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Careful with those veggie toppings. May 24, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I were enjoying one of our increasingly rare dinners out last night, since family had come up from North Carolina. Because they’d been to Greece, we took them to our favorite local Greek restaurant. Like us, they loved the ambience, the food, and the warm-hearted service. It was almost an afterthought when, later, I asked OFB if he’d enjoyed his food.

“Well… ,” he hedged.

“You didn’t like it? That herbed chicken with feta in phyllo served with wild oregano-seasoned potato wedges sure looked good to me!”

“It was the green beans.”

“The green beans?” They’d looked delicious to me.

“They tasted like beets!”

“WHAT?!!!”

“I think they put tiny pieces of minced beets on my green beans. They must have been trying to poison me!”

“Did you see any beet pieces?”

“No, but I tasted them.”

Hmmm. I couldn’t imagine putting minced beets in a green bean dish. But OFB, who loathes the rich, earthy flavor of beets, had been surrounded by them—in a beet-and-feta salad at one end of the table and in my side veggie of roasted beets at the other. Perhaps the sight of all those beets simply created sensory overload, or maybe he’d had one too many glasses of Greek wine. Too bad he’d managed to force himself to choke down the entire serving of green beans so I couldn’t have provided an objective opinion.

Whatever the case, the beets-beans incident at least gives us a valuable lesson: When preparing food for others, don’t go overboard on toppings unless you know your family and/or guests will like them. Some people might have tossed the green beans with the far more prevalent combination of sauteed garlic or onion and roasted sesame seeds. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve encountered people who simply hate garlic and/or onions and/or sesame seeds. Ditto for red pepper flakes, capers, kalamata olives, green olives, even balsamic vinegar. And of course there are people who scream at the prospect of salt, black pepper, butter, you name it.

At this point, you might be muttering to yourself, “Geez! If I go to the trouble to make it, why can’t I make it taste good?!! What’s the point otherwise? I might as well be making one of those hideous plain steamed vegetable platters!”

But there is a point, at least if you’re serving guests. By finding out their aversions in advance, at least you’ll avoid putting beets in their green beans. (You can always serve them, or anything else, on the side for more broadminded diners.) You can challenge yourself as a cook to come up with dishes that still look, smell, and taste good despite your guests’ limitations.

If it’s a family member who’s resisting good food, you can see if hiding things you want to eat in unrecognizable forms will win them over (such as braised chiffonaded Brussels sprouts as opposed to the little “cabbages,” or roasted yellow rather than red beets). But if they persist in their loathing, desist. You can always make a separate dish of [okra, butter beans, hominy, collard greens, rhubarb, your favorite here] so they don’t have to eat it.

          ‘Til next time,

                     Silence

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