Trying to feed a picky kid? We might have what you need
Plenty of food debates were going on in our house during the recent lockdown. Unlike in normal times, when the kids were presented with their dinner, no questions asked, we found time to play restaurant (while badly missing the real thing) and discuss the next day’s menu in detail.
Like many boys his age, our youngest son, Flynn, who is 4, would present a wish list of items that were exclusively carby and wholly white. Doughboy, as we like to call him, would ask for naked bread to start, followed by “pasta with nothing,” then plain potatoes and, to finish, a slice of cake, ideally served with leftover pancakes from breakfast.
As I was cooking one of his bread-centered meals, I was giggling to myself, thinking of some classic carb-on-carb extremes, such as the chip butty, a British phenomenon. It’s, essentially, two slices of buttered white bread with a mountain of fries in between them. Or, I suppose equally bizarre to an outsider, the pitas I had growing up in Israel, stuffed with shawarma and salad, and then topped with lots of potato chips and an optional spoonful of fried pita croutons for crunch.
Satisfying Flynn’s starchy needs also made me think of maaqouda, a North African staple. These are little fried mashed potato cakes or fritters, often sold on the street, either on their own or stuffed into bread with harissa or tomato sauce. I had the sandwich version a few times in Tunisia and Morocco and never felt a carb overload. The secret lies in a fine balance of textures – a little doughy, not at all dry, with a tiny bit of crunch – and a clear underlying flavor that holds everything together.
Recreating traditional maaqouda was a lunch plan I had one day, before I quickly backtracked after realizing that Flynn may not be getting all the nutrients he actually needs – horrific scenes of scurvy came to mind – if I stick strictly to his dream menu. Instead, I made a large baked version, into which I added ingredients I had on hand: cheese, herbs, spring onion and lots of frozen peas. I slid the mix into hot oil before it went into the oven, which kept some of the fried effect on the outside.
My compromise version of maaqouda was, generally, very well received and became a blueprint for future meals, where I folded in different ingredients I wanted to use up. (Spinach worked well, as did roasted pepper and corn.)
Flynn, however, wasn’t totally impressed. “Too many peas,” he exclaimed.
He did insist, though, on having the leftovers stuffed into a sandwich that evening, with some ketchup, which kind of worked.
Spring onion and cheese potato cake can be made two ways.