Much is written about foods as panaceas against the interminable petty crises of everyday existence. A bowl of chicken stew on a crisp November night or a little plate of banana pudding on a warm May afternoon can be every bit as comforting as old shoes, good memories, or Mose Allison.
Dishes that challenge should have places on our plates as well. At some point in our lives, many of us become complacent; we eat what we prefer to the point of stultification. Listen to your Auntie Mame: “Life’s a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.” Diversify. I’m not urging you to sample foods contrary to your ethics, but do try dishes you might forego for less proscriptive reasons.
Childhood prejudices should come under review. Unless you were the subject to the most dastardly abuse, the dishes you disliked as a child were most likely fed you by people who loved you and wanted you to do well in the world. Believe that. Believe also that they probably didn’t know how to cook very well; perhaps it’s their fault you hate spinach. The lingering scar of their benign ineptitude should not deny you of present or future pleasure.
My culinary bugbear was eggplant, invariably fried, soggy, greasy, and limp as hell. I hated it. But once I went to a Lebanese event at Ole Miss where a spry little lady served up the most wonderful creamy, and absolutely delicious spread. I asked her what it was, and she turned to her husband, whose English was better, and he said “eggplant.” Had I known what it was in the first place, I probably wouldn’t have tried it at all, but I was pleasantly surprised that my old bête noire could take on such an appealing form. The dish is known by many names, but I know it as baba ghanoush. Here’s a basic recipe:
3 medium eggplants
3 cloves of roast garlic, mashed
1/2 cup of tahini
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon salt
Stem, pierce and roast eggplants in a hot oven until soft. Scoop out the flesh, taking care to get the browned meat, mix with the other ingredients and blend in a food processor until smooth. Adjust salt to taste. Drizzle with olive oil and serve with wedges of your favorite flat bread.