Food You Don't Like And How To Eat It

Guest host Lynn Neary is not a fan of beets. She talks to food essayist Susie Chang about the vegetables people hate and the tricks used to disguise them.

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LYNN NEARY, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Lynn Neary.

I know there are people out there who absolutely love beets. I even had the impression that beets are kind of trendy these days. Me - I won't even eat lettuce that has been tainted by beet juice. The only time I have let beets pass my lips since childhood was a few years back when I had to eat borscht, because it was the only thing being served - it would've been rude to refuse it. I didn't die, which surprised me.

You probably have a few veggies you're not so fond of either. Well, Susie Chang of NPR's Kitchen Window seems to think she knows some tricks for making us tolerate, if not, actually like our least favorite vegetables. I'm pretty skeptical, but we've invited her here to convince us. And she joins us from member station WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts. Good to have you with us, Susie.

SUSIE CHANG: Good to be here.

NEARY: Now, what's the best way to help those of us who are sort of vegetable challenged?

CHANG: Okay. Well, there's a number of solutions of varying efficacy, I should say. One of them is to just hide them. You know, you may have heard of the deceptively delicious approach where you grate beets and you put them in chocolate cake or you take squash puree and you make muffins out of them. You know, that works, but it's not really going to change how you feel about these vegetables.

NEARY: Putting beets in chocolate cake? Did you say you put beets in chocolate cake?

CHANG: Yeah, you can do it. You can grate them and it's hidden by the chocolate, so you have no idea that you have beets in your chocolate cake.

So, the second approach is what I call the add bacon approach. And what you do is you overpower it with something that's irresistible, either in texture or in flavor. And it happens to be with bacon that you get both. And then the third approach is the most purest of the three, which is to remove the most offensive element in the vegetable you dislike.

NEARY: How do you get the sliminess out of okra? Give me that as an example.

CHANG: Oh, okay. Okra are one of the most challenging foods, period, I think, 'cause they've got, you know, the big seeds, they've got the hairy pods and then there's the slime. So…

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: You just made that sound so unappetizing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHANG: So, what you've got to do, if you're cooking okra, there's an Indian recipe that I like a great deal, which turns the questionable texture of okra into an asset. You slice the okra and you add some very strong aromatic flavors, like curry leaves and cilantro and toasted spices. And then you gently simmer it in buttermilk.

So the insides of the okra melt into the buttermilk and you use a little chickpea flour to thicken it and you get this delicious thick, sweet herbal creamy sauce. And if all else fails, you can always deep fry.

NEARY: You know, I'm going to give you credit for making okra sound good with that particular recipe.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: Let's go back to my problem, beets. Not to say that okra is not a problem as well. But…

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: …let's go back to beets for a second. Other than sort of completely hiding the beets in chocolate - which I still find hard to believe - but what other recipe do you have to offer for beet haters?

CHANG: Okay. Typically, most people who hate beets have had some kind of childhood trauma involving a canned beet. So, the way that most people convert to beets is through roasting. Roasting warms up the beets, it concentrates their sugars and the taste of dirt vanishes. There's something about the taste of the dirt in a beet that really comes out when it's cold.

And when you heat it to high heat, you concentrate the sugars, you get something with a very smooth almost silken texture. And lots of people love beets this way. It might work for you, it might not. You can always try.

NEARY: Now, I have to ask you: why should I overcome my hatred of beets?

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: Or any vegetable for that matter?

CHANG: Well, you know, I think that we feel as though we have to leave behind childish things like hating Brussels sprouts. But I don't really buy that. Because personally I think there's so much we can't control in life. There's a certain dignity in saying I draw the line here. This is the one food I don't eat, here I will not go.

NEARY: Susie Chang, food essayist and a regular contributor to Kitchen Window at NPR.org. Thanks for joining us, Susie.

CHANG: Thanks for having me.

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