Saturday, September 18, 2010

Saturday Throwback: Learning to Love the Foods You Hate: A Guide for Frugal Eaters

Every Saturday, we post a piece from the CHG archives. This one is from April 2009.

Up until a few years ago, the list of foods I loathed was a long one. It included, but wasn’t limited to: spaghetti squash, broccoli, asparagus, red cabbage, ginger ale, cauliflower, radishes, lentils, beans, Brussels sprouts, fennel, eggplant, anise, scallops, figs, and of course, the dreaded mayonnaise. The list goes on (and on), but you get the idea: growing up, I wasn’t exactly a daring eater.

I still hate mayo. I will ALWAYS hate mayo. George Clooney could serve me mayo wrapped in chocolate bacon on a gold-plated re-issue of Who’s Next, and I would throw it back in his face. But my opinion’s changed on most of those other foods. These days, I’ll gladly scarf a floret of cauliflower. Brussels sprouts hold a special place on my dinner table. And eggplant? Well, eggplant is my favorite thing ever, aside from the panda song from Sifl and Olly. (In fact, you could say I’m drunk on eggplant mystery.)

Granted, part of it is just me aging. At 31-years-old, my palate’s matured a little, and my tastes now lean more toward savory than sweet. The other part, though, can be directly attributed to recent changes in my lifestyle.

See, a few years ago, I resolved to learn to cook, to eat healthier, and to better manage my money. As it turned out, vegetables and legumes were vital to making this work, since they’re exponentially cheaper than meat and much more nutritious than most starches. So, I had to confront my fears. I had to expand my produce repertoire beyond corn, carrots, corn, and carrots.

These strategies helped. I learned to tolerate, and even love, a lot of foods I had longstanding issues with. Try ‘em for yourself, and please add your own suggestions to the comment section.

Make it unrecognizable.
Case study: Eggplant
Seedy, mushy, and horrifically purple, eggplant appealed to me about as much as a drug-free colonoscopy. Then, in 1997, my friend H hid it in her homemade tomato sauce. And … revelation. Soon, I was on to eggplant dips, eggplant pastas, and finally, plain ol’ broiled eggplant. The trick was getting the image of the vegetable out of my head, and forcing me to associate it with otherwise good food. I suspect it would work beautifully with any vegetable that could be pureed or furtively included in a sauce (butternut squash, bell peppers, etc.).

Use it in a recipe with foods you love.
Case study: Brussels sprouts
As far as I was concerned, Brussels sprouts were tiny, bitter cabbages that masochists ate when they ran out of bigger bitter cabbages. Little did I know that slathering them in Parmesan would provide a delicious gateway into healthier, simpler preparations. See also: Red Cabbage (ew) with Honey (nice), Apples (yay!), and Bacon (king of cured meats). It's actually quite scrumptious.

Try it in an ethnic dish.
Case study: Broccoli
Broccoli: looks like trees, tastes like butt, right? Yeah, I used to think like that, too. But in high school, Ma ordered Chicken and Broccoli from our local Chinese joint, Da How. Suddenly, it was broccoli: looks like trees, tastes like HEAVEN (with garlic and brown sauce). Sometimes, a food is more appealing when its paired with flavors you’re not necessarily accustomed to. Like bean sprouts on top of Pad Thai. Or peas stuffed in a samosa. Or tomatillo sauce spread across an enchilada. Pick a cuisine and start experimenting.

Cook the best-reviewed recipe you can find featuring that food.
Case study: Cauliflower
Most aggregate recipe sites like Epicurious, Food Network, and All Recipes have sophisticated rating systems with which home cooks can evaluate any dish. If you’re feeling ambitious, plug an ingredient into one of their search engines. Then, prep the recipe with the best overall reviews. For example, Ina Garten has a Cauliflower Gratin that’s received an average of five stars from 132 people (which is outstanding). I’ve tried it myself, and without exaggeration, it changed the way I felt about cauliflower. I just … I just didn’t know it could taste that good. Now, stuff like Roasted Garlic Cauliflower and Curried Cauliflower Soup with Honey are making regular appearances in my mouth.

Understand you don’t have to eat it the way your Ma (or Pa) prepared it.
Case study: Spaghetti Squash
Across the country, millions of Irish-Americans loathe vegetables because growing up, produce was boiled beyond recognition and then forced by threat of death into their reluctant maws. But take heart, my freckled brethren! It doesn’t have to be this way. Did you know carrots can be roasted? And broccoli rabe, sauteed? And spaghetti squash, combined with red sauce, mozzarella, and pine nuts to create something COMPLETELY DELICIOUS? It’s true. So, love your Gaelic Ma. Embrace her. Call her often. Just … try to forget her cooking. It’ll make this whole process much easier.

Try a dish with a subtler incarnation of that food.
Case study: Tarragon
This one’s a little difficult to explain, so here’s an example: I despise anise. Even thinking about its black licorice flavor makes my tongue curl. Recently though, I discovered a White Bean and Tarragon Soup that I quite like. Tarragon, like fennel, possesses traits similar to anise, but it’s much, much subtler. In the soup, it was complemented so well by the other ingredients, I didn’t even taste the hate. Maybe I'll feel the same way about anise someday. Think of this principle like salsa: you start out mild, and work your way up to medium and hot varieties.

Give it just one more shot.
Case study: Beans
For some inexplicable reason, I always assumed I hated beans. As a kid, they looked funny to me. And in my six-year-old brain, funny-looking food = bad food. It wasn’t until I grew up, sacked up, ate one and didn’t throw up, that they became a regular part of my diet. (Okay, hummus helped.)

If you truly hate it, let it go.
Case studies: scallops, figs, radishes, mayo
Scallops will never be my thing, no matter how fresh they are, how well they’ve been prepared, and how many times I try them. Figs, radishes, mayonnaise – still disgusting, as well. (Which, did I mention I hate mayonnaise? I did? Oh, good.) Sometimes, a certain food just won’t do it for you. And it’s okay. Just move on to the next one.

And that’s it. Readers? Suggestions?


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Aleana said...

I totally agree with you on the Mayo thing. And figs...and radishes...and scallops! Wow, it's like we're the same person, hehe!

Most of the other foods you mentioned I was already OK with, but over the past three years I've been slowly learning new ways to cook them to re-introduce my Fiance to foods he thought he hated.

Cheesy smashed cauliflower was a particular revelation to him. Still no luck with brussel sprouts though =(

Anna said...

I was kinda "meh" on cauliflower for the longest time, until I was looking for a recipe for what to do with some mustard greens I got in a CSA box. Sounds unrelated, but bear with me; I found this recipe online:
HEAVENLY. I can now eat (just about) an entire head of cauliflower on my own because it's just so delicious.

I still have a problem with cabbage sometimes, but I'm working through it.

Kara said...

Great post Kris. It drives me crazy when an otherwise sane adult says (in effect) "I hate everything". I mean seriously - what are you? Three? :)

I think everyone has some things they don't like. That's normal. Heck I don't like lima beans and you can't make me eat them - so there! :) But when someone has this enormous laundry list of things they won't eat that's not about not liking the food itself - that's just plain ole' being "picky".

Great tips on how to push yourself past being "picky" and to find out what you really don't like.

(and btw real mayo is a gift from the gods but I won't hold that against you! :) )

Michael Crosby said...

I went back and read this:

We are mysteriously handed mojitos at the 7th hole, and end the game collapsed in a tipsy heap on Hole 15, but not before Ina reveals to me her greatest secret: “Love, my busty friend. I put love in everything I cook. Except the brownies. They’re fine on their own.”

Now that was funny. Beautifully written.

Kathy said...

I love this post! Excellent ideas. I am not a big veggie eaters so I love your suggestions.

One of my favorites is to hide veggies in chili recipes. Sometimes I dice up the veggies into small pieces and some times I just mix up veggies and puree them and then add to the chili. Chili is so flavorful you can hide most things in it.

Many chili recipes also very healthy.

Edward Antrobus said...

I'm in the anti-eggplant camp. I've tried it prepared and cooked at least 20 different ways, and I still don't like it.

Everything else on your list, I've always enjoyed eating (except scallops and anise, never had those. Not even sure what anise is).

lorrie said...

You said..."my friend H hid it in her homemade tomato sauce"...Can we get the low-down on that?

Karen said...

Green beans squeak when you eat them. It gives me the chills.

Anonymous said...

last summer, i was reborn to watermelon (and in our two-person household, we proceeded to go through about 2-3 giant ones per week this whole summer).

just last month, after a more than 5 year hiatus, i've come back to cantaloupe and we're in love again.

Papaya is the only food i've gone from straight hate to pure love - mainly because I was staying at a small b&b in brasil where my friend and i were the only guests - the magnificent breakfast spread included two hates - honeydew (still hate it) and papaya - the two of us had to pack it away so as not to a) be wasteful and b) insult our hosts, and so i forced myself to eat virtually a whole one - half way through it, i decided it was actually pretty good.

Others, like watermelon, cantaloupe, apple cider had all been childhood loves - apple cider was out by the time i was 10 or so, and i didnt come back to it til i was in college

Tortellini i still hate (but love ravioli.....) have no idea why

Heidi E said...

I LOVE the imagery! hubby totally agreed with all of them! :)

Matilda said...

I grown up convinced that I hated zucchini. Green, mushy, sweet at first but with a bitter aftertaste. I was horrified every time my mom served them for dinner. Then, I discovered that you could cook zucchini for 5 min instead of 45 and even eat them raw. It was they way my mom cooked zucchini that grossed me out, not zucchini by itself!

Dawn said...

I can't believe I've finally found others out there who don't like Mayo!

If I could get rid of one food on the planet, that would be it (though sour cream runs a close second).

As I've become a more adventurous eater, I've realized that half of what I didn't like was more the way it was presented than the actual food itself.

MsJess said...

Your advice is SPOT on. I am a reformed picky eater but learning how to cook made me a lot more adventurous! and I found that different preparations and trying new ethnic foods work like a charm! I used to turn my nose up at cauliflower until I had aloo gobhi at the Indian buffet or considered eating split peas until I had shiro wat at an Ethiopian restaurant. One thing that helped was ordering communally or having food in a buffet or sharing plates with friends and family. All of those allow you to try new things but with a little less risk if you it turns out you don't like it! Makes trying new foods less intimidating.

And I'd never liked Brussels sprouts or broccoli until my favorite chef/friend made pan roasted Brussels sprouts and broccoli rabe smothered in Parmesan cheese over pasta - in the same meal. I started the meal with trepidation and ended it fighting a fellow reformed Brussels sprout hater over the last sprout.

Also somtimes it really just is mind over matter. When I turned 18 I told myself I needed to stop being a baby and try salad dressings and low and behold I found I really liked a lot of them! But I find that i prefer to make my own so they don't have that nasty chemically under taste that still makes me gag a little.

Foods I still hate are olives, pickles, (I just don't like pickled foods that are really vinegary) marachino cherries and fish. I think I need to work on fish but I just can't stand the texture and smell of fish. There are other foods I'm not wild about but I'd eat them if I had to.

Andrew said...

I've always hated mayo until I started making my own. It's totally unlike what you get at the store.