Kids in the Kitchen: Broiled Fish With Chermoula


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The master plan? Raising children who can be independent in the kitchen, able to prepare a few healthy meals and snacks and with the confidence to tackle a new recipe or task. In our Kids in the Kitchen series, Motherlode’s KJ Dell’Antonia and Cooking’s Margaux Laskey move their very differently aged families toward that goal. Margaux finds ways for her 3-year-old and toddler to help cook, while KJ stands back and coaches her two 9-year-olds and her 11- and 14-year-olds in cooking on their own.

As I mentioned in one of my past posts, my 3-year-old daughter has become increasingly finicky when it comes to food, fish in particular. I thought a flavorful sauce might help. Enter chermoula. It’s sort of a Moroccan pesto, but instead of basil, Parmigiano-Reggiano and pine nuts, it’s made with cilantro, parsley and a combination of Middle Eastern spices. It’s traditionally served on grilled fish, chicken and vegetables, but I can also imagine it stirred into a bowl of chicken soup, a pot of couscous or a pile of soft scrambled eggs. I hoped it would be a brilliant solution; my daughter likes green, leafy vegetables (she happily eats arugula with her soft-boiled eggs and toast in the mornings, and I can’t keep her from nibbling on the herbs outside). And we would get to pull out the mortar and pestle — a kitchen tool my daughter has never used, but I knew she would enjoy. It’s loud, and you get to smash things on purpose.

I wanted to cook the mahi-mahi the way the recipe suggests. I thought she might prefer a lighter-flavored fish over our usual salmon, but all our market had was salmon. We would make do, and maybe the chermoula would act like a green fairy dust. Poof! She would suddenly love salmon again.

I rinsed off the parsley and cilantro and dabbed them with paper towels, then asked her to help me pluck off the leaves. She did so with about three stems before she became bored.

“Don’t you want to help anymore?

“Nooo.” (Lower lip protruding.)

“So you don’t want to bang the mortar and pestle?”

(Big smile.) “Yes, yes, I do.”

I finished picking the herbs while she waited impatiently.

“When do I get to smash things?”

We then “chopped” the herbs using (clean) scissors pointed down into a bowl. She used her kids’ Fiskars, and I used my kitchen shears. She loved this task, and it worked surprising well. I gave them one more pass under the chef’s knife for good measure, but it was probably unnecessary.

“It smells like lemon.” Indeed, the chopped cilantro and parsley did.

Before setting her up at the kitchen table with the mortar and pestle, I threatened that she was not, under any circumstances, to try to lift the mortar off the table. It is incredibly heavy, and if it fell on her, or her sister crawling around on the floor beneath her, we would be taking a trip to the hospital. (Despite their weight, mortars and pestles are pretty great kitchen tools for little children; they need both hands to hold the pestle, so their own fingers can’t get in the way. If you’re worried about them dropping it, put it and your child on the floor. I would have, but I knew her little sister would not be able to resist meddling, so I unleashed the threats.)

I tossed the garlic cloves into the mortar, she sprinkled in the salt, then gleefully mashed away.