Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Learning to Love Foods You Hate: A How-to Guide for Frugal Eaters

This article first appeared in 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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Gilahi said...

For me, it's the flavor itself, not the appearance or idea of any food that bothers me. If I can taste the food I don't like, then I simply can't eat it. For instance, I hate peas. I can't taste peas on samosas. I love samosas. I hate cooked spinach, although I do love a good spinach salad, but an Indian restaurant here in DC makes a dish in which they fry the spinach until the leaves are crispy and they serve it with a spicy yogurt sauce. It doesn't taste like "cooked" spinach to me, and I could eat an entire plateful of it. I've had roaste carrots. They taste like carrots. Bleah. Brussels sprouts are evil, and there's no way to prepare them that I've ever found that don't taste like brussels sprouts. They do seem to be the latest fad side dish here in DC, and judging from the way the waitstaff is constantly trying to foist them off on customers, I'm not the only one who feels that way about them. I can taste coconut in any curry, no matter how spicy, so I avoid curries in Thai restaurants. I can taste a butternut squash even if it's pureed and put into a soup with cream and herbs, and it makes me gag.

Thanks for the tips. I'll continue to try things that I normally don't care for, but more often than not, I'm putting myself through a very unpleasant experience.

Anonymous said...

Best spaghetti squash recepie ever.

Cut the squash in half and bake. Once done remove the squash from the shell and place in a large baking pan, combine with tomatoe a can of paste (or two if you have a large squash), half a pound of mozzerella cut into cubes and half a pound of cook itallian sausage. Mix all together and top with grated parm cheese, cover with foil and bake for 30-40 minutues so the cheese gets all melted and gooy.

So Good!

JEN said...

excellent post.
I grew up in the midwest and we shared many things in common with the irish - 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.

Potatoes were a veggie, our only condiments were ketchup and pepper. My husband despised meatloaf and cauliflower, but enjoys them because of the skill and spices used.

Unknown said...

Haha, excellent post. I've always appreciate well-prepared vegetables, but hate taking a lot time to chop and season and whatnot. Here's a simple tip - squash (the winter varieties, like acorn) is really good if you microwave it for 10 minutes and then stir in some goat cheese.

But I've decided to stop trying to like olives and mushrooms. Blech.

svberge said...

Really good. I HATE lettuce. But I have heart disease and diabetes. I do love spinach and kale and most other green leafy items. If I could only get myself to like lettuce, I'd eat a lot more salad. Oh - and I also have trouble with raw tomatoes. Any suggestions?

ads said...

i can have skim milk on my cereal or alongside my oreos, but otherwise, im really not a milk/cream gal (cheese i love, yogurt too, just milks n creams, blarg). when i moved to a brazil, a land enamored of sweetened condensed milk and its offspring (dulce de leche, flan, all kinds of mousses) i had to invent a fake dairy allergy to ward it off. I've had beachside breakfasts where they douse a pitcher of fresh squeezed oj with condensed milk, the horror!! I live with my brazilian husband now who will often make a flan, polish it off himself, and every single time he does, for the past 8 yrs, he tries to bribe or blackmail me to eat a bite - but my gag reflex prevents me

Nicole said...

I've found that if you roast just about any veggie it makes it delicious! Cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, carrots, butternut squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes... All I do it toss them in a bit of olive oil and salt, or garlic salt, depending on the veggie and you'll love them. Much healthier that adding cheese and sauces too. A little nutmeg too sometimes. Try taking the broccoli florets and just tossing it with a little olive oil and garlic salt and roasting it at 425 for 25-40 min depending on size. You'll love it!

ads said...

svberge - unless its a fabulous mexican salsa (which is always good 365 days a year), i really can only enjoy raw tomatoes in the summer when theyre from the garden - and then i can happily eat 5+ a day, just halved with salt and evoo, in salads, etc. but otherwise, i think trying to train yourself to enjoy a mealy, pale pink january tomato is a losing battle

beckymonster said...

I too, had a long list of foods I couldn't stand. I'm still iffy on lamb but have been open to trying it at different restaurants. The street meat lamb is still awful tasting to me but I had a juicy, delicious plate of lamb chops at this awesome Greek place (Pylos) for my birthday last year and it changed my world!

I will never like marshmallow peeps, though. Ick!


Rookiesuz said...

You have inspired me to try cauliflower again!

Anonymous said...

If you're willing to take a chance on figs again... try this: cut the fig in half, put some garlic&herb boursin cheese in the middle, stick the halves back together, wrap with a slice of bacon or procuitto and bake until crispy. Delish! Also good using dates.

Matt L said...

It is nice to see a blog that encourages people to eat healthy. I am currently writing a paper on the corruption of the food industry and how it affects Americans. I hope an increasing amount of americans will become more aware of what they are consuming and doing to their bodies.

RachH said...

I hated radishes until I ate them roasted with butter, salt, and pepper. It mellows their spiciness and gives them a sweetness that makes me feel like I'm eating a candy variety of vegetable. Use the really good butter, too--it's worth it on this. Now my husband requests them often, too!

Mel said...

svberge, have you tried "weirdo lettuces" like arugula or butter lettuce? They taste totally different to me.

Also I've heard if you marinate kale in vinegar/oil (basically dressing) it softens enough that you can eat it raw, i.e. in salad. It's better for you than lettuce anyway, right?

Shannon said...

Love these tips. My youngest child despises the texture of many vegetables, but if I mash it into something he does like or blends it into a sauce he loves it.

Great tips. Thanks for sharing.

Jenna said...

I think after reading this post I will have another stab at eating cauliflower.

Rachel Page said...

The holy grail, surely, is to learn to love health food more than junk.

Miralem A. Dept Of Health said...

Another amazing and fun post, you are amazing!!

When I was a kid i hated beans, now I lovee it!!

Thanks for sharing,

Miralem Asceric, Depth Of Health Blog

swingeggnog1 said...

Thanks for the tips. and a diet plan I'll continue to try things that I normally don't care for, but more often than not, I'm putting myself through a very unpleasant experience.

EnterPaleo said...

Good post! I never thought i will want to give a cauliflower another chance! :)