Who didn’t start life as a picky eater? Most of us were given one and only one food for the first months of life, and in some cases even longer. Then, knowing that our palates were undeveloped, the adults in our lives eased us into other types of foods with the blandest flavours possible. It is not unusual for children to be reluctant to try the unfamiliar, and I certainly fit the norm. I can remember wondering what my younger sister saw in flavours such as mustard and lemon, and could not, for the life of me understand why anyone would eat an olive or a dill pickle. No one thought to try me on spicy foods, but I think we all know where that would have gone.
Well, how things have changed! Mustard? Oh, do you have the hot deli-type, possibly mixed with a little, or a lot of horseradish? Please don’t tell me you oversweetened the lemonade, or, Heaven forbid, put stuff in my strong black coffee. No ice in my whiskey, please, and could you pass the chilies? Flavours, strong and bold, have become my friend. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a vanilla milkshake or a plain mac and cheese on occasion, and one cannot maintain an interest in bold flavours without the creamy, sweet or starchy contrasts to balance them.
I think by now it is evident that I enjoy many types of food. I love to experiment with it, trying on flavours for size, and finding a new recipe or ingredient is a treat. When I am asked if there is anything I do not enjoy eating, I usually have a two-item list: cucumbers and bugs. If required to pare it down further, I have to admit that on occasion, I am sure I have ingested an accidental insect.
So, cucumbers. To be fair, I have developed a taste for a pickled cuke. There is even a recipe, which I will share, for an Aisian-style cucumber salad that I can eat in small doses. However, in general, Cucumbers and I do not have much of a relationship. Oh, I have tried! They were in virtually every salad and sandwich I was served in my youth, and were fastidiously picked out after one taste. Some years ago, to please my mother in law, I tried her favourite cucumber sandwich, thinking that perhaps I was just being picky, and even a bit prejudicial. That sandwich prefaced one of the worst bouts of gastric pain in my history. Oh, there are other foods that can bring on an attack, but most of those have some redeeming pleasurable quality. I understand that most people like the little green things, I get that they are low-calorie, fat-free, fresh, crisp and nourishing. But something about their flavour and aftertaste just sets my teeth, and my stomach, on edge. Cantaloupe and watermelon, related as they are to cucumbers, do not make my top ten list either, but I can eat and marginally appreciate them in small amounts. Words cannot describe the relief I have felt since the cosmetics industry stopped engineering nearly all their products to smell like the worst fruit and veggie salad I can imagine.
Here is a recipe my sister got from her Japanese-Canadian mother in law, and shared with me. You know, I think there is something about vinegar that neutralises whatever it is in cukes that disagrees with me, because I like this one.
Aisian-Inspired Cucumber Salad
2 medium-small cukes, unpeeled 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
salt ground ginger to taste
scant 1/3 cup white vinegar toasted sesame seeds to taste
2 Tablespoons water 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil (optional)
Slice cukes paper-thin, layering them in a bowl with a generous sprinkling of salt between layers. Let stand an hour or more, then drain and squeeze. Most of the salt will drain away with the liquid. Mix vinegar, water, soy sauce, sesame oil if using, and ginger. Pour over cucumber slices, chill and serve sprinkled with sesame seeds.