Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Scariest Vegetables

Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Beet

Leery of the leek? Afraid of asparagus? Broccoli your Boggart? You are not alone. According to a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Medicine, fewer than a third of us eat enough fruits and vegetables daily.

Perhaps it’s time we faced our deep-rooted vegephobic fears? Here are my "Top Five" I have overcome.

Number 5: Beets.
I clearly recall making little towers of canned, pickled beet cubes. I don’t remember eating them more than once.

It was a long, long time before I faced down a beet again as an adult. As my first season participating in the Eat Local Challenge and as a member of a CSA, I felt compelled to cook whatever came in the weekly box in whatever way I could to make it palatable.

What I found out was, they are pretty good. That, indeed, everything not in a can tastes a whole lot different. Beets are especially good roasted and especially good for you as they are rich in the same anthocyanin compounds like wine and berries.

Red, Gold and Orange Festive Salad
Balsamic Roasted Beets

Number 4: Asparagus.
I was first traumatized introduced to this mushy, awful, bitter canned spear that smelled, well, a bit like pee. Shudder. As a general vegetable rule, avoid the can. The same is true for green beans and most vegetables. If you don’t like them, you’ve likely never had the real thing. Fresh. In season. Real. No comparison.

I must admit, canned green beans do have a fond place in my childhood memories, looking across the table to see my brother having stuffed one up his nose with the end hanging out to make me laugh. Ah, family memories.

Asparagus are a great source of folate, potassium and inulin fiber.

Next Spring, Try:
Roasted Asparagus
Ham and Asparagus Tart
Roasted Summer Vegetables

Number 3: Greens.
My first exposure to greens was when I was working at a rest home in high school. One of the residents, with no teeth, bolted down a serving and I had to step in to perform the Heimlich. It’s been over 20 years, and I am just now brave enough to cook greens. And I would never have attempted it if I hadn’t learned that greens pack a huge nutrition load of vitamin C, folate, fiber, iron, minerals, beta carotene, antioxidants and cancer-fighting phytonutrients.

A few caveats if you want to try greens. The more you overcook them, the more bitter they get. Saute lightly with garlic and bacon for a treat. Or try kale with garlic, white beans and red pepper, topped with grated parmesean. Taking the lighter approach with greens has even helped me recover from the black, mushy, cider-vinegar soaked mess of spinach I had to eat as a child. You can even get “free” bonus greens at the top of your beets. Free is good. Therapy is expensive.

Honey-Lemon Greens Saute
Lemon-Chive Pasta with Asparagus and Chard
Chard Tart
Crispy Kale
Garlicky White Beans and Kale
Greens Gratin

Number 2: Peas.
We hid them in napkins, stuffed our cheeks full and spit them out in the toilet, even tried to feed them to the family dog — if the dog would eat them. Try as we might, peas just never went down easy even when my siblings and I swallowed them whole.

We won’t mention that scene from The Exorcist, either, even if it was just Halloween.

I have found that I will eat peas raw these days, fresh from the pod. Or, early season and barely warmed. Even top quality frozen peas aren’t too awful. But, I must admit, that peas are best mixed in dishes like a hearty stew or a pasta dish with white sauce, bacon and peas. Peas and I have a way to go, but I’m working on it. Snow peas and sugar snap peas are good alternatives.

Your mom wasn’t completely evil by putting peas on the plate. They are an excellent source of Vitamins K and C, folic acid and B vitamins, plus protein and fiber.

Carrot Pea and Quinoa Biriyana
Ham and Pea Pasta with Parmesan Herb Sauce

Number 1: Even covered in cheese sauce, you still can’t deny it. The Dreaded One. Broccoli.
Indeed, broccoli may be one of the few vegetables that we can be genetically predisposed to dislike. Have faith. With a good recipe, or by substituting the sweeter cousin broccolini, we shall overcome. No Velveeta required.

Broccoli tops the chart on the health-o-meter not just as an excellent source of vitamins, fiber and minerals, but also because it contains phytonutrients with anti-cancer properties and even calcium for strong bones. Just think of the cheese sauce as extra calcium.

Broccoli, Leek and Chard Gratin
Mac and Cheese and Broccoli
Broccoli, Mushroom and Wild Rice
Broccoli Herb Pesto

There now. That wasn’t so bad, was it? Ready for dessert?

Chocolate Beet Cake
Vanilla Sweet Potato Pie with Brown Sugar Pecan Crust
Carrot Raisin Cupcakes
Chocolate Zucchini Bread


Chiot's Run said...

I love all of these but greens (I'm learning to eat them in soups). I'm particularly fond of pickled beets and steamed broccoli drizzled with olive oil, garlic salt & freshly ground pepper. YUM YUM.

Matriarchy said...

I admit to being neurotic about vegetables. I pick the green onions out of my wonton soup at Chinese restaurants.

I was sorta traumatized when I was young, by people trying to force to eat things they thought I should. Mealtimes were a nightmare. I was given the same cold over-cooked green beans over and over. The 4H leader forced me to eat stewed tomatoes until I vomited. My uncle humiliated me for not eating the unfamiliar potato soup his wife served to their 10 kids.

As an adult, I am weird about veggies, and have only slowly reclaimed some of them by growing my own and cooking them in new ways - often soup. I can't seem to eat garden peas, but I love split pea soup. Like Susy, I don't like greens, but I will puree them into sauces and soups - I think it has something to do with texture. I now love potato-leek soup. I am making ginger-carrot soup tonight.

But, I still gag a little if I think of stewed tomatoes.

I do better with veg that I never ate at all as a kid. Parsnips, beets, celeriac. I do better with lots of herbs and spices. I do better when things are roasted, caramelized, braised - not boiled to death. And I do better if my (now elderly) mother is not watching me eat.

Makes me wonder, as a parent, what my kids will be neurotic about. Putting shoes away? Will they feel ill when they have to hang up wet towels?

ExpatChef said...

I wonder the same things about my kid. I try not to MAKE her eat anything, she can spit things out she does not like and I am happy she tried it. Lately, the struggle with food against Halloween candy is feeling dysfunctional, though!

Anonymous said...

When my mother couldn't get fresh vegetables, she went for frozen . . . I think this made a HUGE difference in how I regarded vegetables. I didn't like spinach (too bitter) altho oddly, Swiss chard was OK. Pickled beets? Loved 'em. Non-pickled beets? I'd only had Harvard beets in the school cafeteria. Bleah. Too sweet & gloppy. Finally tried roasted beets a few years ago - Delicious! Peas - if you must have canned, the Le Seuer (sp?) TINY ones are edible, but fresh or frozen are MUCH better - get the "petite" peas if possible; the skin is less tough and the inside less mealy.
Really, I think I love vegetables because my parents did, and bought fresh whenever possible.
Oh, and asparagus - try stir-fried asparagus, with a minimum of garlic. Spring on a plate.

Sandy from Oregon