I’m not sure how many of you have been watching Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution but I’ve been finding it both fun and inspiring. Sure, it’s a reality TV show but in this case, it’s all about replacing the sugar, fat & salt-laden processed food served in most public school lunchrooms with fresh, nutritious, homemade food. While witnessing the effects of childhood obesity is sobering, it’s worth the tear-jerking moments to see Jamie win over everyone in the town of Huntington, West Virginia from the grumpy lunch ladies to the skeptical radio talk show host. Jamie’s charm and determination gives people from all walks of life a way to get involved and make a difference in their own health and more importantly, in that of the next generation.
In a recent episode, Jamie makes a bet with the surly talk show host that he can teach 1,000 people in less than a week’s time to make a simple, healthy stir-fry. It appears that this is one of the most interesting things to happen in Huntington in a long time and people show up ready to learn. Jamie wins the bet, of course, and in the process converts the radio host, who becomes the 1000th cook. It’s hard for me to watch Jamie make any dish and not want to try it myself. Okay, my stir-fry wasn’t quite as sexy as he makes it look but it was delicious and reminded me once again that healthy food doesn’t have to be complicated.
You can easily make it with all local ingredients, leftovers, whatever you have on hand or add some a few non-local items to make it more authentic. I used tender early-season asparagus and a big bunch of green garlic from the farmers market. That’s the thing with stir-fry. Just chop up everything from the fridge, cook quickly in oil, toss with noodles and you have a quick, nutritious meal that almost everyone loves, especially when it’s homemade. I’ve been making stir-fry for years and never followed a recipe but Jamie has some good ideas and certainly makes it more dramatic with very high heat and lots of vegetables being tossed up and around in the pan while the noodles are cooking on the side. Here’s his recipe for Chicken Chow Mein.
Jamie Oliver’s Chicken Chow Mein
a thumb-sized piece of fresh root ginger
2 cloves of garlic
1?2–1 fresh red or green chile, to your taste
1 large skinless chicken breast, preferably free-range or organic
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
a small bunch of fresh cilantro
1 baby bok choy
optional:4 shiitake mushrooms
4 ounces (2 bundles) ready-to-cook chow mein noodles
peanut or vegetable oil
1 heaped teaspoon cornstarch
1 x 8-ounce can of water chestnuts
2–3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 small lime
To prepare your stir-fry:
Put a large pan of water on to boil • Peel and finely slice the ginger and garlic • Finely slice the chile • Slice the chicken into finger-sized strips and lightly season with salt and pepper • Cut the ends off your scallions and finely slice • Pick the cilantro leaves and put to one side, and finely chop the cilantro stalks • Halve the bok choy lengthways • If using the mushrooms, either tear into pieces or leave whole
To cook your stir-fry:
Preheat a wok or large frying pan on a high heat and once it’s very, very hot add a good lug of peanut oil and swirl it around • Stir in the chicken strips and cook for a couple of minutes, until the chicken browns slightly • Add the ginger, garlic, chile, cilantro stalks, mushrooms (if using) and half the scallions • Stir-fry for 30 seconds, keeping everything moving round the wok quickly • Add your noodles and bok choy to the boiling water and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, no longer • Meanwhile, add the cornstarch, water chestnuts and their water to the wok and give it another good shake to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom • Remove from the heat and stir in 2 tablespoons of soy sauce • Halve the lime, squeeze the juice of one half into the pan and mix well • Drain the noodles and bok choy in a colander over a bowl, reserving a little of the cooking water • Stir in the noodles and bok choy, with a little of the cooking water to loosen if necessary, and mix well • Have a taste and season with more soy sauce if needed
To serve your stir-fry:
Use tongs to divide everything between two bowls or plates, or to lift on to one large serving platter • Spoon any juices over the top and sprinkle with the rest of the scallions and the cilantro leaves • Serve with lime wedges
Change it up according to what you have on hand and it will be different every time you make it.
There’s no doubt that it’s cheaper and easier for our schools to buy and prepare processed foods to serve for lunch. The Child Nutrition Act is currently up for re-authorization and more money needs to be allocated for better food. Even though our Seattle Public Schools have introduced healthier grains, fresh produce and some organic foods, there is still lots of room for improvement. To their credit, the schools in Huntington still have kitchens and the equipment needed to make homemade food even though the employees would rather pull out frozen pizza and chicken nuggets than cook pasta from scratch. Most of our Seattle schools have ripped out their kitchens and replaced them with warming centers while the meals are pre-made in a central kitchen. Many Seattle parents prefer to send lunch to school with their kids so they know what they’re eating but many of the children who qualify for free or reduced-rate lunches are at the mercy of outdated USDA regulations. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every child had a healthy, nutritious homemade meal at school every day?