As always, my students prove to be my greatest teachers.
TANDOORI-SPICED PUFFED RICE SNACK 1 quart crisp (unsweetened); often sold in the cereal or bulk aisles of health-food stores1 cup toasted cashews, roughly chopped1 cup toasted peanuts, roughly chopped1 cup flaked coconut 3 tablespoons (you want the virgin, non-deodorised stuff here, preferably organic)1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds1 1/2 teaspoons (I used Epicurious’s recipe , but it is also available for )1/2 teaspoon salt1/3 cup honey 1 cup dried banana chips, broken in pieces (optional; I prefer it without, but the teens loved it with) Preheat oven to 350° F. Line two rimmed half sheet pans with parchment paper.In a large bowl, combine the puffed rice, cashews, peanuts and coconut.Meanwhile, coconut heat oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. Cook mustard seeds until seeds pop, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the tandoori spice, salt, and honey. Scrape from the pan over the puffed rice and mix to coat.Spread the mix on a large, rimmed baking sheet; pack mixture down with the back of a wooden spoon or spatula (mixture should be about 1/2” thick). Bake for approximately 12-14 minutes, or until slight browned, glossy and fragrant. Allow to cool on the pan. Break into large pieces. Toss with banana chips, if using. makes approximately 5 1/2 cups