Let the little ones in the kitchen to make happy little trees

  • Let kids get creative when decorating their happy tree snacks.

    Let kids get creative when decorating their happy tree snacks. Courtesy of Leslie Meredith

  • A happy tree snack is a great way of getting kids involved in the holiday cooking.

    A happy tree snack is a great way of getting kids involved in the holiday cooking. Courtesy of Leslie Meredith

 
 
Posted12/22/2021 6:00 AM

It may take longer to read this article than create these jolly holiday snacks with the children in your life. The simplicity means you can involve young children, including toddlers, in making this festive spin on avocado toast.

Start by asking them to identify the fruits (yep, avocado is botanically a berry). Hold the star fruit up so that they can view the end horizontally and spot the telltale five-pointed shape as a hint.

 

My little students guessed "apple-onion" for the pomegranate, which showed me they were looking and thinking. I might call them apple-onions from now on.

Cut the pomegranate into sections before turning them out to get at the arils.
Cut the pomegranate into sections before turning them out to get at the arils. - Courtesy of Leslie Meredith

You will want to use soft, fully ripe avocados to make them easy to mash and spread. If you buy them a few days early, you can leave them on the counter to soften.

Once ready, move them to the fridge to halt further ripening. You can put them in a paper bag with an apple or banana to speed things up. The natural ethylene gas emitted hastens the ripening.

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A 2019 study in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine noted 6,000 avocado-related hand injuries in the ER in 2017, nearly a ten-fold increase compared to 1998, reflecting the surging popularity of the fruit.

To play it safe, I carefully cut around the perimeter of the avocado with a sharp knife, then give it a quarter turn and again cut all the way around, resulting in quarters that can be easily pulled away from the pit.

Give each cook two quarters, along with a fork and a wide bowl. Rather than spooning out the flesh, have them try to peel the skin away, reserving as much of the dark-green area as possible.

That's the most nutrient-dense part and imparts the appetizing hue to the toasts. They can use the back of the fork to mash up the avocado. If they are still a bit hard, a potato masher will get the job done.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
An avocado, a star fruit, toast and a pomegranate are all that you need to create these happy tree snacks.
An avocado, a star fruit, toast and a pomegranate are all that you need to create these happy tree snacks. - Courtesy of Leslie Meredith

Choose pomegranates (or apple-onions) that feel heavy for their size and are even a little lumpy -- those signal that there are lots of arils inside, the part we eat.

Everyone has a preferred pomegranate opening technique. For a group cooking session, I like to cut off the blossom end until I can see where the fruit is naturally sectioned into six parts, separated by the pith. Using a sharp knife, I score from top to bottom along the lines of the pith to create six sections that can be pulled apart with my hands. If I'm careful, I can avoid slicing into any arils, avoiding puddles of juice that stain readily. This technique seems to work better with cold fruit, so I keep it in the fridge for a few hours before cutting it up. I give each section to a kid and let them spoon or pull out the arils into a small individual bowl.

A potato masher will do the trick of smashing up an avocado if it's still a bit hard.
A potato masher will do the trick of smashing up an avocado if it's still a bit hard. - Courtesy of Leslie Meredith

The tropical star fruit is also known as carambola. It's a Southeast Asia native, but is now grown in Florida. It is expensive, but you only need one for this recipe. Choose one that is bright yellow, as the green indicates it's not yet ripe. The flavor should be sweet and tart, a bit like a kiwi. The less ripe, the more sour lemon-lime notes. Wash it well, but there's no need to peel (and I don't think that's even possible without mangling the fruit beyond recognition.)

Let the kids' creativity direct how they decorate their toasts. I demonstrated a symmetrical triangle with a star laid flat on top, but the kids had much more fun making their designs without adult interference. This became one part cooking, one part art project, and one part snack session, all in about half an hour -- a merry little moment in an otherwise hectic season.

• Leslie Meredith is the winner of the 2019 Cook of the Week Challenge and teaches people how to grow and cook "real" food. She runs Farmhouse School on a historic homestead in Campton Hills. See the school's Facebook or Instagram pages @FarmhouseSchool or contact Leslie at food@dailyherald.com.

A happy tree snack is a great way of getting kids involved in the holiday cooking.
A happy tree snack is a great way of getting kids involved in the holiday cooking. - Courtesy of Leslie Meredith
Holiday Tree Toasts

4 slices bread

2 avocados

½ cup pomegranate arils (a medium fruit yields 3 to 4 times this amount)

1 star fruit, sliced horizontally into ½-inch pieces

Mash avocado while bread toasts. Spread avocado on slice of toast and decorate with arils and star fruit.

Serves 4

Adapted from Amanda Keefer, https://healthyfamilyproject.com/recipes/holiday-avocado-toast/

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