Students create astronaut meal that’s out of this world

Published 7:52 AM EDT, Wed May 25, 2016

Story highlights

Ted pepper risotto created by New Jersey students won the ISS culinary challenge

The dish will be processed for flight and sent up in November

CNN —  

Would you like red pepper risotto in a place where everything around you is floating in space?

NASA is sure it will be a hit amongst crewmembers on the International Space Station. It declared the dish, created by high school students from Passaic County Technical Institute in Wayne, New Jersey, the winner in this year’s culinary challenge. Carolan Terrero, Jada Sanders and Sierra Bronas were on the Passaic team.

“The combination of the fire roasted pepper puree, the protein filled edamame, the saltiness of the asiago cheese, along with the creaminess of the rice cooked slowly in our housemade vegetable stock is surely going impress and satisfy the perfect image of a risotto,” the team wrote in its presentation. “Within our research, while writing our paper and learning about food preparation in space, we determined that a risotto would work best with the rehydration process and microgravity conditions presented upon the astronauts.”

From left, Carolan Terrero, Jada Sanders and Sierra Bronas of the Passaic County Technical Institute team.
David DeHoyos - NASA - JSC
From left, Carolan Terrero, Jada Sanders and Sierra Bronas of the Passaic County Technical Institute team.

It was the second culinary challenge through the program High School Students United with NASA to Create Hardware, or HUNCH. This year’s competition encouraged high school teams to create a vegetable entree with between 300 and 500 calories (less than 30% of those from fat), 300 mg or less of sodium, 8 grams or less of sugar and 3 grams or more of fiber. It also needed to be something that can be processed well for flight and for use in microgravity, according to NASA.

ISS crewmembers specifically wanted a vegetable entree, rather than just a side dish, according to NASA HUNCH project engineer Alli Westover.

Edible experiments

Because this is STEM program, the high school teams also had to submit a two-minute video and paper detailing how their dish would translate to being rehydrated on the space station. Panel judges included a former astronaut, the ISS deputy program director, the director of Johnson Space Center’s Food Lab, HUNCH representatives and food lab scientists.

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They evaluated each dish using a sensory evaluation sheet, including taste, texture and odor. Panelists praised the risotto for its flavor combination and spiciness, without being too spicy.

Earlier this year, 21 high school culinary teams from across the country competed in the challenge and submitted their dishes for tasting at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Afterward, the challenge was narrowed to 10 teams who traveled to Johnson Space Center in Houston. They cooked their entrees in the Space Food Systems Laboratory and submitted them before a panel for the final tasting in April.

The winning recipe

Coming in at second place was a butternut squash puree from Trussville High School in Trussville, Alabama. A Mexican brown rice paella from the Huntsville Center for Technology in Huntsville, Alabama, followed in third place.

ISS crewmembers Tim Kopra, Jeff Williams and Tim Peake already enjoyed last year’s winning entree, a spicy Jamaican rice and beans with coconut milk, after it arrived via SpaceX Dragon cargo vehicle in early April.

The risotto will be sent up in November after the Johnson Space Center Food Lab processes it for flight. Most food on the ISS is preserved through freeze-drying or thermostabilization, or preservation by heat.

“Our astronauts are bold, distinguished, and dedicated,” the winning team wrote in its paper. “The least we can do to contribute to their commitment is offer our gratitude through our immense passion and devotion to cooking.”

Want to try the recipe for yourself? Here is the recipe (before NASA processes it for flight):

Red pepper risotto

  • ½ cup arborio rice
  • 2 teaspoons chili confit
  • 2 cups housemade vegetable stock
  • 2 ounces shelled edamame
  • 2 teaspoons pignoli nuts
  • 10 basil leaves
  • ½ ounce Asiago cheese
  • ½ ounce red pepper puree

• In a saucepan, warm the vegetable broth over low heat.

• Warm 2 teaspoons chili confit in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.

• Add rice, stirring to coat with oil for about 2 minutes. When the rice has taken

on a pale, golden color, add ½ cup broth to the rice, and stir until the broth has

been absorbed.

• Continue adding broth ½ cup at a time, stirring continuously, until the liquid is

absorbed and the rice is al dente, about 15 to 20 minutes.

• Remove from heat, and stir in edamame, pignoli nuts, basil leaves, Asiago cheese

and red pepper puree.

• Place the risotto in the bowl and garnish with edamame, pignoli and Asiago.

Decorate the plate with pepper puree.