We’re proud to introduce our newest NBC Latino contributor Michelle Bernstein, a James Beard Foundation Award-winning Miami chef known for her Latin-style flavors and various acclaimed restaurants, including Sra. Martinez and Michy’s. Michelle, a new mamá, will write regularly about her experience in cooking for children.
I have a confession: this Sunday will be my very first Mother’s Day as a mom. For nearly a decade, I had been dreaming of becoming a mother; but it was only eight months ago that my dream finally came true. That’s when my son—my beautiful gordito named Zachary—was born.
In the time since then, I’ve experienced more emotions than I ever thought I had. At first, I was terrified of being alone with him. Me, a woman who runs three restaurants, who thrives in the heat and pressure of a busy kitchen, afraid of being alone with my baby! One night, when he started throwing up uncontrollably, I thought: what have I gotten myself into? Ultimately, the biggest surprise has been just how hard I’ve fallen in love with my chubby little Zach. I love my parents, my husband, my dogs, my career, but never did I imagine I would feel this intensely about anything. Let alone a bald little man with six teeth.
It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that my favorite thing to do for Zach is cook him his meals. And though I’m a trained chef with years of experience, I learn new things every day as I experiment with food for him. I make homemade compotas of boniato and apples and corn, creamy blends that satiate my baby’s sweet cravings. I cook tiny pieces of ditalini pasta, orzo, Israeli couscous or quinoa in homemade chicken stock to infuse them with extra protein that helps my boy build immunities. I bind green veggies like spinach and peas with cooked and mashed carrots or squash, which adds a little sweetness to his meal but still helps develop his savory palette. I cook beef stew and lentils in chicken stock, pulse them in a food processor and let them come to room temperature to make a just-thick-enough puree that retains a little texture so he can put to use those brand new teeth.
And then I watch. As Zach tastes something for the first time, I watch discovery and surprise spread across his cheeks, his eyes opening wide, looking at me as if saying, Wow Mami…what was that?! I watch as he feels a brand new texture on his tiny tongue, which is usually followed by a funny little head bob, a wordless indicator that an attack on his senses is taking place. He loves flavor and things that make his mouth tingle and the chef in me just melts over that.
Yet, of all the things I’ve made for him, there are still a few I can only dream about. I dream of him one day saying, Mami, can you make me a sandwich? I dream of making him a chicken salad and wonder: Will he like mayonnaise? I dream of baking him his first chocolate cake. (His birthday is coming up in September and I’m determined to find a way to give him at least a lick of chocolate frosting!) Above all, I dream of teaching him about the magic and love and culture that comes from our food.
Today, I’m sharing a recipe for one of the very first meals Zach and I shared. I call it the Baby and Me Chicken Soup. I believe it’s important that he and I eat together and that, when we can, we eat the same or similar things. Because sharing food, as any good Latino knows, is the essence of our family bonds.
Baby & Me Sopa de Pollo
1 organic whole peeled chicken
2 springs of dill
2 ears of corn, husk and silk removed
1 yellow onion, 1/4 inch diced
1 chayote, cut in a 1/4 inch diced
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into small pieces, approximately 1/4 inch
2 yukon gold potatoes, cut into small pieces, approximately 1/4 inch
3 carrots, cut into small pieces, approximately 1/4 inch
1/2 cup of the tiniest pasta you can find, ditalini, tiny alphabet or orzo
1. Place chicken in a large pot and cover with cold water. Add sprigs of dill. Bring the water to a boil and reduce the heat. Then, simmer for an hour. Remove any foamy substance that comes to the top while cooking. Remove the chicken and dill, reserving the broth. Set the chicken aside to cool. Add the vegetables, the pasta and a pinch of salt to the broth. Cook, over low heat, for 20 minutes. Strain the mixture and set the veggies and pasta aside to cool for baby.
2. Shred the chicken into larger pieces for you and smaller pieces for the baby. Add the large pieces of chicken back into the pot with larger cuts of vegetables for the adults and cook for 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender and serve. For the baby, serve the pasta, tiny vegetables and small pieces of shredded chicken at room temperature.