The foods we love to hate

Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, liver. Everyone has at least something they were forced to eat as a kid. Some of us have risen above, some still blanch at the very mention of smoked salmon (me).

What are your food hang-ups? Which have you overcome? Which hold as strong as ever?

By way of example, Mom used to boil the hell (not to mention the nutrients and flavor) out of broccoli. Now, lightly steamed and topped with some sun-dried tomato butter, it’s one of my favorite veggies.

So send your ideas…I’m working on a column about great ways to prepare long-maligned foods and could use your input.


Author: Scott

I am a married father of two. I graduated from Rock Bridge High School and then Mizzou before spending six years in the Washington, D.C. area. We returned to Columbia, Missouri in 2006.

20 thoughts

  1. Well I’m sure you’ll talk about brussels sprouts roasted and cooked with bacon and lemon juice or vinegar. That’s such a trendy dish these days. Mario Batali has some incredible brussels sprouts with bacon breadcrumbs at his LA restaurant Mozza. Or shaved brussels sprouts as a salad or slaw of sorts, which I still haven’t tried, but sounds great.

    I love asparagus roasted, grilled or cooked on a cast iron with salt, olive oil and grated parmesan.

    Kids don’t like a lot of foods because their palate isn’t developed, but then the problem is they’re exposed to vegetables in these awful ways, canned, frozen, boiled to death. Most of the time all you need to convince someone that vegetables can be delicious is to cook them just until tender and then add salt, pepper and lemon juice. Butter or olive oil helps too.

    Stir-frying cooks vegetables quickly and leaves them tasting fresh and most like themselves. Roasting gives vegetables a new dimension that usually makes them sweeter. If you take a fresh vegetable and cook it either of these ways with some fat, acid and salt, and you still don’t like the taste…well then, you can finally say you don’t like that vegetable. But to swear off certain foods when you’ve only had poor versions of them is really quite a shame.

  2. Spinach. The only way I knew spinach growing up was an overboiled, soggy green glop plopped on the plate, with red wine vinegar doused on it for flavor. Nasty. I had no idea fresh spinach existed, and this was in a rural family with a huge garden and lots of canning. Now it’s a fantastic salad and sandwich green, as well as a good addition properly cooked in omelets, soups, and so much more.

    As Brittany notes, there are so many vegetables which suffer from overcooking or lack of context. So many home cooks (and restaurants) insist on serving vegetables alone and mushy, rather than integrated into a whole dish. For example, a mound of baked winter squash as opposed to spiced squash with some brown sugar and raisins. Or soggy green beans as opposed to lightly cooked beans with garlic, tomato, and vinegar. One of the core pieces of advice I’d give to new cooks is never to serve anything along; always learn to combine flavors and ingredients into a more interesting and tasty whole, even if it’s just a side dish.

  3. Cauliflower is really good roasted in oven and served with toasted almonds and parmesan cheese. Drizzle olive oil on it before putting in oven. Cheese and almonds when it comes out. Sometimes I add lemon juice and garlic. Sometimes I don’t.

    Spaghetti squash. I am not sure this one is maligned, but most folks don’t know what to do with it. It is great and can be served anyway you normally cook spaghetti. And it is so much better for you.

    Maybe it is just my children, but they do not like sweet potatoes. The things one can do with a sweet potato are many. I would hazard that many folks have only had them out of can or glopped with marshmallows on top. My current favorite is a sweet potato and andouille hash. Sweet potato fries and chips are also at the top of my list.

    I probably will never be able to stomach liver or gizzards though. Nor pigs feet or head cheese.

  4. I really only hate two things: whole peas and frissee.
    Peas, yuck, you bite into them and they are all mushy and gross. Also, I was traumatized by peas at Julie Hartman’s house when I was in the third grade, because the rule at their house was that you had to clean your plate at dinner. Well, peas were on my plate and I ate 2, but I couldn’t do any more. I sat alone at their dinner table for 2 hours, because I refused to eat the peas. At a friend’s house! I was 8! I finally asked for a fresh glass of milk and forced them down and to this day I will not eat whole peas. I will eat split pea soup, but that is a different texture.

    As for the frisee, it makes the roof of my mouth itch and I feel like it tastes dirty. That French salad with the lardons and poached egg on top of a bed of frisee?? oh my god, that sounds truly horrendous

    My vegetable intake was transformed in junior high when my mom started roasting our vegetables. It made a world of difference and our whole family ate more and more veggies as a result. Salt, pepper, olive oil and caramelization…it’s vegetable magic!

  5. another maligned food that I have come to love is liver. My mother never served it, because my dad didn’t like it, but in college I had my first pate on a cracker. oh my lord, this was a whole new delicious world!! And then I had foie gras at a dinner party and was hooked! All of which brought me back to regular ol’ chicken liver and it’s one of my favs now.

  6. Hate spinach and mushrooms as a kid, now I love them. Still can’t stand raisins or shredded coconut, ick!

  7. A good initial point by Brittany – many home cooks use the wrong kind of heat, and for far, far too long.

    Raw Brussels sprouts (shaved very thin) are exquisite when tossed with olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Tremendous. Though we do roast them more often than not and, thanks to the Momofuku cookbook, toss them with a little fish sauce vinagrette and cilantro at the end.

    Spinach and cauliflower are good ones too. Personally I dig sweet potatoes just fine, but Mrs. SMEs is still skeptical, so I have some work ahead of me on that. Andouille sounds like a natural pairing.

    The peas we get here (canned or frozen) are, like you say Pam, pretty gross. Not to many ways to gussie that up. I had a crummy pea harvest this year – maybe 20 pods at randomly spaced intervals – and so didn’t get to steam them and toss with butter (or whatever would make sense). They did taste nice off the vine though – even the kids liked that.

    First pate/foie gras was when I was 25. I rather liked it, and intend to make it a project sometime.

    Mushrooms, so maligned growing up, so tasty now. I think it’s another case of crappy quality (white button, or canned), crappy preparation. Now, is there anything better than a panful of oyster mushrooms cooking down in butter and thyme? I think not. My how things change.

    And great work on the suggestions – those are all awesome!

  8. Pam, don’t forget calves’ liver. It’s quite tasty as well, and I was one of those “weird” kids who liked most everything, including liver! The only thing I DIDN’T like as a kid were tomatoes! Raw, that is. Couldn’t handle them; they made me shudder and gag. But then I started applying the logic that I liked cooked tomatoes in all its forms (ketchup, sauce, soup, juice, even stewed), so sometime after that, tried sliced tomatoes on my burgers. This was probably after the age of 10 or 11, I’m guessing. I love raw tomatoes in salads now, but still am not too crazy about plain sliced tomatoes by themselves. I can eat them, but they are not my faves. I can eat grape tomatoes by the handful however; not so much cherry.

    I’m also not too whoopie on cooked raisins in baking. Love “raw” raisins in cereal and trail mix, but not in pies or cookies. Although I must say I do love Uprises’s Cinnamon Raisin Bread.

  9. Liver. I still can’t do liver. Fortunately, Mom also hates it, so I was never forced to eat it. But I did try it … and again as an adult. Still no go. Maybe some day.

    But my “hate” list is pretty darned short. Angel food cake: Gag. Black walnuts (only the black ones): Yuck.

    As far as things I used to hate, now love: Used to despise sweet potatoes. Now I love them, baked, candied, fried, however. No idea when it changed for me, but probably sometime after college.

    All the typical stuff – spinach (even canned), brussels sprouts, squash, broccoli – I never had a huge problem with. At any given point in my life, I might not have chosen some of those veggies from a lineup, but would eat most all of it. Heck, even canned beets – put them in a Harvard sweet and sour sauce, and I love ’em. It just kills me to see children who will eat only corn. That’s crazy!

    But I always considered myself lucky. My dad’s Chinese and Mom cooked good Chinese food at home (even in the ’70s when it was notoriously hard to get ingredients in Mid-Mo). Both of them liked and could cook other ethnic/regional cuisine, too – Indian, Japanese, Southern – so we were exposed to a lot of variety from a young age. And I’ve been able to pass along that love of diverse eating to my kids as well, now grown. (Even durian!)

  10. Oh, and Scott. I beg to disagree on peas, as well. Sometimes I actually get a hankering for the canned ones, plain. And I fix frozen peas all the time as a side, and also as an ingredient in salads, fried rice, and Spanish rice. MMMM…. creamed peas!

  11. I still can’t stand frozen peas or spinach. We never ate many canned vegetables, so I can’t comment on that, but something about frozen vegetables tastes off to me. It’s not just the unfortunate texture…they taste different. Frozen white corn, however, is still great.

  12. I’m just the opposite, I hate frozen corn but love frozen peas. I haven’t met many foods I haven’t liked. Really the only one I can’t do is something almost everyone loves: hardboiled eggs. Can’t do it. I want to like them so much and try them once or twice a year and I just can’t like them. It’s kind of a shame.

  13. Scott, that is the next column, “Food we hate, but truly want to love!”

    I feel that way about oysters. I watch people eating them, I read recipes with them, I have even walked down the beach and harvested them! I watch them shucked and squirted with lemon and handed over and I put it to my lips and my gag reflex kicks in, damn it! I want to love them like the foodie I am, but I just cannot get over the texture and it doesn’t matter if they’re cooked or fried either, I can’t do it. At the old Glenns I would try once in awhile to eat one piled with horseradish and saltines and hot sauce, but down at the bottom of that pile was one slimy oyster.

    I want to love oysters!!

  14. Speculating on why I like so many foods, and have never shied away or missed the opportunity to try a new food, I think it’s because the woman who raised me always presented food this way: If there was something new served, and I didn’t want to eat it, she’d always say, “Well, you must try it, you might like it. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it.” That sounded like good logic to me, so I would try, and you know what? Most of the time I liked. And she was always true to her word: on the rare occasion when I DIDN’T like something (I can only remember not liking tomatoes), I really didn’t have to eat it. Plus, I think I was just born with a curious, egalitarian and malleable palate. Like I said, there’s not really any food I absolutely won’t eat. I certainly have preferences, but I won’t eschew anything, and as Martha says, “that’s a GOOD thing”. 🙂

  15. This is what I love about people who enjoy food as much as I do–we all have similar thoughts! I wholeheartedly agree that quality/preparation is the key element. Indeed it is a shame that some kids aren’t being taught to enjoy their veggies, so that when I meet an adult who only eats corn and green beans it can be frustrating. It really does have to do with how you are raised. Don’t you think that picky eating is a learned trait?
    I had the same experience as Pam, in the yucky pea department. To this day I only like fresh snap peas in a salad. I discovered what a mushroom should taste like as an adult and love them now. Down with the cheap, canned vegetables!

  16. This is true. This kids totally dig on (heated) frozen peas, even though they’re pretty gross. If they hated the fresh-from-the-pod version I’d have reason to worry.

    Ryan, you might try a more gently cooked hardboiled egg. We all grew up with the boiled-to-death variety, with grey-tinged yolks and mealy textures. Cook a good farm egg more gently, cook it a little less, peel and salt. It can be a very good thing.

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