Lessons Learned between Layers of Lasagna
Photo: Liz Rueven

Lessons Learned between Layers of Lasagna

I’ve been teaching a trio of teen girls how to prepare healthy, seasonal, mostly vegetarian meals since they were eleven. Yesterday they reminded me that they will be heading to high school in the fall. I’m excited to think that I’ve given them a foundation for how to prepare nutritious and tasty meals for friends, family and themselves.

Yesterday, we whipped up a vegetable loaded lasagna with oven ready sheets of organic and whole wheat pasta. I choose something easy and flexible that would feed a crowd. I want them to feel confident baking this crowd pleaser- perfect for Mother’s Day, a sleepover, or any lazy Sunday.

vegetarian kosher cooking with teens
Photo: Liz Rueven

I always speak about seasonality and flexibility when we cook together.  On Sunday, we spoke about which veggies would work in a lasagna, if, by chance, the mushrooms they counted on were moldy, or the spinach was irretrievably wilted.

With strawberry picking season coming up next month in CT, I thought it would be fun to balance the lasagna with a strawberry centric salad and fruity balsamic vinaigrette. We talked about how to rescue a dressing that is too acidic and how to create more interest by using fresh herbs and mustards. We finished with chocolate dipped strawberries, the perfect fancy treat that isn’t loaded with fat and never fails to impress.

teens cook kosher vegetarian Kosher Like Me
Photo: Liz Rueven

The flexibility message is one I impress on them each time we cook and share our meals together. I haven’t told them this, but I want to prepare them to be able to cook their own healthy meals once they leave for college.

I want them to be the ones who will impress their roommates and nourish themselves when they whip up a lasagna in a woefully under-equipped dorm kitchen.

There are plenty of lessons about flexibility in all of this for me, as well.

When one says she doesn’t like mushrooms we reduce the amount in the recipe and forage around my refrigerator for something to add instead. We’re all learning how to respond without feeling bound to a written recipe.

We talked about switching in seasonal ingredients because that’s what we find in our farmers’ markets. Or turning to a pantry (or convenience store) for basics like pitted green olives, jarred artichokes or sun-dried tomatoes. Want to add more color and another veggie? Grate a carrot. No fresh greens in the crisper? Find frozen spinach or broccoli in your freezer.

We started our lesson yesterday with a chat about using whole grains whenever possible. We laughed when we gathered around to view sheets of whole wheat pasta that looked exactly like flattened cardboard. But we trusted; they cooked up perfectly with the right texture and subtle nuttiness. Now we have a favorite new brand: DeLallo Organic Whole Wheat Pasta.

It’s a fine line between following a well tested recipe assuming that it will lead to success, and feeling that ingredients can be switched around. I want to give these girls a sense of what works, what can be substituted and how to consider it all.

Kosher Like Me teaches vegetarian lasagna to teens
Photo: Liz Rueven

If we experiment and it fails, it’s only one meal. Cooking is not about perfection, but learning to have instincts and some understanding about why ingredients are compatible and which basic techniques are most useful.

While these ever-changing teens evolve and learn, I relish my time with them and learn almost as much as they do.

Kosher Like Me cooks with teens

My apologies for the photos here. My focus was fully on sharp knives, tempering chocolate and a 450 degree oven. Also, it would have been cruel to ask them to wait to dig into their bubbling dish of cheesy pastaliciousness while I styled a few shots.


    • Not sure it happens if it’s not documented, right? Seriously, I encourage these teens to shoot their creations. We have loads of fun playing with my props when we have enough time.

Leave a Reply