Is it worth forcing yourself to try new foods?
If you’re a food-loving, not-very-picky grown-up who yet retains some vestigial culinary aversions, your powers of adulthood dictate that you never have to put olives on your pizza, raw onions on your sandwich, or milk in the glass next to your chocolate chip cookie. Once you’ve shed the serious vegetable hate or pasta-with-butter obsession you might have harbored as a child, I think you’re merely reasserting your independence by saying no to the dishes and ingredients you abhor. It’s one of the prime benefits of cooking for yourself. You eat what you love and avoid what wrinkles your nose or turns your stomach. All the nose-wrinkling in the world, however, won’t save you from culinary FOMA, which is what happened to me when every food person I admired claimed beets were great but I strongly disagreed.
Though I abandoned my Cheerios-only diet a long, long time ago, until a few years ago, I could still provide you with a full list of foods I didn’t like: mushrooms, beef chili and hamburgers, cheesecake, yogurt, and olives, among others. Those jumped into my likes column in the last five years. (I still won’t seek out ‘shrooms, liking cheesecake was hardly laborious, and it turned out yogurt just had to be full fat to be worth eating.)
The dislike inventory was condensing, but at the top of the list a longtime foe refused to budge. Yet, despite their jellied texture, muddy flavor, and hand-dying prep work, today I’m moving that entry over to the other column. Hello, beets.
Among the beet admirers in my world is the guy whose farm I buy from via my CSA. When this year’s autumn onslaught came in, I finally decided not to put my bunch in the trade-in box. Instead, I mounted a campaign to let beets seduce me. Here’s what I learned from the crusade.
First, I grabbed yellow or chioggia (pink-striped) beets whenever I could. To prep beets, you somehow have to remove their skins. When you remove the skin of a red beet, your fingertips turn red. The dye is temporary, but these other varieties barely graft their hue onto you at all. Once you convince yourself you like beets, feel free to switch to red. But while in purgatory, make the seduction easier by dodging all that dye.
I opted to cook the beets before peeling them, because cooking loosens the skin, helping the pieces slide off easily. The best method I found was fairly standard for beets though different from everything else you cook: you steam-bake the beets in a baking pan that’s lined with water and covered. There’s no timer needed, you just pull them out occasionally, stick a paring knife in, and if the beets are soft, they’re ready. I learned to peel them once they’re cool. Steam-bake all your beets at once; store them peeled or unpeeled, but definitely cooked. Then you can make salads or sandwiches as you go.
Second, beets need tanginess. They’re sweet in a dull way. Adding tanginess doesn’t come easily to me. Usually, I like way more olive oil in my vinaigrettes than lemon. I want to eat, not pucker. But beets need the acid. I found myself dabbing on more and more vinegar until at last the beets were truly palatable.
Third, I added both creaminess and crunch to beets in all the ways my culinary creativity could come up with. I’m going to give you a second recipe for serving beets later in the week, but in this first one, blue cheese and toasted Brazil nuts, manages to fix the texture problem, big-time. The gooey cheese and toothsome nuts lift every beety bite out of mush-ville and into a poised, enigmatic, tasty place.
Are there foods you don’t like but wish you did?
- 2 bunches beets, greens removed, rinsed
- Lemon or vinegar
- about 4 small cooked beets, sliced in ¼-inch slices
- ½ lemon, juiced
- 2 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese
- About 6 Brazil nuts, toasted then chopped
- Good olive oil
- Chopped parsley, for garnish
- Make the beets. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the beets in a baking pan. Pour in water to come up to about 1 inch in the pan. Cover tightly with foil. Roast the beets until a paring knife goes in with barely any resistance, usually around 40 minutes, but possibly longer or shorter depending on the size. If the pan dries out while you're cooking, pour in a little more water. Cool the beets, then using a paring knife to remove and discard the skins. Drizzle with a little bit of lemon juice or vinegar. Store in the fridge, or use immediately.
- Arrange the sliced beets on a plate. Drizzle with lemon juice and sprinkle with salt. Top with the blue cheese crumbles and the Brazil nuts. Pour on just a little bit of good olive oil. Taste, adding more lemon, salt, or olive oil as you like. Scatter on the parsley. Serve with a slice of bread.