“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” I am a huge proponent of this proverb. Primarily because I don’t have time to keep fishing for someone else…not to mention I don’t know how to fish.
But I do know how to cook. So when Amelia from Community Access asked me to give a cooking demo for their First Annual Wellness day, I immediately said yes. I first met Amelia and the charming Community Access residents almost two years ago when I coordinated their site for Help-Portrait. With the laughter and music, it felt more like a festive holiday party than a global movement. Or maybe that’s the key to the success of a global movement…it makes everyone feel good about themselves. Plus, watching a shy resident bloom in front of the camera then beam with pride over her final portrait just left me smiling non-stop.
I love photography. I love food. Both have the ability to change a person. They can empower people with confidence. Which, at the end of the day, is what differentiates someone who can do anything and someone who can’t. (I was lucky enough to start my career in consulting, which quickly teaches you to know that you can walk into any situation and do it. Far from perfectly the first time, but it will get done.)
Which brings us back to my lack of fishing skills. I had to come up with a dish that was healthy, budget-friendly, and familiar enough to the residents that they would want to try it. I also wanted to teach them a technique that they could use in other dishes, push their culinary boundaries, and show them that they could create upscale dishes cheaply and easily…no one ever accused me of being a underachiever.
I was inspired by the chipotle aioli in the Baja Style Avocado Tacos that Chef Ivy Stark served at a California Avocados event. The creaminess of the mayonnaise balanced the heat of the chipotle while the adobo flavor gave the aioli depth. Once I tasted it, I wanted to start pouring chipotle aioli on everything.
I decided to make the chipotle aioli easier by just using the sauce and mixing it with a spoon. Not everyone at Community Access would have a blender, and mainly because I like to be as efficient as possible in the kitchen. Instead of making tempura avocados the main feature, I decided to use slivers of raw avocado to add healthy protein, texture and a different kind of creaminess.
The main ingredient of the tacos was chicken breast. Another healthy and budget-friendly source of protein. To keep the chicken strips moist and juicy, I coated them with a dusting of cornstarch and taught the residents the basic techniques of stir-frying. The mango salsa was also multi-purpose. It could be used for these tacos, over pan-seared chicken or fish, or just straight noshing with chips. Add in a can of rinsed and drained black beans and you have yourself a side salad. Plus the mango salsa could be made up to a few days in advance (it actually tastes best the next day after the flavors have had time to meld).
The cooking demo was only possible with the help of my wonderful Community Access assistants Charmaine and Lloyd. Charmaine plans on pursuing a culinary career and told me how food and cooking bring her joy. Lloyd was a charmer and a great sport for pinch-hitting as a last-minute assistant. Not only did they help prep for the demo, but they also cooked up a huge, delicious pot of Three Bean Chipotle Chili. It was a great way to show the residents what they could do with the rest of the chipotle. The hearty, healthy chili also froze well for multiple meals throughout the week.
To further push their culinary boundaries, I brought Jap Chae, Vegetable Curry Onigiri and Mini Blueberry Lemon Cupcakes. Just one mini cupcake is satisfying when you amp it up with lots of lemon zest flavor. And topping them with fresh berries means you can use less frosting. (Of course I’d figure out a way to rationalize bringing cupcakes to a Wellness Day.)
I’m lucky enough to attend a lot of food related and media events. The companies and organizations often send us home with a gift bag of branded goods or new things to try. I always feel like a kid who just went trick-or-treating when I empty the bag on the couch at the end of the night. For the few months leading up to the Community Access Wellness day, I collected all of the goodies I received from these events. To close out the cooking demo, I had all the residents put their names in a bowl and raffled off each of these items including a nice apron and a beautiful chopping board from California Avocados. The residents were so excited, it felt like we had a lotto winner every time I called a name. Ok, maybe it wasn’t quite the same as winning the lotto…but the whole event was every bit as memorable.
Chicken Soft Tacos with Chipotle Aioli and Mango Salsa
1 ½ pound skinless and boneless chicken breast or thighs, sliced
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoon cornstarch
1 mango, peeled and diced
3 scallions, sliced
3/4 teaspoon jalapeno, stems and seeds removed, minced
one lime, zest and juice separated
1 1/2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1/4 teaspoon garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
4 teaspoons chipotle in adobo sauce (just the sauce)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
salt to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 head lettuce, sliced
16 small flour tortillas
4 avocados, each cut into 16 long slices
Combine the chicken ingredients in a bowl and set aside for 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, combine all of the mango salsa ingredients and set aside.
In a small bowl, combine all of the chipotle aioli ingredients and set aside.
In a large frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil on medium-high heat. Add half of the chicken and sauté until the chicken is cooked and no longer pink. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Repeat for the rest of the chicken.
Wipe down the frying pan and without any oil, heat one of the tortillas for a few seconds. Flip over and heat the other side.
Fill the tortilla with some cooked chicken, two slices of avocado, a drizzle of chipotle aioli, some lettuce and mango salsa.
Repeat for the remaining tortillas.
Three Bean Chipotle Chili
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped
8 cloves garlic, chopped
4 carrots, chopped
2 green bell peppers, chopped
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 can (28 ounce) crushed tomatoes
1 can (7 ounces) chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, finely chop the peppers and use the sauce
1 cup water
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon parsley
2 teaspoon cumin
1 1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon oregano
2 bay leaves
1 ¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 can (15 ounces) kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (15 ounces) chick peas, rinsed and drained
In a large pot, heat the olive oil on medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the carrots and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste, ¼ teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper and sauté for 2 minutes.
Add the crushed tomatoes, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, water and all of the spices. Mix well.
Add the crushed tomatoes, kidney beans, black beans and chick peas. Mix well.
Cook for 20 minutes. Add the green bell peppers and cook for 10 minutes.