Moms

Join the Kids' Cooking Club

Each week for six weeks in the Thursday Your Life section, we'll present a local chef working in the kitchen with kids, along with recipes. The idea is for kids to cook their way through the recipes (with some parental guidance), take a few notes and maybe even shoot a photo or two. At the end of the summer, club members will receive an official certificate of completion. (See "How to Join," below.)

This week, we kick off the KCC with two recipes from Denise Shavandy, executive chef at Central Market in Fort Worth. Get those spatulas and whisks ready.

Meet the chef

Denise Shavandy

Executive chef, Central Market in Fort Worth

With assistance from her twin daughters, Roxana and Ariana

Chef Denise and husband Majid, who owned the late Fort Worth restaurants Pegasus and Spice, say their daughters, age 7, have always felt at home in the kitchen.

Denise says, "My girls love working in the kitchen with me." Majid marvels at how their foodie side was realized at a very early age, noting that they would eat asparagus and artichoke hearts as soon as they could eat solids, and that today they will try something new and "not just say, 'This is good,' but they'll tell you exactly what it tastes like."

The day we caught up with them, Roxana and Ariana were excited about the arrival of summer, which means they'll have more time to cook with their parents. Denise gives them jobs, such as pulling out the blender from a low cabinet and pulling herb leaves from the stems.

We watched as they prepared chilled cucumber soup and summertime hummus pizzas. As they looked over the recipes, Roxana declared, "I'll squeeze the lemons," and Ariana said, "I'll peel the cucumbers." Everyone gets a job in this outfit.

Denise lets the girls use large plastic knives that are meant for cutting lettuce. They're not too sharp and are safe. "They can make salad for the whole family, and it's a great way to keep them busy while I'm making dinner."

Denise says it's important to have fun with food. She believes in creativity and says the kids love art, so it's good to let them arrange and build dishes the way they want.

"In our house, some of the girls' favorite meals are the ones they can put together themselves, like tacos. We don't limit it to beef -- we think shrimp, fish or vegetables."

Another Shavandy family favorite is what she calls BYOB burgers, using chicken or portobellos instead of the usual beef patties. "We add interesting toppings like sunflower sprouts, mango, guacamole or bacon," Denise says.

The recipes

Chilled cucumber yogurt soup

Serves 4 to 6

5 cucumbers, peeled and cut into chunks

1 bunch green onions, roughly chopped

1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1/8 cup fresh mint leaves

About 4 cups water

2 1/2 cups plain yogurt

1 1/2 tablespoons salt or to taste

Put cucumbers, onion, cilantro, mint and 1 cup of the water in blender and process till smooth. Pour into bowl and whisk in yogurt, then remaining water until desired consistency is achieved. Season with salt. Garnish with a leaf of cilantro or mint and served chilled. (Chill the soup bowls in the refrigerator or freezer to keep the soup cold and fresh.)

Hummus

Serves 6 to 8

3 1/2 cups canned garbanzo beans

1/2 cup tahini (see notes to make homemade)

8 cloves fresh garlic, smashed

3 lemons, juice only

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

3/8 cup plain yogurt

2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Put garbanzo beans in a medium saucepan and add enough water to cover by about 3 inches. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30-45 minutes. Drain and allow to cool. This step can be done ahead. It is not necessary to cook the garbanzos, but it ensures a creamier texture to the hummus.

2. Put cooked garbanzo beans and all remaining ingredients into food processor and process till smooth like peanut butter. This will stay fresh in your refrigerator, covered, up to 4 days.

Note: Making your own tahini makes a big difference in the flavor. It has such a rich toasted flavor when made at home. To make: Toast raw hulled sesame seeds in the oven at 400 degrees till golden brown. Place in food processor and allow to process until the consistency of peanut butter. To make sure you processor doesn't overheat, it is best to process for 2 minutes, then let the motor rest for 2 minutes.

Summertime hummus 'pizzas'

Serves 4 kids or two really hungry ones!

4 pita breads, naan, or pre-baked pizza crust

2 cups hummus

Optional toppings:

Cucumbers

Feta cheese

Mozzarella

Avocados

Lettuce

Tomatoes

Grilled chicken

Sprouts (I like sunflower sprouts)

Toast the pitas in a skillet or even on the outside grill. Spread 1/4 to 1/2 cup of hummus on each one and let the kids build their pizza with the different shaped toppings. My girls love to make faces, flowers or horses and gobble up their edible art.

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