Saturday, March 19, 2011

Saturday Throwback: Learning to Love Foods You Hate - a How-to Guide for Frugal Eaters

Every Saturday, we post a piece from the CHG archives. This one comes from March 2009. Enjoy!

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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youcantmakemoneyatthat said...

I hear you on the mayo. Blech! Also, on the Brussel Sprouts, I thought they were disgusting until I had them sliced up and then fried with lemon juice and pine nuts. Delicious!

C. Sykes said...

I'm laughing because I love mayonnaise. My problem is that I have to discipline myself not to slather it thick on my sandwiches. (Can't afford the calories.)

But I agree that people's tastes change as mature. So try something you used to hate every now and may find it's surprisingly good!

eatliveaustin said...

Great post! I've been trying to expand my palate for the same reasons. I've finally kind of gotten used to mushrooms but I can't get into quinoa. What "delicious nutty flavor" is the box talking about? I've tried to hide it in two recipes so far but I can still taste it loud and clear.

Tanya said...

I am thrilled to know someone else completely hates mayo as much as I do. It is disgusting! I love your other suggestions, especially the roasted carrots!

Grace said...

I'm so with you about beans. For whatever reason, I never tried them as a kid. Now they're a pretty solid mainstay of my diet. Hummus and chili helped. And being pescetarian (no meat, just fish/seafood)

Oddly enough, it was the same thing for fish. Now it is the only meat-like thing I eat!

I'm still trying to expand my palate to include spicy food, salmon, and anything pescetarian that I haven't tried.