Something Special is Cooking in Yolo County’s Head Start Kitchen


Lorena Madrigal de Lopez, left, Lead Cook for the program and Leticia Valencia, right, Cafeteria Assistant

Yolo’s County’s Head Start program, under the leadership of Stephanie Gray, Nutrition Services Coordinator, has some new flavors coming to their meal program. Black-eye Pea Salad, Baked Sweet Potato with Cheese and Broccoli Topping and Corn and Cheese Grits. Lorena Madrigal de Lopez, Lead Cook for the program and Leticia Valencia, Cafeteria Assistant, pictured above with Chicken Pot Pie,  participated in a Yolo Country Farm to School Professional Development class held at the Esparto Unified School District’s Central Kitchen in January that focused on using California specialty crops in the African flavor profile. Afterwards, Lorena and Leticia were inspired to bring some of the dishes to the youngsters in the Head Start program.

Black-eye Pea Salad See Recipe Below

Black-eye Pea Salad See Recipe Below

The cooking class was presented by us, Evans & Brennan, as part of a 3-year USDA Specialty Crops grant through the Yolo County Agricultural Commissioner’s office which has funded professional development classes 3 times per school year in each of Yolo County’s five school districts. “We are now in our third year,” says Brennan, “and for the final classes we’ve been featuring the 5 major culinary flavor profiles.” These include Asian, Mediterranean/European, Middle Eastern/Indian, Latin American as well as the African. As part of each class, Evans & Brennan bring an adult snack tray with foods from the region being presented for the cooking staff to sample. “Think of it as experiential education,” says Evans.

For the African Flavor classes, Evans made bowls of Black-Eyed Pea Salad for the adult snacks, as well as her favorite corn bread, served warm with local honey. Other snacks included plantain chips and banana chips, peanuts and cashews, all products of Africa.
Stacie Vasquez, Food Service Director at Esparto Unified School district chose several recipes to cook from a suggested list provided by Evans & Brennan – Corn Grits, the sweet potato dish, and Chicken Pot Pie with Biscuits. Evans & Brennan also provided the recipe for the Black Eyed Pea Salad. At the end of the session everyone joined in tasting the various dishes prepared, and discussed how they might make their way onto school lunch and supper programs.


Baked Sweet Potato with Cheese and Broccoli Topping

A few days after the class, we heard from Stephanie that Lorena and Leticia really liked the dishes and thought the salad, sweet potato, and grits dishes would be good addition to the program’s repertoire of meals, of which they serve 220 daily.

Head Start is a federal program, administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Head Start promotes the school readiness of children from low income families ages birth to 5 years by enhancing their cognitive, social and emotional development.

 Black-Eyed Pea Salad
25 servings; serving size ½ cup

This salad is best if made from dried black-eyed peas that have been cooked until just barely tender. Overcooked or canned peas tend to be quite soft and don’t hold up well in salads.
½ to ¾ cup fresh lime juice (from about 6 -8 limes)
2 ½ cups chopped flat-leaf parsley
¾ – 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
12 ½ cups cooked black –eyed peas (about 6 cups dried), well-drained
20 green onions, chopped
2 large red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
2 ½ cups cherry tomatoes, chopped (do not include juice)
2 large English cucumbers, peeled and minced
4 – 5 Serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded, and minced
3- 4 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
2-3 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

In a large bowl, whisk together the lime juice and the parsley. Continue whisking while drizzling in the olive oil. Add the drained black-eyed peas, green onions, bell peppers, tomato, cucumber, and Serrano chile to the bowl. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper, and gently turn the salad, being careful not to crush the black-eyed peas. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour and up to overnight for the flavors to blend. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper, if needed, before serving.

Adapted from Saveur Magazine

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