Discovering new foods

I was a very picky eater as a kid. If the dish didn’t have the words “chicken” and “fingers” in it, then I wasn’t going to eat it.

Eventually, I got over much that pickiness. Later, becoming a vegetarian helped diversify my diet even more — there’s no more falling back on chicken fingers!

For that reason, I’ve been discovering tons of “new foods” throughout the last few years. In doing so, I’ve developed a few strategies on how to successfully experiment with unfamiliar ingredients…

Step 1: Decide what to try. I usually do this one of two ways:

  • Find a recipe with an unfamiliar ingredient.
  • Find an interesting ingredient at the store.

Step 2: Research how to use it.

  • If I’m working off a recipe, I stay pretty close to the directions the first time I use an ingredient.
  • If I’ve bought a random ingredient from the store, I find an appealing recipe by searching the ingredient index in the back of cook books or I search for the keyword online.

Step 3: Keep things simple while cooking. I love adding flairs to recipes, but when I’m using an ingredient for the first time, I try to keep it as simple as possible. This is not only helpful because it lets me focus on the cooking process, but it also allows the flavor of the new ingredient to really come through.

Step 4: Evaluate. I would say that 95 percent of the time, I enjoy the new ingredients I’m working with. But, the other five percent of the time, I just don’t care for it. Sometimes, I can try it out in a different recipe and end of loving it. Other times, it’s a just a lost cause — but I never would have known that if I didn’t dare to try it!

One of my favorite new diet staples is butternut squash. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have known what it was, let alone how to cook it. Now, butternut squash is one of my very favorite ingredients to work with!

Roasted Butternut Squash with Quinoa and Ricotta

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium butternut squash, cubed
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1 t dried rosemary, divided
  • 3/4 C quinoa
  • 1 1/2 C water
  • 1 C ricotta cheese
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

  • Toss butternut squash with 3/4 t rosemary, ~1 T olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread on a roasting pan and bake in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes. Stir in onions and roast for another 15-20 minutes, until butternut squash is tender.
  • While butternut squash is roasting, pour quinoa into a medium saucepan. Toast quinoa over medium-high heat for 3-5 minutes, until fragrant. Add in 1 1/2 C water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until water is absorbed and quinoa is fluffy, approximately 8-10 minutes.
  • In a small bowl, fold together ricotta, 1/4 t rosemary, ~1 t olive oil, salt and pepper.
  • When the butternut squash is done roasting, mix in the quinoa. Top with ricotta spread.

This was a delicious fall-inspired dish — but, I never would have made it if I didn’t first try quinoa, butternut squash or ricotta cheese. Heck, two years ago, those words weren’t even in my vocabulary!

And, for the record, this is a definite upgrade from chicken fingers.

Questions: How often do you try new foods? Do you have any methods for experimenting with new ingredients?

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