The menu was breakfast burritos with a mix of fresh salsas/salads and smoothies. Jan brought a beautiful and aromatic collection of herbs from her garden to frame the class. We began by using our senses to experience the herbs, and then discussed how the qualities of herbs can improve our meals as well as our physical and mental health.
We divided into two groups with Jan’s group preparing the smoothies, watermelon feta salad, and corn salad. My group prepared the eggs, refried beans, and salsa verde.
The experience of smelling and tasting herbs brought up many memories of cooking with family. Smelling oregano reminded one of the girls of Spanish rice prepared by her grandmother. Several of the herbs reminded another girl of her dad’s dad who is a really good cook (and never wants anyone in the kitchen while he is cooking). One of the guys helped me to prepare eggs, and he said he had never cracked or cooked an egg before, but he cracked, whisked, and cooked the eggs for his group, and learned the trick of adding a little water and a mix of herbs to the eggs while cooking to improve texture and flavor.
One of the boys prepared the salsa verde. We didn’t use a recipe in order to get more comfortable with flavor and trusting our senses. We made the salsa first without any herbs, and then another boy was in charge of deciding what herbs to add. He did a great job of selecting and and portioning the cilantro, which completely changed the flavor profile of the salsa. When one of the girls later tasted the boy's salsa verde, she said it was really good, and “he did well for a boy.” One of the other girl's eyes lit up upon tasting it, and said that it reminded her of her grandmother’s chicken with salsa verde.
Jan and her team made the smoothies by first including a mix of fresh fruits, yogurt, and ice. Everyone sampled this version, and then she had the youth select an herb to add to the mix, and they sampled the herb smoothie and commented on how the herb changed the profile of the drink. The staff with the young men really enjoyed the addition of the holy basil (tulsi) to their smoothie, an herb that is used for its adaptogenic and mood regulating properties. It was great to have the staff input and know that they were also benefitting from the lesson.
For all of the chefs, there was a noticeable energetic shift over the course of the hour-long class. Everyone came in with pretty low energy, eyes down, and mostly talking just to one another. By the end of the class, everyone had more energy, and were open to sharing stories and ideas for future classes. One of the girls said that she felt “healthier” and “revived”. Everyone went back for seconds.
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Heather Leach is Cultivating Change's facilitator and Program Director!