Of all foods – with the possible exception of meat – vegetables provoke the strongest reaction. For most people they have either a love or hate relationship with vegetables. Most ‘haters’ wish they liked vegetables. They know that they are missing out on a lot of goodness, namely, fibre, antioxidants, many vitamins and a huge swathe of anti-cancer phytochemicals. Sure, fruit has lots going for it, but to eat enough fruit to get to your five-a-day and beyond (which is better for disease-prevention) you are also giving yourself an awful lot of sugar. Not so good. And there some important health-promoting compounds found either exclusively in some vegetables, or much more so in vegetables than in fruits.
Reasons vary as to why some people would rather take an exam than eat a spear of broccoli. Some suffered from unimaginative/non-existent cooking in earlier years, some may have been forced to eat vegetables and others may have never had the opportunity in their formative years to try a vegetable (French fries don’t count). Still others may be what are known as ‘super-tasters’. It is thought that around 25% of the population may be a ‘super -taster.’
Super-tasting is an interesting concept. Instead of someone just being picky there is scientific proof that people who truly hate vegetables such as broccoli, kale and cauliflower have extra-sensitive bitter taste receptors. And it’s genetic. This doesn’t mean that they can never learn to eat the bitter cruciferous vegetables, just that it might take a little longer and need a bit of creativity. Super-tasters are often put off all vegetables unless they are particularly sweet.
Related to the super-tasting thing are problems with texture. Our brain links texture and taste, so if you think that the texture is an issue then perhaps try the offending vegetable(s) in a different form – not deep-fried. Just like most of us prefer either sweet things (fruit, sweets, desserts, sodas) or savoury things (vegetables, cheese, crisps, unsweetened tea), we usually have a preference for either soft/comforting or crunchy/challenging textures. So, perhaps make the vegetables you wish to try match up with your texture preference. You might just find that simple tweak makes all the difference.
I recently read an article from a former vegetable hater who had some really good pointers that got her reaching for the salad bar. Some of her best pointers are (in my words):
1) Say no to plain vegetables. A pile of steaming, naked broccoli won’t get many takers. Pour over a healthy sauce (marinara?), grate over some cheese, even add some butter and lemon. Conversely some people really like plainer food and blanch at the thought of sauce-covered anything. Sometimes a little portion of plain baby carrots might be just the thing to tempt.
2) Keep trying. Bad food experiences – a super sour strawberry, a pile of soggy, smelly cabbage, maybe a hard piece of something that broke a tooth – all of these things tend to be one offs. Try not to hold it permanently against them. Maybe the strawberry was out of season and no one would have liked it? Things that you have ignored because it didn’t meet your expectation should be re-evaluated. You might even be a parent and trying to get a toddler to try a new food. It is said – depending on who you ask – that a food may have to be presented up to 25 times before a child will try it. It can be true of us too. This is somewhat different to having a bad experience but you get the idea. And sometimes we have to accept that adults as well as children can have strong dislikes. But when a whole food group, or the majority of it, is excluded then we need to keep trying, using different ways to make it more appealing.
3) Look for interesting vegetarian dishes (even side dishes) when you eat out. Nice restaurants and cafes (we aren’t talking most of the chain ones) almost always have ways of making any vegetable into a taste sensation. After all, they want you to come back. Even the vegetarians! Top supermarkets can also be good hunting grounds for new ways with seasonal or new foods. I often trawl around my local Marks & Spencer foodhall, examining salad boxes for new ideas.
She has a number of other ones that will be of interest, but before you check them out have a look below for some quick tips, ideas and mini recipes to perhaps tempt you.
Get the best vegetables you can afford; they are likely to be the ripest, best tasting and best quality (you get what you pay for). This is especially important if the only way you have had vegetables is in pre-made food. We can get very used to the homogeneity of prepared foods, and ‘the real thing’ can therefore be a shock for some. Hopefully not for you, though. But get the good stuff to increase the chance of it being a pleasant experience for you.
Start with sweeter vegetables and roast them – sweet potatoes, cherry tomatoes, parsnips, carrots, butternut squash, baby beetroot (remember we get sugar from beetroot), young leeks, shallots. Most ‘young’ vegetables are sweeter than the more mature specimens.Believe it or not – and I only discovered this fairly recently – the peeled stem of a head of broccoli is actually quite sweet. I like my nippy vegetables but I really like the stem in preference to the more photogenic florets.
Peel older vegetables to take away any potential for bitterness, or just until you get used to the taste of the whole vegetable – skin and all. Skin contains lots of extra nutrients that aren’t found elsewhere in a vegetable or fruit.
Put chopped vegetables into dishes you already enjoy – one at a time though. Don’t ‘overface’ yourself. Maybe start with diced or shredded carrot in spaghetti sauce.
Shredded vegetables are a good place to start as they blend in easier to other foods and the grating does give more sweet surface area than diced. This is often an easy way to introduce non-pureed vegetables to young children.
When roasting vegetables cut them all the same size so they cook evenly, toss in a little rapeseed oil or plain olive oil (not the extra virgin kind) and pop in the oven. Turn over halfway through cooking time too. Oven temp is usually 180C. If you end up liking the vegetables this way, make more than one enough so you can add the extras into other dishes over the next few days. See below for ideas.
Roast young carrots (or Chantenay carrots) for 20-25 minutes, until starting to soften and tinge with colour. Stir in a little marmalade or some honey and grainy mustard and cook for five more minutes. If you like this, try it with another vegetable such as baby beetroot or parsnips. Work yourself up to a variety on the same tray. This is really delicious with roasted fish or chicken, or with pasta. You may even like them as room temperature leftovers as they will be very soft and tender – this is really nice mixed into a bean or grain salad with a little balsamic vinegar added., or onto top of pizza or a piece of savoury pastry to bake into a simple tart with a scattering of cheese.
Add roasted and diced vegetables (as leftovers or ‘new’) to a chili or curry. Even some frozen small vegetable mixes can work well in these strongly flavoured dishes. And speaking of curries maybe try dicing a chunk of deseed cucumber and mixing it with some yogurt and dried mint to make a cooling raita? Much, much nicer than the bought kind.
Roast a sweet potato, puree it and add it to macaroni cheese, chili, lasagna, bean or tomato soup. Or just have it pureed with a touch of cinnamon and a spoon of creme fraiche. Delicious!
Roast colourful peppers and cherry tomatoes, and add them to a pizza, stir into pasta, chop into soup or even knead into a homemade bread recipe. You may like to skin the peppers after you’ve roasted them. All you do is roast halved and deseeded peppers until the skins start to darken in places, put the cooked peppers into a bowl and cover with clingfilm for ten minutes. Then, peel back the film (they will be hot) and let them cool until you can handle the peppers. Take a paring knife and gently peel away the skin. You can sometimes pull it away with just your fingers.
Add diced or shredded carrots to soup, such as chicken and rice/noodle. Maybe try ‘petit pois’ peas or shredded young courgette too. Young courgette is very mild.
Saute sliced mushrooms and add to omelettes or quiches. If that’s a bit bold add them into a meat-based dish where their /meaty’ texture will be right at home, and indeed has some of the same flavour characteristics (umami).
Make a stir-fry with lean beef slices or skinless chicken and add in thinly sliced broccoli, carrots and mangetout. Add in some good quality sweet and sour sauce, or whatever sauce you like, toward the end of cooking.
Saute finely diced carrot, shallot and celery then blend it before adding into a burger or meatloaf recipe.
Soup/Lentil soup: add in one vegetable such as carrot or parsnip.
Fish pie: add in a little parsley and some cooked chopped spinach or young courgette to the fish mixture.
Any stew: add in one vegetable to start with, then work up to a few. Start with just a little bit and then increase the volume.
Cauliflower cheese: delicious when you’ve roasted the cauliflower first. Roasting ‘nippy’, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower make them sweeter and more acceptable to ‘super-tasters’.
A Handful of Vegetable Recipes:
Dinner Party Carrot Mash: Steam or boil young carrots or parsnips (or both) in enough liquid to cover: 2/3 water and 1/3 orange juice. When soft, drain and mash with a little crème fraiche or cream, and butter. You may want to add a touch of honey. And a grating of fresh nutmeg really complements this simple recipe. Fantasic, comforting side dish that disappears in a flash.
Guacamole and Crunchy Dippers: Blend together one ripe avocado (it gives when you squeeze it lightly, but there are no ‘mushy’ sections), a medium deseeded tomato, a squeeze of fresh lime or lemon juice, a little salt and some chopped basil. Great healthy snack with homemade pitta chips. To make these, cut around the seam of a wholemeal or white pitta bread and cut or tear each half into bite-sized pieces. Pop these onto a baking try and bake at 180C for 8-10 minutes, or until just starting to brown.. They will firm up further when cool. Store in an airtight container for up to one week.
Sweet Potato Cakes: Peel and shred one sweet potato and one carrot and toss with 1 tsp of oil and either garlic powder or onion powder and a pinch of salt. Heat 1 tbsp of plain rapeseed or olive oil over a medium high heat then add in heaped tablespoons of mix, mashing down to make a cake shape. Turn down the heat to medium/medium/low and let the cakes brown on the bottom before flipping. Really nice with added warm spices like garam masala too. Serve with a dollop of yogurt.
A Bit of Toast: Toast a slice of good bread on one side, sprinkle on a little finely grated young carrot, followed by some grated cheese. Pop back under the grill until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Maybe mix in a little grain mustard to the cheese before using. Simple but good. To make it into a small meal, have two slices and also have it with a pot of yogurt and a piece of fruit.
Sweet Potato and Apple Soup: Saute an onion and a little garlic then add in some peeled and chopped sweet potato (about 2 medium) and 1 Granny Smith apple or a sweeter apple, as well as a teaspoon each of ground cinnamon and ginger. Cover with 700 ml vegetable stock, bring to the boil and then simmer until the sweet potato is very soft. Cool slightly then blend until smooth. Add a touch of honey and white pepper if you like. This is simplified version of Butternut Squash, Apple, Cinnamon and Ginger Soup, which is on this blog.
Courgette and Pesto Soup: Saute 1 chopped onion, then add 3 chopped young courgettes and one medium peeled and chopped potato. Cover with 500 ml vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Simmer then add 2 teaspoons of quality pesto sauce. Cool slightly before blending the soup. This soup is actually a ‘stripped down version ‘ of my Courgette, Pea and Pesto Soup recipe here on the blog.
Do check the main recipe section for many other ideas: see the sidebar or pop in the name of a vegetable you want to try into the little search bar.
Best wishes, Kellie (May 2012)