Friday, May 6, 2011

Making It Right So You Won't Hate It

In my career as a private chef, I've had the distinct pleasure many times of changing people's minds about food. Specifically, I've found ways to prepare various foods (mostly in the vegetable category) my clients had always loathed, in ways that made them reassess their tastes. I discovered the potential for this early on, when I had a request for Brussels sprouts--a vegetable I had gagged on many times as a child. I had up until this point enjoyed great success for the most part, pleasing the palates of my employers virtually without fail, so I was determined to develop a recipe that would make this disgusting little vegetable edible.

As it turned out, the whole reason that Brussels sprouts had been such a turnoff was because my mother always cooked them to death, rendering them hopelessly mushy, and stinking like socks worn three days on sweaty, unwashed feet. In fact, they were not half bad if you cooked them just until tender-crisp, and dressed them properly.

I've found that the best method is to first cut the Brussels sprouts in half or quarters--after removing the dry outer leaves and trimming the base in such a way as to keep the little nubs intact--and blanch them in boiling salted water. Once they're just tender but still bright green and slightly crunchy, I drain them, quench them in an ice bath, and then lay them out on a towel to dry.

After that, any number of applications are possible, but my current favorite treatment is very simple. I just heat a little coconut oil in a wok, throw in some finely julienned fresh ginger and then stir just a few seconds before adding the blanched Brussels sprouts. A quick toss to reheat and coat them with the ginger-infused oil, and they're ready to eat. A few nights ago I did exactly this, but on a whim, I added some dots of my homemade sriracha sauce--which is hotter and not as sweet as the commercial stuff (the recipe, from my first cookbook, Omega 3 Cuisine, appears below).

The point I'm leading up to is that given half a chance, there is no vegetable that can't win us over. All it takes is a little inventiveness and experimentation to find the right combination of tastes and textures, and sometimes the right accompaniment (context can often be key). I've had people eating all kinds of foods for which they had maintained a lifelong hatred, and loving them. Mushrooms, spinach, turnips, cabbage--it's amazing how many people live with a profound dislike of perfectly good vegetables, simply because they had never encountered them prepared in a way that brought out their delectable nature.

Now to be sure, some people will never come around to certain vegetables (and some people just won't eat vegetables at all) no matter how beautifully they're prepared. But these are the exception, believe me. My father had an abiding prejudice against all but a select few vegetables, such that it was hard to get him to even try them--and yet I got him to eat even his most despised ones--and praise them! So if you think you hate one food or another, think again. You might change your mind if you try them made even slightly differently than you've been accustomed to having them. My advice is, if you haven't been able to choke down a particular vegetable, don't give up; keep trying new ways until you hit the sweet spot.

Sriracha Sauce

15 dried red chilies, seeds and stems removed
½ teaspoon salt
4 ounces palm sugar (about ½ cup)
1 cup water
7 fresh red Jalapeno chilies
1 cup garlic cloves, peeled and root end removed
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Place the dried red chilies, salt, palm sugar and water and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle, low simmer, cover and cook about 15 minutes, or until chilies are very tender and the liquid has reduced to a syrup. Remove from the heat and add the remaining ingredients. Let the mixture cool slightly. 

Transfer to a blender and process until smooth. Pour into a clean glass container. Stored in the refrigerator, Sriracha Sauce will keep for at least 4 weeks.

1 comment:

  1. I love you! I found your blog through Vegan Crunk and I've been wondering if it was possible to make sriracha at home. I hate eating all the preservatives in the sauce you buy in the store. Thanks!!