Preparing meals that satisfy all the members of a family is difficult—and I’m sure my plight is not a unique one.
My husband Dave, a recovering New York City foodie, is adamant that our family dinners be more interesting than a plate of plain pasta with chicken tenders. He believes that children who are not exposed to “different” (i.e., exotic or ethnic) foods will grow up to be timid and unsophisticated (eaters, I mean). So he says it’s our parental duty to serve them foods that are as diverse as possible. While I basically agree with his argument, I also feel a parental duty to serve food my children will eat, regardless of how plain it is.
My son Mack has reached a stage of life (at the ripe old age of three) where he will not eat anything with colors—or more specifically anything that is green, orange, or red. I’ve tried hiding vegetables inside meatloaf or meatballs, but nothing seems to enter his mouth without first passing his thorough examination. The tiniest speck of color gives him reason enough to stage a hunger strike.
The only saving grace (when it comes to negotiating our menus) is my daughter Masana, an eater who is laid-back and adventurous by anyone’s standards—all the more surprising because she’s only five years old. If I only had to cook for the two of us, we would eat chicken dumplings and mashed potatoes at every meal. However, since the boys need to eat, too, I have to prepare a meal that appeases both sides of this food war, while trying to avoid pulling my hair out on a daily basis.
My solution to this meal-planning dilemma is the wrap (and I’m not talking about Saran or Reynolds). My definition of a wrap includes stuffed pitas, soft tacos, quesadillas, calzones, and maki or temaki. While the outside of the wrap is unassuming and user-friendly, the inside contains various vegetables that, if not disguised, would make my son throw a huge tantrum. (I know, disguising vegetables inside dough is not an original idea.) This way I can serve foods that meet Dave’s approval, while not arousing Mack’s suspicion that I’m breaking his “no colors” rule. I’ve even been able to include a variety of spices inside them without inciting a rebellion—from cumin to fennel seeds, curry to hot chili peppers.
I serve some sort of wrap about four times a week. That leaves Fridays for pizza, Saturdays for stews, and Sundays for big oven roasts.
My favorite wrap is maki. (I know, I know—the true definition of maki is a roll, not a wrap—but for the sake of this article, can you cut me a little slack here?) I usually buy a swordfish steak and grill it outside (weather permitting—if it’s too cold, then broiling it in the oven works just as well). I mix a little bit of paprika, salt, and pepper with olive oil, and brush the mixture on the swordfish before grilling it. I’ll sauté garlic in vegetable oil mixed with a bit of sesame oil for flavoring, and add diced carrots and zucchini. Once the swordfish is cooked, I’ll cut it into strips. Using nori (seaweed paper) for the base, I’ll add cooked white rice, a strip of swordfish, and a layer of sautéed vegetables. Then I roll the nori according to each eater’s specific preferences. I usually serve it to Mack as a log, which he picks up with his hands, pretending that it’s a snake. For Dave, I’ll go that extra mile and slice it. Masana likes the temaki, or handroll version, where the nori is rolled up like an ice cream cone.
Another popular wrap in my family is stuffed pita. I usually stuff the pita with curried lamb. (I was fortunate in being sent to Singapore on business recently, and I brought home some lovely curry spice mixes, so that’s what I’ve been using. The day we finish them will be a very sad day in my house.) The best vegetable to pair with lamb is okra—which is fried until crispy, chopped into little pieces, and then added to a prepared mixture of sautéed onions, garlic, and chopped tomatoes. Dave prefers the okra whole, so I try to leave a few whole ones on the side for him before chopping the rest. The lamb is also chopped into little pieces, and then everything goes inside the pita.
Calzones are easy wraps. You can either buy the pizza dough or make it yourself (yeast, flour, olive oil). I make meatballs with garlic, carrots, zucchini and fennel seed, and stuff them inside a pocket of dough with some marinara sauce. For Dave and Masana, I’ll put grated mozzarella and parmesan cheese inside. Mack is allergic to dairy, so I make sure to keep his cheese-free calzone separate from everyone else’s.
So there you have it. The wrap is my cooking solution to planning the week’s meals, while keeping picky eaters happy—including both color-phobic sons and high-minded husbands. I only hope that my daughter remains the laid-back and adventurous eater that she is. If, when she gets older, she becomes a picky eater as well, I may have to leave the country. Or just go on a long, long vacation.