Repairing Relationships…with Vegetables

In my previous post, I mentioned that I haven’t always gotten along with mushrooms. Things have gotten much better between us, but that doesn’t mean I reach for new fungi every time I’m in the store. In fact, during my last weekly grocery run, I realized that mushrooms aren’t the only vegetable this vegetarian had avoided until recently, “recently” meaning within the past five or so years. (This revelation kind of made me think that I’ve been subsisting on iceberg lettuce, baby carrots, green beans for the past twenty years – bland, boring, and American, by golly!) And I’m not talking about utterly fantastical veggies like kohlrabi, salsify, and fiddleheads. I’m talking about fairly run-of-the-mill produce that I spent a long time skipping over simply because I didn’t know any better. Thankfully, vegetables tend to be quite forgiving after being long ignored, and here are five veggies with which I’m currently making, or trying to make decent inroads.

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Brussel sprouts

brussel-sprouts

Long the butt of jokes concerning their taste and general odiferousness, the first time I ever had brussel sprouts was three years ago. And I’m really not kidding about that. My parents never made brussel sprouts (that I can recall), and I never sought them out on my own. But then, a few years back I was looking expand my traditional holiday dinner fare and found a recipe for roasted brussel sprouts that couldn’t have been simpler. Sprouts, olive oil, salt pepper. Clean the sprouts, cut them in half, toss them in the oil and seasoning, roast a 400 degrees from 15 or so minutes. I was amazed at the tender, nutty, and flavorful results! I’ve since tried to make brussel sprouts more regularly. Granted, the smell from cooking them does linger, but the immediate deliciousness of eating them is worth the price of a few air fresheners.

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Olives

olives

Unlike my childhood that resided with the lack of with brussel sprouts, I did grow up with olives, LOTS of olives because my Dad really, really likes them. If there was one thing that was always, without fail, in our fridge, it was olives. And particularly the green Spanish olives with the pimento centers. (Perish the memories!) And because of that, olives ended up in so many recipes…so many recipes that I avoided because I hated olives! Oh my, how I couldn’t stand them as a kid! To me, they smelled bad and tasted worse, all sour and salty and yucky! Since becoming an adult, I have tried very hard to rectify this hatred, but it’s tough. Though I now don’t mind the way olives taste, their texture just doesn’t sit well with me. I’ve managed to accept sliced black olives, and only sliced black olives, on pizza and in pasta salad. But that’s as far as it goes…for now.

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Asparagus

benefits-of-asparagus-700x325

Asparagus is another vegetable that simple wasn’t around in my house growing up. As an adult, it was never on  my grocery radar – green beans, peas, broccoli – those were my “green” staples. But asparagus? Don’t you have to prepare it in some complicated manner? Doesn’t it smell funny? Isn’t it hard to cook? No, no, and no were the answers I discovered when I made my first batch of roasted asparagus about five years ago. Since then, it’s become my first “green” staple, when it’s in season, that is. (And even when it isn’t, the imported stuff isn’t that bad.) I’ll admit that I haven’t strayed too far in terms of asparagus recipes as I just like it roasted in olive oil, salt, and pepper, but there’s plenty of time to get more esoteric.  Asparagus Lemon Gelato, anyone?

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Avocados

o-FREEZING-AVOCADOS-facebook

In my early years of vegetarianism, I discovered that avocados were good for more than just guacamole. They were just as excellent in their naked form cut to top a salad or mashed and spread on a sandwich. Helping the situation tremendously was that, at the time, I lived in a place where avocados were local produce and were always guaranteed to be ripe and ready to use. When I moved to a place where that wasn’t the case, I remained spoiled, and it didn’t help that the avocados in the big ol’ chain grocery store were hard as rocks and never seemed to ripen properly. Eventually, I stopped buying them altogether. What’s brought me back to them in the past couple years is hope…and maybe a few health concerns – fiber, vitamins, triglycerides, all that adult stuff.  And this tip about finding ripe avocados from Lifehacker has saved me from bringing home bad ones.

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Okra

fresh-okra

Like brussel sprouts, I couldn’t haven’t identified okra in a vegetable line-up until I was in my twenties. My husband, being the good southerner that he is, took great delight in introducing his Yankee wife to okra. The results? Um…ewwww, and that was with the fried variety! Worse yet was having it in soup or stew when the okra turned gooey.  Over the years I have gotten okra (usually frozen, sometimes breaded) at my husband’s request, but you couldn’t have gotten me to eat it, no way, no how. But considering how my palette has calmed down and matured (I guess), it seemed only natural that someday, eventually, I have to try okra whether I wanted to or not. And that time came last year when I reluctantly agreed to make a vegetarian version of a gumbo recipe that was already in our arsenal. Substitute veggie stock as needed, omit the seafood and chicken, and voila! I’ll be honest, it wasn’t half bad. Really, it wasn’t, and that was despite the gooey okra (which was nearly as gooey as I remembered it.)  Though I don’t feel ready to fully accept okra into my life, we’re going to try growing it in the garden this year. If we get a decent crop then I won’t have a choice. Okra or bust!

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What foods (vegetables or otherwise) have you gotten to know better, and for the better in recent years? Any suggestions as to other oft-overlooked vegetables that should undoubtedly be in my kitchen?


While Cary’s happy to talk food here, she’s also pretty good at doling out words about video games at United We Game while simultaneously maintaining her own blog, Recollections of Play. You can also find an archive of fun, geeky articles from her and like-minded souls at Geek Force Network.

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10 thoughts on “Repairing Relationships…with Vegetables

  1. As a child, I hated fish. My mother did, too, and only ever prepared it once that I can remember. Not being experienced at cooking salmon, she botched it (IMHO). I didn’t try salmon again until 2009 and I was in my late thirties. That was preceded by several years of various whitefish that I had finally learned to like, even though I only ever ate it when out, because my ex-wife couldn’t stand it either.

    I still am reluctant about Brussels sprouts, especially because the exact same species (Brassica oleracea) comes as broccoli, cabbage, kale, and variety of other, better tasting vegetables.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Oh my, as lovely as they are separately, the thought of combining broccoli, cabbage, and kale TOGETHER almost sounds like chemical warfare!

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    • My folks did okay with frozen seafood — fish sticks, breaded shrimp — and sometimes my mom made tuna casserole or salmon patties or crab cakes, but I don’t recall them cooking much fresh fish. Seafood in general remains with mixed feeling in our house. Though I don’t eat it, my husband tries to be good about doing so. Tilapia and cod are now regulars, with the very occasional tuna or swordfish steak thrown in for good measure.

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  2. Brussel sprouts are definitely the one vegetable I’ve had to overcome an instinctive revulsion of, after long ago having an awfully bitter and generally tasteless batch as a child. I figured I understood why all the kids in western books loathed it (especially when the tropics abound with tons of tastier vegetables and we’re used to using spices and garlic and other flavorings to make our veggies yummy over here.)

    Turns out it takes knowing the science of cooking to learn how to deal with brussel sprouts. Cutting in half and boiling them at least a bit to let the bitter compounds out, goes a -long- way to making the things palatable (and bacon and butter and garlic does the rest of the job.)

    I didn’t get a lot of peas in my youth either, mostly because my parents hate them. So fried rice came without peas, etc. Which was a pity because I eventually learned that I love the lil critters – pea soup, mushy peas, in Indian curries, with rice, with mint and mayo as a salad, whatever, love ’em.

    Didn’t like the gooeyness of okra or lady’s fingers as a kid either, seem to have acquired the taste for them now, gooeyness, crunchy popping seeds and all, possibly due to exposure to gumbo, which I really liked when I was over in the States.

    Bittergourd and I are still somewhat on cold war terms with each other. I don’t reject it outright now, but I still wince at the bitterness as I chew and swallow (it’s healthy, it’s a veg, it probably has good nutrients for me, so I’ll eat it) but I really can’t figure out what folks -like- about it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Having never heard of bittergourd, I had to go look it up. Sounds quite interesting (and some list it as a “superfood.”) Not sure I’m inclined to try some, if I could even find it locally, but if I ever come across it, I’ll do my best to be good about it.

      Peas are so ubiquitous in my house — I pick up cans every week at the store without even thinking about it! But over the past couple years, I’ve expanded into trying different kinds of peas and beans. It helps that both grow really well in the garden, so we’ve been taking the opportunity to try new varieties every year. I have some lovely red black-eyes peas that I’m dying to make into a soup or something.

      I had never thought of parboiling brussel sprouts, but I’ll have to try it next time I make them. (I get what you mean about the bitterness – roasting masks it a little, but it’s still there). And bacon, butter, and garlic makes EVERYTHING better, no? 🙂

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  3. I have come to love brussel sprouts, especially roasted. I tried them on our indoor clamshell grill the other day and they were really yummy. Throw in some shallots and bacon and stir fry them tender crisp, finish with balsamic, yum!
    Okra will never be something I can enjoy. Good luck with that! The only way I can stomach it is sliced thin dipped in cornmeal and stir fried.
    I actually tried parsnips and now I really like to add them to the crock pot either instead of carrots or with my carrots.
    I found a YouTube video about an easy way to fix rutabaga, and I actually tried that too. It was pretty tasty, although obviously not enough since I haven’t made it a regular thing. Ease of prep and cooking is a big thing when it comes to regular veggie consumption.

    Liked by 1 person

    • For the past couple years, I’ve been meaning to ramp up our intake of root vegetables during the winter (parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, etc.), but all my enthusiasm goes down the drain when I see the sad offerings in our grocery store. But your mention of making simple substitutions, like parsnips for carrots, is something I should try more. But now you’ve got me exciting for grilled brussel sprouts! (Never thought of that!) Going to try that this summer, for sure.

      I remain wary about okra. I’ve heard that pickled okra is okay, and we’re going to try out hand at preservation pickling this year. If we get any okra, maybe we’ll add it into the mix.

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  4. “My parents never made brussel sprouts (that I can recall), and I never sought them out on my own.”

    Same here. I was amazed when I finally tried them. They taste like a cross between cabbage and nuts, but with delightful texture and fun size!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed! Even now when I cook them, part of my brain still think that they’re going to taste like burnt cabbage, but they never do. Makes me think that I should try roasting them in a nut oil, like walnut oil…hmmm…

      Smaller is definitely better when it comes to making for tender veggies. I’ve gotten some bags of brussel sprouts with a few mutantly large ones, and I can never bring myself to use them for fear of them being too tough.

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