Friday, June 3, 2011

Adventurous Eating and Cooking

Look at the beautiful color in the scales.
For the past two weeks, a vendor at our farmer's market has been selling whole Black Sea Bass and Scup. When I lived in the Philippines, nearly every piece of fish I ate arrived at the table with the head and tail still attached and its eyes still in its head. I've also ordered fish cooked this way in Thai restaurants here in the states. Despite these experiences, however, I had never cooked a whole fish before. Making a purchase took a leap of faith on my part.

My kids looked to me for my reaction when the vendor opened the cooler and revealed the whole fish. I confess, I feigned being totally comfortable in my ability to cook a delicious whole fish, knowing that if I seemed hesitant, they would be, too. Don't get me wrong- I told them this was new territory for me, but I didn't let on that I was not completely comfortable.

I asked the vendor for cooking advice (a real benefit of shopping at a farmer's market or local fish market- they all have tips for you!), purchased a black sea bass, and brought it home.
Here's the basic recipe:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Line a cookie sheet with tinfoil.
  3. Stuff the cavity with fresh herbs (it was already gutted). Any herbs will do. I used thyme and sage since that's what was growing in my garden.
  4. Bake for 35 minutes (check at 30 minutes) until the skin gets a bit crusty and peels right off in one piece. That's it!
  5. Serve it on a platter. Gently remove the flesh from the bones. Of course, be extra careful of the bones.
And the verdict was... everyone loved it! My kids were so excited to go back this week and purchase a scup. (My husband cooked it on on the grill using the same basic method). My husband was less excited about the scup but the kids liked it.

So, what's my point? I am NOT suggesting that all of you need to go out and buy a whole fish to cook. I realize everyone has their own level of comfort with food. What I AM suggesting is that you push through a bit of discomfort and try something new. I know my way around a kitchen and have a wide variety of spices and herbs and my fingertips. Cooking across cultural or ethnic styles is comfortable for me. Cooking a whole fish was not (though it is now!) For you, cooking brussels sprouts, or kale or (Moroccan) tagine may be outside of your comfort zone. Figure out where your comfort is and then decide to stretch.

You'll model safe risk taking for your kids and expose them to new flavors in the process. In some small way, you may open their pallets to new flavors so that they will be willing to eat more widely. Or perhaps they'll be more willing to try the foods of a friend from another country or region of the US. Or perhaps, like me, they'll be willing to travel far and wide and try the foods each country has to offer. Childhood lays the foundation for future life choices.

Growing up, my family did not eat particularly unique foods like the ones I cook in my house, but my mom was definitely concerned with cooking homemade foods and baking "from scratch."  She modeled many of the cooking techniques that made their way into my cooking. One particularly adventurous night, however, my mom made this new-fangled recipe for something called "pesto." I had never seen pesto nor had any of my friends. I admit, I was skeptical. I'm not even sure I enjoyed it all that much the first time I had it. BUT... I sure do love it  now and my kids have loved it from the time they were really young. My mom taught us to try new foods. Both my sisters are adventurous eaters like me.

So, take a little risk with your kids. Go to the farmer's market and buy a veggie you've never had before. Open a cookbook and try a new recipe. Ask your Cape Verdean neighbor to make you some Jag or go to an Ethiopian restaurant and try Injera and Doro Wot. Take your taste buds on a little adventure!

Have you tried a new food lately? Did your kids try it , too? Tell us about it. Or, perhaps, try something new today and report back.

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