A good friend of mine in cooking school absolutely hated peas. It turned out she had haunting memories of her childhood meals. Her mom would serve up canned peas, and force her to finish what was on her plate.
One of my worst nightmares is of my kids telling their friends how their mom tortured them with vegetables. A few years ago, this nightmare became a reality. Every dinner had the boys alliterating vegetables with words like Ew! Eggplant! or Brussels Sprouts? … Borrring!
I dreaded comments like “Can’t Eat Corn!” “Yuck! Cauliflower,” “Please No Peas,” and so on. I was held captive in my kitchen to potatoes, tomatoes, and onions. Something had to give.
My crusade began with small steps. I picked one vegetable that they hated (eggplant) and cooked it in different ways. Eggplant parmesan for an Italian dinner, grilled eggplant for a lunch Panini, babaganoush (roasted eggplant with tahini) with pita bread as a snack. “Why don’t you try a little, it’s ok if you don’t like it,” I urged gently. No pressure. Rejection came quickly, with facial expressions, re-gurgitation gestures or quick swallowing to just get it over with. I backed off temporarily and tried again.
On our drive home from the farmer’s market, I asked, “Why is eggplant such a turn-off for you guys?” The answers were interesting—it’s tasteless, gooey, mushy, slimy, and just plain YUCK! “Why are vegetables cooked into mush in Indian dishes? I like to see the vegetable,” said my teen. I then asked, “Which of my dishes do you like the most?”
“I love the Mirch Ka Salan (Tangy Chilli Peppers), you make it the best,” he replied. That was my cue. I used the same ingredients, made sure the eggplant was cooked but not mushy and served up a whole new dish. “Baingan Ka Salan! Try it, you might like it,” I said casually. My teen tried it and dug in for a couple more servings. Yeah!
I then started involving them in the daily family menu planning. I ask them to critique the food. Although this can lead to some brutal honesty about your cooking skills, it’s well worth it. I’ve learnt to accommodate what they like into my daily cooking.
I’ve also learnt to let go of some vegetables after several trials. As a result their veggie hate list has come down to just a few. We’ve turned beets, brussels sprouts, and eggplant into favorites.
Hopefully, one day, my kids will have happy childhood memories of enjoying colorful veggies at the dinner table. Here are some recipes from my kitchen.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
This recipe is simple, quick and goes very well with spaghetti and soup. Brussels sprouts and walnuts are high in antihistamines and omega 3 fatty acids. You can substitute the walnuts with slivered almonds.
1lb of Brussels sprouts, washed, trimmed, and quartered
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
crushed red pepper to taste
salt to taste
¼ cup of toasted walnuts (optional)
a drizzle of balsamic vinegar
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Mix the extra virgin olive oil, crushed pepper, and garlic in a glass bowl and add the Brussels sprout to this. Toss well. Line a sheet pan with foil and brush it with olive oil. Spread the Brussels sprouts and roast in the oven for 10 minutes. Then shake the pan to evenly roast the Brussels sprouts for another 5-7 minutes.
Remove and place it in a bowl, and add the walnuts and balsamic vinegar. Check seasoning and serve warm.
Daikon Radish Salad
Daikon is used as a digestive and decongestant in Japanese cuisine. Including a fruit in a salad adds color and natural sweetness.
1cup daikon, peeled and grated
½ cup ripe mango, peeled and cubed
¼ cup red bell peppers, seeded and cubed
¼ cup English cucumber, diced
1 small red onion, chopped fine
1 tablespoon of fresh cilantro, chopped
1 green chili (optional)
juice of 1 lime
salt to taste
Place all the grated and chopped ingredients in a bowl. Mix well. Season with salt and lime juice just before serving. Daikon, cucumber, and onions tend to give out water if salted ahead of time.
Packing with Pizza
Kids love pizza. Use pizza to pack the vegetables in their diet. I make this a fun weekend activity with friends and cousins. The kids choose all the veggies they want and make individual pizzas. This pizza dough can be refrigerated. It makes 2 9-inch round pizzas or 4 small personal pizzas.
Pizza Dough Recipe
1½ teaspoons active dry yeast
6 tablespoons of warm water (110°)
6 tablespoons of warm milk
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon of corn meal
½ teaspoon of salt
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1-2 tablespoons flour for extra dusting
Add warm water to the yeast and set aside for 5 minutes to activate. Combine milk, oil and corn meal in a large bowl. Add the bubbly yeast and salt to this. Slowly mix in the flour and knead it to soft pliable dough.
Knead the dough on a floured surface for five minutes, sprinkling flour to keep it from sticking to the surface. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and coat the dough with oil. Cover it with a wet kitchen towel and let it rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 450°. Prepare the toppings. Cut the dough with a table knife. Make a ball and roll it on a floured surface. The edges should be thicker than the middle.
Place the pizza on a floured sheet pan and brush the edges with olive oil. Load it with sauce, veggies, and cheese. Bake it in the middle rack in the oven till the bottom is golden brown. Enjoy!