A K/1 assembling a Whoopie Pie

“Does anyone know what is happening now in Egypt?” Blank stares from my K/1’s.
“Has anyone heard of Egypt?” A sniffle and a sneeze are audible.

This is not an outrageous question. Whenever we make an international dish I attempt to place it for my students and set a context. The first question worked great in my 4/5 class the day before. My students started a political discussion about revolutions and presidents all on their own. Unable to get one word in, I was barely able to quiet them to continue. I thought I would try it with my K/1’s.

“So…” I continue, “Egypt is having a revolution,” I pause and try to think of simple words for the topic.
“What’s ‘revolution’?” A student asks.
Maybe I got in over my head.
“It’s when people like you and me don’t like what the government is doing, come together and try to change it.”
“What’s a ‘government’?” Another students asks.
“Umm…” What did I start? “It’s like… Obama.”
“But I like Obama.”
“I’m not talking about Obama, I’m talking about Egypt.”
“But I like Obama.”
“Sure, Obama. Egypt has it’s own president though the people don’t like.”

Some seem to sort of understand, but I decide to get out before I get too deep. We’re in cooking class, and while I’d love to devote the next 45 minutes to sorting out this topic for my K/1’s, I’m excited to cook our dish and move on.

“Anyway,” I continue, “we’re making an Egyptian street food dish called kushari.”
“Koo-sha-ree. Instead of hot dogs and pretzels, like in New York, this is the dish you would buy on the street.”
“But I like hot dogs.”

Some things just go over their head. That is okay. They’re young. The topic was too big. It’s hard to separate one’s own reality from a larger picture of the world, from a place you have never been to — or never heard about. My 4/5’s, on the other hand, entered a whole discussion about ingredients in a hot dog (following our discussion on revolutions, of course).

We make our kushari. It’s delicious, I think. I think they agree since there is silence as we eat. So I ask, setting myself up for disaster, “What do you think? Would you like to eat this as street food instead of hot dogs and pretzels?”

They are too busy eating. There are nods of approval and requests for seconds instead.

As last week ended I was feeling good. My students were enjoying kushari all around, even the pickiest of eaters. We had some political discussions, delved into industrial processing of hot dogs and overall set a positive stage for the new semester. I was feeling so good I gave them their Valentine treat this week of Whoopie Pies.

The easy way to describe whoopie pies is that it’s two cupcake tops held together with frosting, often marshmallow-based. Some of my students had requested red velvet cupcakes, some had requested we make pie. Why not make cupcakes that are called pie?

Setting the stage for this semester, it appears we’ll have a diversified menu that perhaps mimics the ups and downs of real life — going from revolutions to making whoopie, the spring semester is off to an interesting start.

Egyptian Kushari
Explore: cloves, allspice, cinnamon, coriander, turmeric, star anise
Adapted from Ali el Sayad of Kebab Café in Astoria, Queens
4 servings

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 small onions, diced (about 1 cup diced onions)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 whole cloves
2 allspice berries
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
1 whole star anise
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon coriander
1 cup small shaped (uncooked) pasta (elbows)
1 cup (uncooked) white rice
1/2 cup (uncooked) green lentils
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon white vinegar
fried onions, for garnish
(optional for garnish) cooked chickpeas, fresh tomatoes, scallion, basil or other herb

In a small saucepot bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add lentils, cover and remove from heat. Let sit at least 10 minutes.

Warm olive oil in a large saucepot over medium-high heat. Add onions, garlic, cloves, allspice, bay leaves, cinnamon, star anise, salt, turmeric, paprika and coriander, cook for 2 minutes, until fragrant. Stir in the pasta and rice, until lightly toasted, about 3 minutes, until rice grains are translucent. Drain lentils and add to saucepot along with crushed tomatoes, vinegar and 3 cups water. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally and adding more water if necessary, about 15 minutes, until rice and lentils are tender.

Serve with fried onions for garnish, along with any additional herbs.

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