Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Diet Revamp: Embracing the Vegetables

Image by Elina Mark via Wikimedia Commons. 

I have had what can best be called a reluctant relationship with vegetables for most of my life. When I was growing up, vegetables came from cans and were boiled until grey-green and served with a pat of butter on top. (Except the canned asparagus -- that was served with some shredded cheddar cheese on top). It was grim. 

Later in my childhood, after my mom remarried, I remember there was fresh broccoli as a snack most every evening. And the nasty cans were banished from the kitchen -- I don't think Momma or I ate LeSeuer Peas ever again. 

When I was in college and for quite a bit of graduate school, I was a vegetarian but I still didn't like vegetables much -- onions and potatoes were staples and musrooms were an occasional thing -- but I didn't go much farther than that. At one point when I was in college a roommate tried to get me into a health-and-spirituality system that said we should eat five different types of vegetables a day and I couldn't think of five kinds of vegetables I liked if I didn't include garlic. The big addition to my mental list of "Vegetables I'll Eat" at that time in my life was kale. I still love it!

I lived mainly on grains, beans and dairy. Tasty, but not very healthy.

Over the years, most notably after my divorce when I was living alone for a while and could eat whatever I wanted (and I wanted to explore), I've added some vegetables to my list but have kept my self-image as someone who really doesn't like vegetables much.

During this diet revamp portion of the Upward Trend To A Healthier Me, I'm finding myself surprised by how much I am craving vegetables. My favorite breakfast so far has been roasted tomatoes, red pepper and onion with a poached egg. Lunches without salads seem heavy and bulky. Replacing a fish patty with a vegetable side dish seems like a no-brainer and I'm having fun looking for vegetable recipes for that purpose. On days when I don't eat many vegetables, I just don't feel as good or like I've eaten as deliciously as I could.

I sat down this morning and made a list of all the vegetables I like, and it's a lot longer than I thought. I'm way beyond five different kinds.

Vegetables I Like

  • Salad Greens (all sorts, really)
  • Arugula (listed separately because I like it in more than just salads)
  • Spinach (ditto)
  • Mushrooms (white, Crimini, Portobello)
  • Onions (all sorts)
  • Kale (all sorts)
  • Swiss Chard/Beet Greens
  • Bok Choy
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Green Beans (roasted or in other flavorful recipes, nothing like the canned crap I had as a kid)
  • Corn
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccolini/Rapini/Broccoli Rabe/Chinese Broccoli (I’m unsure if these are all the same thing or not)
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes (mostly cooked, but also teeny tiny tomatoes cut in salads)
  • Garlic
  • Leeks (I know they're an onion, but they seem different in practice)
  • Peas
  • Celery (when cooked into soups and in a mirepoix but not on its own)
  • Seaweed: Nori, Wakame
  • Cabbage (green, red, Savoy, Chinese)
  • Carrots
  • Bell Peppers (red and yellow and orange, don’t like green much)
  • Chili Peppers (mild ones)

That's a pretty good list for someone who doesn't think she likes vegetables, right? I could spend a lot of time playing in that little veggie patch right there. I know I haven't explored the full range possible with any of those vegetables so I've got plenty more playing that I want to do.

There are some other vegetables that are probably in easy reach of me liking them. With just a little effort to try them or to learn how to cook them I could probably get there. I think of those as my Low-Hanging Fruit.

Vegetables That Seem Like Low-Hanging Fruit
  • Collard Greens, Mustard Greens, other greens
  • Spring Alliums -- Garlic scapes and spring garlic and such
  • Edamame
  • Radishes
  • Beets (they’re so colorful)
  • Asparagus (I’m already willing to eat a spear or two so maybe I could learn to like this)
  • Other Mushrooms than Agaricus bisporus
  • Winter Squash
  • Fennel (I’ve had it and it was fine)
  • Other kinds of fresh beans -- long beans and those ones that grow in spirals and wax beans
  • Kohlrabi (I like most other Brassicas, so it seems pretty likely)
  • Zucchini/Summer Squash (this is only barely on this list -- I've had it plenty of times and tried it a number of ways and have never liked it -- but I haven't roasted it yet so it's still in with a chance)

Some of those are more accessible than others. I've liked every green I've tried, so it seems reasonable to think I'll like Collards. Same with garlic scapes and spring garlic -- I like regular garlic so why not.

Others I have more resistance to: I have eaten beets and enjoyed them, but they still have a tendency to taste like dirt for the first few bites, so I don't think of them as something I want to make. Asparagus I'm willing to eat a spear or two of to be social (people always share it like a treat) but have never cooked it and can't imagine being responsible for eating a whole bunch. Winter squash can be nice, but people tend to put sweet stuff on it and that doesn't work for me so I look right past it.

Another one that isn't anything like Low-Hanging Fruit but I want to try is Avocado. My brain is adamantly certain that I don't like avocado at all -- they're smushy and slimy and Green Slime is bad -- but I'm not convinced I've ever intentionally eaten one before. This might be just like my brain knowing I didn't like Brussels Sprouts until I actually tried one, whereupon I loved them. Avocados also very healthful and are in about 25% of all "eating healthy" recipes. So it's worth sampling one next time I'm in a position to get just a taste.

There is one food that's so far outside my range that I'm not going to force myself to taste them just to prove that I don't like them -- olives (green, black, stuffed, unstuffed are all equally Not Food). They *smell* bad (like unwholesome) to me. I didn't even like Extra Virgin Olive Oil for the longest time because it was too olive-y.

Once I've explored the Vegetables I Like and seen how I do with the Low-Hanging Fruit, I can start thinking about some of the vegetables that I don't hate but can't think of a reason to try. Eggplant, Rutabagas, Turnips, Parsnips.

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