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Me Against My Tastebuds

February 5, 2011

Like most people, I can be a fussy eater.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those obviously psychologically disturbed (not to mention malnourished) people who will only eat cheese toasties made with white bread and a specific brand of cheese.

Vegetarianism notwithstanding I will eat most of what is put in front of me. But there are a small number things I really, really don’t like (cauliflower, Marmite) and that I’d have to be on the brink of death before even considering putting them in my mouth; and a rather larger number of things I prefer not to eat given the choice, but will do out of politeness or convenience (cabbage, goats cheese, whole mushrooms).

 There are a billion people far fussier than me: a certain ex-boyfriend who would only eat specific brands of tinned tomatoes, for example, People who will only eat food cooked by their Mum – and an unverified report of someone who won’t eat baked beans on the grounds that they look like the heads of a crowd of people as seen from above. (I do sometimes think that  jellybabies are a slightly macarbre kind of confectionery; eating baked beans has never made me feel particularly cannibalistic, but I’d love to know whether there really are people who feel this way).

Then we could stray into the rather controversial waters of “people who say they have intolerance to something so that they don’t have to eat it”. It’s a bit of a bourgeois habit that I know irritates many people.

 But, to be honest, if there was a greater risk of me being served Marmite or cauliflower in restaurants and dinner parties, I might consider faking an allergy to get out of eating it.

Because fussiness is, well, it’s kind of embarrassing. It makes us open to accusations of childishness, or attention-seeking. It makes us feel guilty when we think about all those starving Third World children who’d probably be grateful for a Marmite sandwich. (At which point schoolchildren everywhere yell “Well bloody send it to them then!”).

If you’re vegetarian or vegan (or, I imagine, have a real food intolerance), it can be worse. You almost feel like you’ve cut out so much already that you don’t really have the right to start having preferences about what’s left.  

 As we grow up we also often make ourselves like things we previously really didn’t because we don’t want to insult the person who cooked for us, or because there’s limited choice and we’re hungry, or just because we know it’s good for us and we really ought to eat more of it.

And I don’t mean thar because of these things we’re willing to try more things and then we discover they’re OK.  I mean, sometimes you keep eating something you actually really don’t like much in the hope that either a) you will develop a taste for it or b)  your tastebuds have changed since you last spat it out in disgust.

I find it bizarre that this works. But almost everybody does it with tea and coffee, and then with alcohol. Who liked beer the first time they tasted it? Almost no-one. But when you’re sixteen you generally want to get wasted on cheap booze, so you drink it anyway – then ten years later you find you actually have “favourite” beer, you have a pint because you like the flavour, and are pompously dismissive of unsophisticated types who have to mix their poison with lime or lemonade in order to get drunk. (OK, maybe that’s just me.)

It works with other things too. I spent years trying to make myself like olives. I somehow felt like I ought to like them – I love all other Meditteranean food. I like olive oil. But for some reason there was just something a bit “wrong” about olives. I mean – what are they? They look like grapes or berries, but the texture is more like a damp mushroom – and the taste just isn’t quite right. It’s a bit like olive oil, but with an unfamiliar tang that kind of made my tastebuds rebel against it a bit.

But because I felt like I should like olives, and I was getting really close to liking olives, I still insisted on trying an olive every time a bowl or jar of them crossed my path in order to “check” whether my tastebuds had finally given in. Eventually it worked. I finally tried an olive and thought “hmm, that’s actually OK, I could eat another one”. So I did. Now there’s a jar of them in my fridge.

I did the same with avocados. Mainly because I’d heard so much about how good they’re meant to be for your skin, so I thought I ought to try eating a few. Again – avocados are a bit wrong. It’s a fruit, but it’s kind of fleshy and creamy – like cheese. And if you puree it it’s a bit like snot. But, again, I persevered, adding gradually decreasing amounts of lemon juice – and now I’ll eat them quite happily.

And then there’s broccoli. I mean, for one thing, I kind of have a policy of not eating anything I can’t spell (brocolli? broccoli? brocoli???). But also it looks a bit like cauliflower, which is disturbing. And the texture is a bit crazy – kind of like eating flowers. Cheese and broccoli bake is a bar meal staple, so for a while I ate it under duress but wasn’t entirely happy about it. But now I love broccoli. In fact I have recently become slightly obsessed by broccoli. The turning point came when I was having a meal out at Cardiff Italian restaurant Casanova. I chose a fresh pasta with a pureed broccoli sauce in the absence of other choices and wasn’t expecting much – but it was lush. Creamy and tangy at the same time, with a bit of a peppery edge – honestly one of the nicest meals I ever had. As i often do, with nice meals I’ve eaten out, I went home and tried to recreate it. To be honest I’ve never quite managed to match it, but it did lead me to discover the various ways in which broccoli can be made to taste nice (other than swamping it with a sauce so you don’t have to taste it at all – which is my usual method when I’m forced to eat something I don’t much care for. As a child, I used to insist on tomato ketchup with my Sunday dinner). So I’ve spent quite a few months now playing with broccoli recipes, and it’s probably high time I shared some of them. Yes – you too can enjoy this weird looking vegetable.

I maintain, however, that no matter what you do to it, I will never, ever ever, like Marmite.


 Lovely Broccoli Pasta

You need:

Olive oil (or other cooking oil)


Ground almonds, or ground mixed nuts

Spring onions (or chopped red/white onion)

Butter beans or cannellini beans (use a tin, messing around with soaking overnight is insane)

Broccoli (If you’re using fresh, it tastes better if it’s REALLY fresh, before it starts to go yellowy and taste bitter. If you can’t shop and cook on the same day, use frozen and defrost in the microwave. It’s fine.)

Lemon/ lime juice


A jar of your favourite pesto

Any other fresh veg you need to use up (particularly red peppers or tomatoes)

A pinch of chilli or cayenne if you like it, just salt and pepper if you don’t

Pine nuts if you have any

Spaghetti or pasta shapes

Put the pasta on to boil as normal.

 In a wok or big frying pan, fry the crushed garlic in the oil til it changes colour. Then turn down the heat slightly and add the nuts, choppe spring onions, and chopped up broccoli (including the stalks and leaves). Stir and cook gently for a few minutes.

Drain and add the beans, and stir it all up together.

Add the toffuti, a squirt of lemon juice and the pesto (exact quantities up to you – it’s difficult to go really wrong) and stir.

Heat the mix through gently and season. You can blitz in a food processer if you want a smoother sauce, or leave it as it is. Then serve it stirred in to the pasta.

I sometimes add cherry tomatoes or chopped pepper to this. If I’m feeling wealthy, pine nuts are also really good. I imagine a bit of spinach, or some fresh basil leaves would be nice too. Anything you fancy really.

* Toffuti, for the uninitiated, is a creamed tofu product with a mild flavour, that’s great for adding a different texture to pasta sauces (mixed in to a basic tomato sauce gives you a whole new dish, or you can use it for a vegan “carbonara”). You can get it in healthfood shops and some supermarkets/markets. If you prefer, you can just use Philadelphia – it’ll have the same effect, but with a cheesier flavour.

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