The Rise of Diversity in School Nutrition

Somali immigrant girls
Somali immigrant girls

I had the pleasure of being Winston Foodservice’s school nutrition guru, so I got to travel the U.S. and see and talk to many school nutrition departments. Many are similar in structure, but the real personality of each district is a reflection of the people who serve, and are served by it. It makes me proud to see Winston equipment in so many kitchens. I am fond of seeing the pride in the teams who love what they do. The real head turner for me has been the kids who love the tasty, healthy food that is being served now!

School Menus Reflect the School Community

What makes this story uniquely American is how we adopt foods that lean toward the ethnicities of the folks who have emigrated here. This is happening in schools across the country, and most kids love the variety. And of course for some it is a…learning experience!

The School Nutrition Association has noted a growing prevalence of ethnic food choices in school cafeterias, with schools offering Mexican and Asian dishes, and many experimenting with Middle Eastern, Greek, Kosher/Halal, and Indian foods.

Students in Miami-Dade County Public Schools have been invited to choose from teriyaki chicken with lo mein noodles, curry chicken salad, black beans and rice bowls, and Cuban-style roast pork. The district offers a wide range of Hispanic dishes throughout the year, including arroz con pollo and picadillo with rice and plantains.

A Growing Somali Community

School nutrition future leaders met for the National Leadership Conference in Minneapolis. This part of the story of Somalis coming to Minneapolis-St. Paul is a story of freedom. Somalis first immigrated to the Twin Cities as voluntary migrants in the 1980s and earlier. They journeyed to attend school or to establish businesses, including many professions. Other Somalis arrived in the United States after the start of the civil war in Somalia during the early 1990s, or from other parts of Greater Somalia. Many of the newer arrivals moved to Minnesota through voluntary agencies (VOLAGS), who helped them settle in. Somalis that had arrived earlier also assisted the more recent immigrants.

So of course Somali food from home had a profound effect on the Twin Cities. And made its way on to school lunch menus in both school districts.

How About Some Chicken Suqqar?

Chicken suqqar is basically meat and veggies, Somali style. It was such a big hit at St. Paul School District’s Somali Parent Advisory Council meeting that they released the recipe! I thought you might like to try it! Like any cook, I took a few liberties, such as using brown basmati rice under the mixture. Instead of chicken base, I used boxed broth and reduced it with chicken breast. Then I removed and diced the chicken, added it back in, and then followed the original directions. And instead of canned carrots, I chose to use fresh. You can do it anyway you like because this dish very versatile.

By the way, the school nutrition department where your kids go to school would be more than happy to have you as a guest to try the food being served. Just go to the district website and click on the Food and Nutrition Department. My experience has been that they want you to share their sense of pride in the local delicious diversity that they serve as a part of your community.

okra fries

Chicken Ballotine

chicken ballotine
chicken ballotine

As I have worked my way down the East Coast, I have always taken away something from restaurants. For example, I spent some time in a Philadelphia kitchen that was one of the most creative places I have ever been in. We would manipulate products in directions that I had not considered possible before. We sometimes juiced onions for soup, for instance. There were also items on that menu that were so easy and so delicious, that you would wish you had thought of them first.

The recipe I am offering is one that combines both easy preparation and wonderful manipulation of the product. This is a tried-and-true recipe that never came off the menu, and its preparation is simple enough that one can serve a restaurant-quality menu item at home.

Definition of Ballotine: In the culinary arts, a traditional ballotine is a deboned leg of a chicken, duck or other poultry stuffed with ground meat and other ingredients, tied and cooked. A ballotine is usually cooked by braising or poaching. Modern kitchens make ballotine with other parts of the poultry. Sometimes, they use the breast and not strictly the leg. You can make a modern ballotine using any type of meat, not limited to poultry. Source: Merriam-Webster.

Chicken Ballotine

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours 15 minutes
Yield: 4 Portions

Ingredients / Quantity

  • 2 Chickens, whole
  • 8 oz Mushrooms, crimini, sliced, cooked
  • 2 Tbs Thyme, picked, minced
  • 1 Cup Cream
  • 4 tsp Salt
  • 2 Cups chicken thighs (fat, bone, and connective tissue removed)
Fresh Raw Chicken

The Directions

  • Preheat the CVap Cook and Hold to 165°F Vapor/165°F Air (legacy 165°F +0).
  • Lay the chicken breast-side down on a cutting board.
  • Score the skin of the chicken from the top to the bottom of the bird along the spine. Remove the wings at the top of the breast.
  • Flip the chicken over and remove the breast from the keel bone. It is important that you do not separate the skin on the back of the bird while doing this.
  • Flip the chicken back over onto the breast and peel the skin from the neck all the way down and off the leg of the bird. Make sure to keep the breast meat attached to the skin. Repeat this process on the other breast.

Remove the Meat

  • Next, you remove the breasts from the birds and lay it meat side up. Cut the breast at a 45° angle from the top of the breast to the tail. Do not cut all the way through the breast.
  • Next, refrigerate the breasts until they are ready to be filled.
  • Remove the legs from the bird. Debone the legs and remove all the fat and connective tissue from the meat.
  • In a food processor add the leg meat and salt (2 teaspoons). Turn the food processor on and combine the ingredients. Combine ingredients for about 1.5 minutes until it is smooth, then slowly drizzle in the cream. Add the mushrooms and thyme. Place the forcemeat in a piping bag and reserve.
  • Remove the breasts from the refrigerator and lay them out breast side up. Season with the remaining 2 teaspoons of salt.
  • Pipe the forcemeat into the cut breast and roll the breast so the skin is completely covering the breast meat.
  • Line a counter/ table with plastic wrap. With the box of plastic wrap at the top of the table, tear off a piece that is 20 inches long and place the rolled chicken breast about 6 inches from the bottom.

Roll the chicken

  • Roll the plastic over the chicken breast and continue to roll the breast to the top of the plastic wrap. Make sure the plastic wrap is tight to the breast.
  • Once the chicken is rolled, grab the edges of the plastic wrap at the ends of the chicken breast and hold firmly. Roll the chicken on the lined table/ counter surface to tighten the ballotine.
  • Tuck the ends of the plastic wrap to the bottom of the ballotine and wrap in another piece of plastic wrap to secure them. Repeat this process with the remaining chicken breasts.
  • Place the ballotines in the CVap Cook and Hold. Cook for approximately two hours, or until internal temperature reaches 165°F.
  • Remove them from the cook and hold oven. Heat a pot of oil to 350°F to fry the ballotines.
  • After ballotines are cooked, remove them from the oven and let them stand for two minutes.
  • Remove the ballotines from the plastic and pat dry.
  • Next, fry them in the oil for approximately 3 to five minutes, until they are golden brown.
  • Remove from oil and let stand five. minutes before slicing and serving.

Kickin’ Chicken Noodle Soup: A Bowl Full of Delicious!

chicken noodle soup stewing

There’s something deeply satisfying about chicken noodle soup. It resonates with most people. It’s good for the body. Soothing for the soul. It transports you to a nostalgic happy place from your childhood. Chicken soup is transcendental.

It can also be an eloquent expression of different techniques. We utilized both CVap® and Collectramatic® equipment to create a chicken soup with a robust flavor profile and a broad range of textures.

For the broth, we combined chicken carcasses and aromatics, including carrots, onions, celery, thyme, sage, parsley, and rosemary. It was slowly reduced in a CVap Cook and Hold Oven set at 180°F Vapor/210°F Air for eight hours, with Constant Cook ON.

chicken soup stock
Chicken thighs were vacuum-sealed with olive oil and salt and poached at 165°F Vapor/175°F Air for two hours with Constant Cook ON. The result was a confit with an almost buttery texture. We removed the skin from the poached chicken and open fried it in a Collectramatic fryer at 350°F for four minutes.
chicken poached in CVap
deep frying chicken skin in collectramatic
Next we steamed celery, carrots, and onions in a CVap at 200°F Vapor/200°F Air for one hour. After that the steamed veggies joined the stock. This tasty concoction was held until it was time to assemble the plates. We purchased fresh noodles from Whole Foods Market and steamed them at the same settings as the vegetables.
adding veggies to the chicken broth
what's chicken soup without noodles.

Next came the plating. We started with the steamed noodles and topped them with the vegetables, followed by pulled confit of chicken.

Finally, we poured hot stock over the bowls and garnished with fresh herbs and the fried chicken skin crisps.

The final result was a soup that was blissful. It combined so many textures and flavors. Our tastebuds were delighted, and our souls satisfied.

noodles and chicken plated
herbs for chicken soup

It just doesn’t get more satiating than that!

choppin chicken
chicken noodle soup stewing