As we explored in Part 1, many lists of the most hated foods in America include the following contenders:
- Lima beans
A generation of children was prompted to consume spinach because of what it did for the cartoon character of Popeye. Its properties made the happy-go-lucky sailor bulk up, get strong and beat up the bad guys threatening Olive Oyle. Even so, those dark green, limp, skinny, slimy strands that came out of cans in the 1950s and 60s were hardly attractive to anyone, let alone children. You could add butter and squeeze fresh lemon juice over it, but it still resembled something out of a long-neglected vase of cut flowers.
It wasn’t until fresh spinach became so prevalent in the market that people, especially women, realized its endless permutations. It can be used in virtually any dish; baked, sautéed, wilted or chopped raw—it adds color, texture and loads of vitamins A and C.
The market has mushroomed in recent decades, providing a host of unusual varieties for any kind of dish. Mushrooms are a great example of an ingredient that tastes totally different when cooked; much like carrots. Many people complain that raw mushrooms taste just like the dirt they were yanked from. But fear not: there are lots of choices. Dried shitakes can be rehydrated in broth or sherry, and then chopped fine for interesting soups and sauces. Large portobellos can be stuffed with crabmeat or grilled like a steak, then topped with an interesting sauce. The best way to change the mind and palate of the mushroom hater is to sauté sliced mushrooms in garlic butter with thyme or rosemary and add a splash of port once they are browned. The most incredible aroma will fill the kitchen, and when these are ladled over a sizzling grilled rib eye, well, closed minds can be changed.
The little green “trees” are delightful when cut into florets and dotted with pats of herbed butter. Season with kosher salt & freshly ground pepper. Pop them into the microwave and add a few toasted, slivered almonds and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice at the end. Leftover trees can be chopped fine and added to a salad for the next day’s lunch. Homemade Broccoli Cheese soup is another way to sway the naysayers.
We didn’t just fall off the turnip truck, but we know that those homely root vegetables are lovely flavoring for a stew or crockpot slow-cooker meal, as are their cousins, parsnips. They can also double as potatoes and benefit from baking and mashing in the same way.
Yes, they have a suspect color guaranteed to mortally stain anything white, and an unsuspecting taste and yes, they do bleed over everything, especially a salad. However, beets do have their place. They lend a delightful magenta color when added to hard-boiled eggs with wine vinegar, sugar and pickling spices. And they are the crucial ingredient in any decent borscht.
It is slimy, drippy and causes one to remember what the liver’s function is in the body; then it’s all over for a lot of people. Liver got a very bad rap in the 1950s and 60s when our mothers fried it to a dry, juiceless death. But liver does have some fine selling points: it’s cheap, flavorful, full of iron as well as vitamins A, and C, and quick to prepare. Chicken livers can be processed into paté with brandy and cognac, or dusted with flour and fried to a lovely crisp in peanut oil. Calves liver is transformed into an elegant meal when salted and peppered, dusted lightly with flour and sautéed in garlic herb butter. When browned, add a shot of dry red wine, port or Marsala and let it sizzle for a minute or two. The liver should still be pink inside. Lift your liver from the pan and place it on a plate. Bring to a boil the drippings in the skillet, then add a dollop of Dijon mustard and a drizzle of heavy whipping cream. Whisk until thickened, and pour over your warmed liver. As elegant meal as the French would prepare.
Full-size eggplants are awkward and unwieldy. Try the little beautifully purple Japanese eggplants for a switch. They are small, easy to manage, and cook quickly. Peel, then slice them lengthwise. Try them brushed with toasted sesame oil and soy sauce for a light vegetable with chicken. Or baste with mixed-herb butter and a bottled balsamic glaze. They have a mild flavor and if cooked just right, will not have that brown, spongy texture found in the larger varieties.
Admittedly, they are an acquired taste. However, those children who were served them with Mom’s meat loaf and roasted potatoes eventually come around. It may not be until their 20s, but they do come to appreciate these beans with the lovely, light green color, that taste like they are good for you and have amazing versatility. Thawed baby limas can be tossed into hot cooked rice with a sprinkling of fresh dill for a healthy side dish. They can be mashed into a flavorful, calorie-free dip. Limas can also be sautéed with onions, corn, and bell peppers in butter, and then sprinkled with shredded cheese for a warming, comforting skillet treat.
Strange-looking and slimy when not prepared right; they are a curiosity to many living north of the Mason-Dixon Line. By all accounts, the sliminess disappears for the most part when they are fried, Southern-style, with cornmeal.
Another example of something that changes dramatically when it is cooked or baked. Raw oysters on the half-shell are a religious experience for many gourmands. For the first timer, it is not something they will like; however, some nugget of a pleasurable experience will remain in the brain, and once tried, only the circumstances remain to set things right. A squeeze of lemon juice, a drop or two of Tabasco, a dollop of cocktail sauce, a hearty slurp down the open gullet, and somehow, the world is set right again. Accompanied with crusty French bread slices and washed down with cold white wine, it is a meal for the gods. Just read Ernest Hemingway. He was very emphatic about oysters when he described his sidewalk café meal in A Moveable Feast.
Forever scorned, Spam® still tastes pretty decent when Armageddon strikes. Or in the cold wilderness of a lowbrow camping trip. A true combination mystery meat, this long-lasting product comes in handy when hunger strikes with storm, hurricane or earthquake. And maybe if you top it with sweet-hot mustard and serve it on pumpernickel with dark ale, well…..Enough said.
Europeans love them. They sauté them in olive oil, load their whole bodies onto toast or just mash them up in…anything. Even Americans have learned to tolerate the hint of anchovies in their Caesar dressing. It’s just a matter of adjusting and opening your palate, and understanding that a little…goes a very long way.
People either love it or hate it. Not much middle ground here. Mayo is nothing to be afraid of. It is simply eggs and oil combined. Perhaps it’s the pale, lifeless color or the greasy texture that turn people off. Mayonnaise is the one bottled product that you should buy top shelf. Bottom shelf brands do not measure up .The lovers praise it spread on cucumber, turkey and cold meat loaf sandwiches. Brush a thin layer on a piece of chicken or fish before grilling and you will enjoy a unique, moist boost. The difference between bottled, commercial mayo and what you can whirl up in your blender at home are like night and day. Homemade mayonnaise is the simplest and most elegant thing you can concoct, and there are tons of variations to experiment with. Try adding Dijon mustard or hot curry powder or bottled hot sauce or fresh avocado and lime juice for a twist.
These mysterious, large, healthy leafy greens are becoming a favorite. Cook kale in a large saucepan with chicken or vegetable broth until tender, then drain and sprinkle with seasoned rice vinegar, soy sauce or Worcestshire sauce. Serve it as a side dish or over pasta or over grilled meat as a warm relish.
Beaver’s favorite! Fortunately, smart manufacturers are now shredding this stubborn, dense veg, making it easier to absorb flavor and eat. No more cutting those tiny cabbs and have them spinning all over the plate and onto the floor. Tossed with garlic and olive oil then sautéed or microwaved with a finishing splash of balsamic vinegar, these sprouts can be transformed. Try sautéing them in butter with mushrooms and pine nuts or dried cranberries, and old eating patterns might be changed forever. Consider chopping the shreds fine and dusting them over a salad. Their sweet bitterness also lends an interesting crunch over cooked rice, legumes and grains
There you have it; suggestions for making the most unappetizing foods at least worth a try. And that’s the key. Try it, as your mother said, just once. If you don’t like it, you never have to eat it again…Until two decades later and some small voice in your brain says, try it again; one more time.
That’s all it takes.