Come Into My Kitchen

Lentil tacos take 12-year-old Joey Heidari of Olathe all the way to the White House

Joey Heidari, 12, created her Lentil Tacos With Cilantro-Avocado Drizzle the night before a contest deadline. The recipe earned her a trip to the White House to meet first lady Michelle Obama.
Joey Heidari, 12, created her Lentil Tacos With Cilantro-Avocado Drizzle the night before a contest deadline. The recipe earned her a trip to the White House to meet first lady Michelle Obama. skeyser@kcstar.com

Joey Heidari, a 12-year-old Olathe resident, writes recipes that are White House worthy. Joey was the Kansas winner of the fifth-annual Healthy Lunchtime Challenge — part of first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative — with her recipe for Lentil Tacos With Cilantro-Avocado Drizzle and Mango-Peach Smoothie.

On July 14, Joey attended the Kids’ “State Dinner” in Washington, D.C., accompanied by her mother, Abby Heidari. The Heidaris met the first lady at the White House luncheon, along with 55 other winners, one from each U.S. state, territory and the District of Columbia.

An Oregon Trail Middle School seventh-grader and oldest child of Abby and Reza Heidari, Joey also cooks with her younger siblings, Aiden, 9, and Taylor, 6, and friends.

“Joey has cooked with me since she was about 4 years old, and it’s inspiring to see kids cook with pride,“ Abby says. “We’re so very proud of Joey, and it’s wonderful to watch her blossom with confidence, both in and outside the kitchen.”

Q: What was it like meeting the first lady and being able to talk to her about your winning recipes?

A: I really feel like it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I didn’t show how excited I was on the outside, but I had butterflies in my stomach. Mrs. Obama was so nice to me, and we talked about the recipes I developed.

My cooking tip is that the more colors from the rainbow you can incorporate into a dish from natural foods, the healthier the recipe is. My recipes use corn, peaches, cabbage, cilantro and garlic, all of which are grown in Kansas. That was also part of the challenge — to use as many local ingredients as possible in your recipe.

Q: So, what inspired your White House winning recipes?

A: My mom is a dietitian, and she had heard about the lunchtime challenge, which encourages kids between the ages of 8 and 12 to create an original, affordable recipe that includes ingredients from each major food group. I began to develop the recipe the day before the deadline, and since we always have lentils in our pantry and they’re budget-friendly, I started there.

My recipes have many healthy ingredients from each food group, according to the nutrition guide MyPlate. The tortillas have whole grains and are stuffed with vegetables, purple cabbage and garlic; fruits, pineapple and avocado; and protein, lentils and Greek yogurt. I also made a mango-peach smoothie to add more fruit and dairy to the meal.

My family enjoyed eating this, so I submitted this as my recipe the next day and was shocked and excited to be the winner from Kansas.

Q: Does your mom inspire your adventurous appetite?

A: As early as I can remember, I’ve always been in the kitchen, helping my mom stir up something. She encourages me to experiment with food, and I like adding spices to recipes we make. She inspires my family and others to be the healthiest they can be by eating healthy, tasty food.

I play volleyball and basketball, so I know I have to eat good foods to fuel my body, but I also like to make and decorate cupcakes, too.

Q: Do you now see yourself as aspiring to be a White House chef — or perhaps president — someday?

A: I really enjoy art and will probably have a creative career in an art-related job. I guess I also see cooking as a form of creativity. I especially like making food look good — decorating cupcakes or piping the cilantro-avocado drizzle on top of these tacos to make them hopefully look as good as they taste.

When you start cooking, you can’t be afraid to make mistakes. The first time I made macaroni and cheese from a box, I didn’t drain the water, and we had macaroni and cheese soup. But I learned from my mistake, and now it’s an experience we talk about that makes us laugh.

When I cook, I sometimes feel like a mad scientist, experimenting with food. Now, through this experience, I’ve made friends with others from across the United States who share my interest in creating healthy foods, and that feels good. Plus, the best part of making food is eating it and sharing it with others.

Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at pepi@kc.rr.com to nominate a cook.

Lentil Tacos With Cilantro-Avocado Drizzle

Makes 4 servings

For the tacos:

1 1/4 cups water, divided use

1/2 cup green lentils, washed

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, peeled and minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground ancho chili pepper

Cilantro-avocado drizzle:

1 small ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and thinly sliced

1/2 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 garlic clove, peeled and minced

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

For the assembly:

4 whole-grain tortillas

1 cup shredded purple cabbage

1/2 cup canned pineapple tidbits, drained

1 lime, quartered

To prepare lentils: In a large stockpot, bring 1 cup water to a boil over medium heat. Add lentils, return to boiling, reduce heat to low, partially cover and simmer for 25 minutes or until cooked al dente. Remove lentils from heat and drain. Set aside.

In a small sauté pan, warm olive oil over medium heat on stovetop and add garlic. Sauté for 1 minute, then add prepared lentils, salt, oregano, cumin, chili pepper and remaining  1/4 cup water to pan. Turn heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes or until most of the water evaporates. Set aside.

To prepare cilantro-avocado drizzle: Into the bowl of a food processor, pulse avocado, Greek yogurt, salt, garlic and cilantro until well combined and smooth. Transfer to a small bowl or piping bag.

To assemble tacos: Evenly divide lentil mixture between 4 tortillas. Top each equally with cabbage, and pineapple. Spoon or pipe cilantro-avocado mixture equally over each filled tortilla and serve with a wedge of lime.

Per serving: 368 calories (28 percent from fat), 12 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), 1 milligram cholesterol, 55 grams carbohydrates, 15 grams protein, 824 milligrams sodium, 12 grams dietary fiber.

Mango-Peach Smoothie

Makes 4 servings

1 cup sliced frozen peaches

1 cup frozen mango chunks

1 cup low-fat milk

1 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt

In the bowl of a blender, combine peaches, mango, milk and Greek yogurt until ingredients are well incorporated and the consistency of a thick shake.

Equally divide mixture between 4 glasses and serve immediately.

Per serving: 107 calories (11 percent from fat), 1 gram total fat (1 gram saturated), 6 milligrams cholesterol, 19 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams protein, 75 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.

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