Everyone has a food they dislike or a least favorite food. I don’t mean a food allergy, which is something else entirely. Food dislikes come about for many reasons, but the ones that interest me are the ones that I believe come about because of poorly chosen or cooked food.
Of course there are food dislikes related to taste buds and other complex physiological and psychological reasons, and there’s just no explaining them. I don’t like grapefruit. I can eat it if I have to, for instance, when a hostess has put it into their summer fruit salad. But for as long as I can remember I’ve never liked grapefruit. It’s the only food I can think of that I don’t like.
My youngest son doesn’t like cucumber. He can’t explain it and when his sister said “that’s stupid, cucumber is only water,” he just shrugged. I know people who simply cannot tolerate the taste of coriander (cilantro) leaf.
There are two foods people quite often claim they don’t like and I believe their dislike is not based solely on inexplicable taste bud rejection like my grapefruit or my son’s cucumber, but is based on how the food was improperly cooked or served the first time they ate it. Broccoli and beets. Of course broccoli and beets may just be the grapefruit and cucumber of some people. But I don’t think so.
Perfectly cooked broccoli
Let’s take broccoli first. Broccoli, and all cruciferous vegetables, must not be overcooked, otherwise chemicals in the plant break down and release sulfurous compounds, such as ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, and interact with the chlorophyll in the plant, which causes the broccoli to turn an unappetizing brownish-gray color and to have a very unpleasant smell.
This chemical reaction is the reason people who say they don’t like broccoli probably don’t like it. I imagine that at a young age they ate overcooked broccoli. Broccoli should always be cooked in small amounts of water until it is crisp-tender and retains its bright green color; it should never be cooked until limp.
That means broccoli should never be cooked more than seven minutes maximum at a boil and preferably only four to five minutes. It should be drained immediately and never left in hot water and it should be plunged into ice water or put under cold running water to stop its cooking unless you’re serving it immediately. President George H.W. Bush famously said he didn’t like broccoli at all, and I’ll bet as a youth someone cooked him sulfurous broccoli.
A broccoli dish I serve will make a broccoli lover out of anyone. It’s simply Griddled Broccoli.
Fresh beets to please
As for beets, when I hear someone say they don’t like beets I can bet that’s because they’ve only had them out of a can. But fresh farmers market beets cooked properly and served as a colorful salad will change the mind of any naysayer. First, however, they will hardly recognize what they are eating as beets. The perfect dish to convert a beet haters Pancar Salatası, a Turkish dish that simply means beets with yogurt. But, oh my, it’s more than that.
- Preheat a cast iron griddle over medium-high heat.
- Bring a saucepan of water to a boil, salt lightly, and cook the broccoli 4 minutes and drain immediately and rinse under cold water or plunge into a bowl of ice water to stop its cooking. Let drain.
- Lightly oil the griddle and cook the broccoli, cut side down, until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes, turn and cook 1 minute, then remove from the heat, salt lightly, and serve.
- Put the beets in boiling water and cook until tender, when a skewer glides easily to their center, 2 hours. Drain and once they are cool enough to handle, peel. Slice the beets in ¼-inch thick slices and arrange on a platter slightly overlapping and let them come to room temperature, if desired (you can serve them now too, still warm). Season with salt and pepper.
- In a mortar, pound and grind the caraway seeds until crushed then add the garlic and salt and pound until mushy. In a bowl, beat the yogurt and garlic mixture until smooth, then spread over the beets. Sprinkle with paprika and serve.
Zester Daily contributor Clifford A. Wright won the James Beard / KitchenAid Cookbook of the Year Award and the James Beard Award for the Best Writing on Food in 2000 for “A Mediterranean Feast.” His latest book is “Hot & Cheesy” (Wiley) about cooking with cheese.
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