Evolving Tastes

Last week there was an interesting article in the New York Times ( A Taste you Hate? Just Wait ) about how our preferences can evolve over time. I’ve had experiences similar to those the author described.  For the longest time, I never cared for lentil soup.  Then, one day, while having lunch with my mom at Monty’s Blue Plate Diner , I felt a craving for lentil soup.  So I ordered it, and loved it.  Now I make various lentil soups fairly regularly.  Usually with some vegies.  Sometimes with a ham hock.  Sometimes it is a dal. But I love them all!  The same thing also happened for me with tomato soup, winter squash, zucchini, lasagna, ham and some other foods.  I now eat most anything (that I’m not allergic to).  The one category that still yucks me out is meat with unusual textures, e.g. gristly.

Sadly, many of us Americans have had our food tastes “dumbed” down.  Processed food is engineered to appeal to our most elementary taste buds.  This is described in the excellent book, Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.  The author really nails it.  It is difficult not to like the products made with these ingredients since we have evolved to seek them out.  Not to mention when we are bombarded with advertising telling us how we will be happier, have more time, earn love from our families/friends, etc. if we only buy these products.  And they seem to cost relatively little compared to “real” food.

After my son was born, child-rearing books that I read recommended introducing the same foods to one’s child multiple times.  Apparently, it can take a dozen tries with one food before a child will “like” it.  This has been reinforced by books I’ve read more recently like French Kids Eat Everything and Bringing Up Bebe.  I wish I had been able to read both of them when my son was a baby.  Still, we try to encourage him to be adventurous with new foods and he does eat a very varied diet (thank goodness he likes salad. I so won out there).  My husband eats anything so that’s not a problem!  Also, I try to model by regularly trying things that I haven’t liked so far and I talk about it.  Maybe I’ve changed!  Maybe cooking something a different way will be more appealing.  There are people who are “super-tasters” for whom foods simply taste stronger and they have a hard time with bitter flavors, for example.  But I suspect there are not as many as people think (similar to people who claim to have “low metabolisms.”  The variation is infinitesimal and not worth even mentioning).  I remember after moving to the San Francisco Bay Area from the Midwest and I was not familiar with sushi.  However, I had friends who liked it so I would get dragged to sushi restaurants.  After about one year, I woke up one morning and thought, “I feel like having sushi today.”  Granted it was sushi like California rolls and Ebi Tempura rolls, but still, it was progress.

I had a similar experience with kale.  I had never really cared for it (if I was served it, I would eat it, but I wouldn’t make it at home and this was before it was on every restaurant menu).  Then, I tried kale chips at a friend’s house and ended up practically inhaling them.  That got me started on kale.  It was a gateway preparation for me.  What’s not to like when it is covered in oil and salted?  Next, I started steaming it and we all liked that.  A few years ago I grew it in my vegetable garden and when I was picking it to make it into chips or steamed, I would snack on it.  I thought, if I can eat it raw in the garden, why not at the dinner table?  So we did!  I’ve since learned that I prefer certain kinds of kale for certain preparations.  The curly kind for chips, the flatter kind (like Redbor) for salad and either when cooked.  I still find that I’m not so fond of the lacinto kale.  Mostly, it seems like more work to get it off the stalk.  Below is my favorite recipe for cooked kale.

Kale, Bacon, Beans, and Dates

4 slices bacon

1 bunch kale, striped off stalks and chopped

1 c. beans (I like navy or garbanzo)

a handful of dates, chopped

½ lemon

salt and pepper to taste

Cut bacon into a few pieces, place in a large heavy pot and cook over medium until crispy.  Remove and let drain on some paper towels.  When cool, crumble bacon.  Meanwhile, add damp kale to pot, cover, and let the kale cook down a bit.  Add the beans and dates and toss a little and let them heat up.  Remove from heat.  Squeeze the lemon juice over the kale mixture and season with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle bacon on top of kale mixture and serve.

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