“What is this vegetable called?” I ask the kids gathered around the table. I’m holding a leafy, purple vegetable in the air. “Cabbage!” Kory calls out. A few weeks earlier, this answer would have been accompanied by a chorus of groans, “yucks,” and grimaces, but today the class remains engaged and expectant, as if the purple orb in my hand possesses some sort of magical power (in addition to its anti-oxidant properties).
“And what part of the plant is cabbage?” I continue. “Is it a root, a stem...” “Leaves!” shouts Ethan. Now there is a palpable excitement in the air. We go through a rendition of the “plant parts” dance we practiced in our last class before sitting down to commence our salad prep.
As a FoodCorps Service Member at Magnolia Speech School in Jackson, Mississippi, classroom cooking activities are one way I engage kids in eating healthy and learning about nutrition. In conjunction with cooking, I’ve helped start Magnolia’s school garden, incorporating lessons that involve the students in planting and tending it. As most of us know, Mississippi has one of the highest rates of obesity and, not coincidentally, one of the lowest levels of access to fresh produce at farmers markets and grocery stores. These structural challenges are daunting, but even the small step of teaching students about the connection between growing food, cooking it, and eating it helps them build enduring healthy habits.
Which brings us to the present moment in which bits of cabbage and shreds of carrot are strewn haphazardly around the table and floor like celebratory vegetable confetti. On my right, Kory and Drew are chopping purple cabbage with serrated kid knives, and I double check to make sure their fingers stay out of the way. Across the table, I remind Mason that we can’t eat all the raisins before we mix them into the salad. Ethan maintains a laser-like focus on his task of shredding the carrots while I assist Bryson and Chloe in cutting our apples into thin curls with a hand-cranked Spiralizer.
We’re making Roots, Fruits, and Leaves Slaw (get the recipe below), a colorful, healthy spin on the classic Southern coleslaw. With Mississippi’s blessedly mild winters, cabbage and other greens are staples in late-season Southern vegetable gardens. Pairing this hearty purple leaf with bright carrots and sweet apples--the quintessential fall fruit grown in Mississippi’s northern regions--lures in even the pickiest of eaters. And instead of using a mayonnaise-based dressing, this slaw is tossed in a tangy vinaigrette of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, lime, and honey.
These are the ingredients that Chloe now helps me mix together in a jar, passing it over to Bryson who gives it a good shake. Mason pours the dressing over the slaw ingredients and mixes it together to coat everything evenly. Finally, it’s time to eat; I serve everyone a big scoop of roots, fruits, and leaves. For a moment, there is silence save for the sound of contented crunching. Even Drew, our most wary vegetable eater, picks bravely at the pieces of purple cabbage that he proudly chopped himself.
By the end of class, most of the bowls are empty. As the kids file out of the kitchen, I wave goodbye. “See y’all in the garden next week!” You’ll never guess what we’ll be planting. Cabbage.
Roots, Fruits, and Leaves Slaw
For the slaw: 1 head red cabbage 2 to 3 apples (any kind will do) 2-3 carrots 1/2 cup golden raisins or naturally sweetened dried cranberries • small handful cilantro (optional)
For the dressing: 1/8 cup olive oil 3 tbs honey 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar juice of one lime 1 tsp cumin (optional) salt and pepper to taste
Shred the red cabbage into fine strips and add it to a large mixing bowl. Grate the carrots using a big holed grater and add it to the bowl. If using cilantro, finely chop a small handful and add it to the salad mix. Add in the raisins.
Cut apples into thin match-stick pieces (or spiralize) and add to the salad. If you’re chopping up this salad ahead of time, don’t cut the apples until you’re ready to dress the salad because they’ll turn brown. Toss everything together well.
For the dressing start with olive oil in a jar or a bowl. Add the honey, apple cider vinegar, lime juice, cumin, salt, and pepper to the oil. Put the lid on and shake the dressing until the oil and other liquids are mixed well. Drizzle over the salad and toss well until everything is coated in the dressing. Serve chilled and enjoy eating those tasty plant parts!