Najwa Was Tonight’s Chef: Steak, White Rice and Steamed Broccoli

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When I asked Najwa if she was hungry, she immediately came down from her room and planted herself at the dining table. Only there was no food. She was confused until I told her that she was cooking us dinner.

Preparing eggs was pretty easy, but this was going to be a bit more intensive. We’re having steak with white rice and steamed broccoli.

Because the rice cooker takes the longest, we started there.

Najwa made two cups of Thai jasmine rice. Unlike the boxed rices, Asian rices need to be washed. There are faint traces of arsenic on some of the rices. Maybe not this bag of rice, but after watching my mom wash the rice throughout my childhood, it’s become a force of habit.

Rice is an easy, enjoyable food that can bulk up a meal for pennies. But should you stop eating it to avoid the health risks from arsenic?

Consumer Reports tested 223 samples of rice products and found significant levels of arsenic in almost all of them, including white, brown, parboiled, jasmine, basmati, and other types of rice.

Arsenic was found in rice whether it was organic or conventional — and from all regions of the world.

Other than for health reasons, rinsing the rice washes away surface starches. Surface starches and other debris causes the rice to clump together a bit too much to be enjoyable.

It usually only takes a few minutes to really cleanse the rice. But when I explained to Najwa that arsenic can lead to some serious health issues, she made sure to clean it thoroughly.

Then I explained to her the concept of two parts of water. If we used two cups of rice, how much water do we need? Getting the math wasn’t the lesson. Just want to get used to understanding what it means to say x parts of something.

The rice was going to take a moment so we took a 15-minute break. I didn’t want to overwhelm her with too much learning in too short of time. Cooking does seem easy, but when it’s your first time, it can be a bit much. Najwa was handling everything as if it was made of delicate materials. She was probably overthinking everything, not wanting to mess up. And the next parts were going to need a clear mind. Cutting the broccoli and frying the steaks.

We started with the broccoli. And I can’t say enough of how relieved I am as a parent that she eats broccoli because of its health benefits. Even enjoys it. It’s high in a bunch of nutrients, has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits, and is high in digestive fibers.

Now, if I can keep her from cutting her fingers off…

The most stressful part of cooking seems to be turning on the stove. When the electronic ignition is making the snapping sound, she tenses up. And when the flame whooshes, she flinches a bit. I mean, she really finds it a bit distressful, but I don’t know what else to do. The stove is a pretty important part of cooking.

Next up was the steaks. Not much to see here. Sprinkle some salt and pepper, pour a little cooking oil in the pan, make sure the oil covers the entire surface of the pan and tossed the meat in.

While the steaks were cooking, we checked up on the rice. It was a bit mushier than I was hoping, but I do think our cheap rice cooker prefers 1.5 parts water to rice. That’s what happens when you don’t get the rice cooker from an Asian store. She also wanted to spray some butter on the broccoli. She learned that from her mom; it was new to me.

Now, it’s the waiting game. With nothing else to do, she was ready to step away until the food was done. You know, leave the rest to dad?

This, I explained, is where most people go wrong with cooking. It doesn’t take much to overcook the meat. Until you get a feel for it, you have to vigilantly check on the meat to see when it’s done. You don’t want it to be too charred on the outside or too pink on the inside. What’s worse is when you have both.

So, she had to sit there and monitor the food. And she was bored.

And finally, it was done. We tossed the steaks on the plate, headed to the dining room, and it was on.

Najwa did a good job. There were moments she almost lost it, like when it was time to toss the steaks in. I did the first one, explain how to hold the fork, how to lay the steak down gently, how to position it in the pan. Najwa stabbed it and tossed it like a bean sack in a game of cornhole. She wanted to make sure she didn’t keep her hand over the heat too long for it to burn, but instead, splashed the grease. I thought of this earlier. Usually I’ll use a lot of oil, but I kept it a small amount, having a feeling that we’ll be splashing grease at some point.

She got some splashed grease spray, enough to shock her, but not enough to burn. I took over the flipping of the meat. She’ll get better.

Afterwards, she said cooking was easy. She didn’t find it relaxing [not sure where she got that notion] but it was fun. With that said, it’s time to get her a cookbook.

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