Geography lessons begin on a plate

  • Updated: March 14, 2012 - 2:20 PM

A simple meal helps children explore the world.

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Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps

When I first started as a culinary instructor many years ago in a small town outside of Cleveland, I was so excited to get the opportunity to teach anything, that I said yes to teaching everything.

"Can you teach pierogies?" Of course.

"Can you do the hands-on pasta classes?" No problem.

"Can you teach a four-class series on Thai cuisine?" Umm, I think I can. And I could, but not until I did some serious homework on the subject, which included many Southeast Asian dinners at my house.

What was interesting about the experience, and many similar ones since, is how much my children learned about the places I was researching for various books, articles and classes. Like the fact that in Thailand they almost always use a fork and large spoon to eat their meals, rather than chopsticks. And they don't typically eat in courses, or have individual plates for each person at the table. Everything is served at once and all the dishes are shared.

Although this global culinary knowledge is not going to guarantee an A in geography or world studies class, it has increased my kids' understanding of the world they live in. After all, if you can relate to the food, you can probably find a way to relate to the people.

Will exposing your kids to foods from around the planet bring world peace? Maybe not. But it will definitely bring some delicious dishes to the dinner table.

One of the foods my kids enjoyed most as a result of my Thai food phase is larb (sometimes spelled laab), which is cooked ground meat mixed with an assortment of flavorful ingredients, and often served in a lettuce cup, eaten like a taco. It's a dish we liked so much that it's in fairly regular rotation in my daily dinner lineup.

While the traditional larb has many items that may not be in the average American household's pantry (although they are in mine now), I have developed another version with easier to find ingredients. While not necessarily authentic, it does make for a nice introduction to the dish that, with luck, will inspire you to research the original and take a field trip to your local Asian market.

And bring the kids along. You never know what they'll learn.

Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of "Everyday to Entertaining" and "The Big Book of Appetizers." Reach her at meredith@meredithdeeds.com. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.

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