• Ritika Barmecha

My First Opportunity To Give Back


I have always wondered, how I could make an impact in this world? Although I have donated to charity in my years, I could not foster a personal connection between myself and the person actually benefiting from my donation. I recognize now that I can make a greater and more meaningful difference in the world by sharing my skills with others. For most of my adult life, I have been a stay at home mom with dreams of ingraining a meaningful footprint in the world. A few days ago, my wishes came true when I helped educate a group of women to cook and eat healthy.

After graduating from culinary school, I made a lot of changes at home. I revamped my kitchen to suit a healthier lifestyle. I started buying organic dairy and fruits, cutting down on sugary products that I stored at home, and started cooking with healthy fats. Before my children consumed any “junk” food, I made them read the ingredients to make them more aware of what they were putting in their bodies. For a great part, I believe that who we are is what we eat. Slowly, but surely, I started seeing my kids opt for healthier alternatives. The positive changes I saw in my kids told me that cooking at home and eating nutritious foods was something that I could teach others and in turn improve lives.

A few months ago, I had the good fortune of meeting Vivian, director of a Wellness Center in Harlem, through a common friend. When I first met her, her passion to help others in need really came through. She wanted to change people’s lives by offering yoga, meditation, and healthy cooking classes to help them cope with daily stress. We gathered that women from lower income families are often juggling work, kids, and home chores with a limited budget. Vivian and I thought it would be great if we could teach them easy and affordable healthy cooking. I was both excited and nervous. On one hand, I wanted the ladies to feel comfortable and familiar with what we were cooking, while on the other hand I wanted to stretch their boundaries a bit.

After contemplating the menu for the food demonstration for what seemed like hours, I decided to show them how to make sweet potato quesadillas with avocado sauce. Sweet potatoes are were an integral part of my audience’s food culture, but by giving it a Mexican twist, I brought about complexity and newness to the commonly consumed vegetable. When the day finally came to perform the demonstration, the deep rich flavors of the sweet potatoes, corn and spices filled the room with excitement. The ladies were curious, engaged, and enthusiastic to learn more about healthy cooking. I explained that I had chosen to include beans in our quesadillas because they have a high fibre content, and corn because it would add a nice crunchy texture. While demonstrating, I also communicated the importance of menu planning before going to the grocery store. This would not only save them time, it would also help them put together dishes that were creative and nutritious. When the quesadillas were ready, the ladies could not stop raving about how simple it was to make and how tasty they were. The smiles on their faces and their promise to cook this dish for their families was my greatest pleasure. When many of them came up to me and asked me to come back to teach, I realized that this was exactly what I had dreamed of…I was finally making my mark in this world, I was finally finding my path.

Thank you to my friend, Sunaina for taking the photos and videos.

Sweet Potato Quesadillas

Serves: 16

Ingredients:

4 Tbsp Olive oil + more for brushing the tortillas

4 sweet potatoes, cut into 1/2” cubes

1 Tbsp cumin seeds

1 tsp chilli powder

3 corn cobs, boiled and shucked or 2 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed (Alternatively, you can soak the beans overnight and cook them the next day)

1 bunch cilantro, chopped

2 red onions, diced small

1 tsp dried oregano

Corn tortillas

2 cups Mexican cheese blend or grated cheddar cheese

Salt to taste

Ingredients for the dressing:

2 tomatillos

1/2 avocado

1 small jalapeño

1/2 cup cilantro

2 Tbsp yogurt

1/4 lime/lemon juice

salt to taste

Water as required for desired consistency

Blend all the ingredients in a blender till smooth.

Method:

Preheat oven to 400°F. On a baking tray lined with parchment paper spread the sweet potatoes. Drizzle 2 Tbsp olive oil, chili, cumin, and salt. Mix well and then bake in the oven for 20 minutes. When cooked, set aside to cool.

In a flat bottomed pan, sauté the onions with the remaining olive oil. Add the corn, beans, baked sweet potatoes, and salt and cook for a few minutes. Now adding the oregano and cilantro. Stir well to combine and remove from heat.

Place a griddle on medium heat. Put one tortilla and let it heat for about 30 seconds. Flip to the other side and do the same. Spread some cheese at the bottom on one half of the tortilla and then top with the vegetable mixture. Fold the tortilla into half and brush with olive oil. Flip the tortilla so that the oiled half starts cooking while you brush the other side with oil and flip again to cook. Serve on a dish and garnish with the dressing and cilantro.


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