When I was growing up, the universe of vegetables was limited to three cans: green beans, peas, and corn (which is a grain and therefore doesn’t really count). And I would only eat two of the three. I remember distinctly the first time I ate (and liked) broccoli—it was cleverly robed in some sweet, tangy Chinese sauce mixed in with meat and rice to further disguise the texture. “I like broccoli!” I wondered in amazement. Asparagus was a similar story of deception and intrigue. That time, the evil veg was lurking in a shrimp alfredo that my friend’s mom had made, so I was obliged to eat it with outward nonchalance and inner trepidation. Again, it was remarkably not horrible!
What if your favorite food is something you’ve never even tried?
After having several of these vegetable revelations, it occurred to me that I was probably missing out on a much wider pantheon of delicious food that I had thus far shunned as “healthy” and “gross.” But when I thought about expanding my culinary horizons, I was a little intimidated. I’m a passable cook, but these are unfamiliar ingredients. Even trying out new foods at restaurants can be dicey because I am a little picky. I do love to try new things, but where to start?
Origin of the List
Wikipedia has a comprehensive list of vegetables conveniently categorized under major headings. I was fascinated by the variety. Most I had at least heard of before, but some (especially the “Sea Vegetables”) were a complete mystery. I started making a list of the ones I was certain I’d never eaten before, like jicama and Swiss chard, and I was surprised by how quickly my list grew to 20. I hesitated over a few like spaghetti squash and radicchio–items I’d had once or twice and not necessarily liked–but I decided to give them another go and added them to the list. Finally, to round out the list to an even 50, I allowed a few oldies-but-goodies. For instance, you don’t get more meat-and-potatoes than, well, potatoes, but thought I could simply try a new variety (like purple or fingerling) or a new recipe (like potato pizza). Noticeably absent are common staples like carrots and green beans, though I did feel like giving peas another shot.
The challenge is to consume 50 vegetables—this is about experimentation and experience, not becoming a chef. It is certainly fun to add new recipes to one’s repertoire, but in my opinion, some vegetables should only be handled by professionals. Okra can turn rather slimy if done badly, and cassava is actually poisonous in its raw form. (It’s the source of cyanide, the poison of choice for captured spies the world over.)
If you accept the challenge, you’ll have 3 options for every vegetable:
Crack a cookbook, peruse Pinterest, canvass colleagues, and find something that sounds intriguing.
Seek specific vegetables before you go, or simply be open to serendipidous discoveries as you’re glancing through menus.
Handle hard-to-find vegetables by looking at ingredients in sauces, shelf-stable meal kits, and ethnic cuisine. Fortunately, the organic, non-GMO, vegan, and “foodie” trends have made some exotic vegetables much more readily available.
The challenge, once again, is simply to consume the vegetable. Put it in your mouth. You don’t have to like it. You don’t even have to swallow it. You just have to try it. Frankly speaking, you can probably expect about 10% of your new experiences to be bombs. Maybe it’s a bad recipe, maybe it’s just badly prepared, or maybe that particular vegetable is simply nasty. Everyone has unique taste. But if 90% of the time you enjoy the experience, isn’t that worth it?