Nadia Lim is a big fan of converting people to like, even love, a food they once thought they didn’t like.
I have a friend who is particularly fussy when it comes to eating vegetables and legumes and I take great joy in hiding them in dishes I serve to her. I let her sit there and happily eat and finish the meal (and exclaim how delicious it was) before I drop the bomb that there was eggplant, courgette and lentils in the bolognaise she just ate. Initially there is a bit of shock and disgust, but soon after she nods her head in awe that she’s just overcome some of her food phobias/aversions.
More often than not, food aversions are a result of a first memory of trying a food that hasn’t been cooked well. If you try something for the first time and it’s been boiled to death until brown, with no texture or taste left except for the salted water it was boiled in, your brain automatically hardwires that memory so you avoid that food next time. Likewise, if you were sick or not feeling well at the time (or just after) eating a new food, your brain jumps to the conclusion that the food was bad, even if it was something else that made you feel ill. The first memory of a new eating experience is crucial.
There are two foods that stick out as being the most avoided or even — I know it’s a strong word — hated. But people really do proclaim to “hate” brussels sprouts and tofu. I can understand why though — most people grew up with being forced to eat over-boiled, soft, greyish, smelly brussels sprouts, and if not fresh or cooked nicely with a yummy sauce, tofu can be pretty awful.
My hope is that this crisp, crunchy and fresh brussels sprouts slaw will delete any bad memories, and that this recipe for the popular Japanese dish agedashi tofu will make you see (and taste) tofu in a different light.
Agedashi sesame tofu with shiitake mushrooms
Serves 4 as an entree
Dressing and mushrooms
20g dried sliced shiitake mushrooms
2 cups boiling water
1 tsp minced ginger
2 Tbsp good quality soy sauce
1 Tbsp mirin or sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
300g silken tofu, cut into 3cm cubes
¼ cup cornflour
1½ Tbsp white sesame seeds
1½ Tbsp black sesame seeds
3 Tbsp oil
2 spring onions, finely sliced
3-4 baby radishes, thinly sliced
Small handful cress leaves (optional)
- Soak mushrooms in boiling water until soft. Remove and squeeze dry. Strain liquid into a small pot and add the ginger, soy, mirin/sugar and sesame oil. Bring to a gentle simmer and let it reduce by half — this will take about 12 minutes. Keep warm.
- Meanwhile, heat a drizzle of oil (e.g. peanut, canola, soy) in a frying pan over medium high heat. Fry shiitake mushrooms, with a dash of soy sauce and sesame oil, until golden brown. Set aside.
- Combine cornflour and sesame seeds and season well with salt and pepper. Add tofu and gently coat with sesame cornflour mix.
- Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Lightly fry tofu on all sides until golden and crisp. To serve, divide hot tofu between bowls. Scatter over shitake mushrooms, and spoon over agedashi sauce. Garnish with spring onion, radish and cress leaves (if using).
Brussels sprout, apple and sesame Asian slaw
Serves 4 as a side dish
350g brussels sprouts
1 large green apple
1/3 cup roughly chopped roasted cashew nuts
1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1 large red chilli, finely chopped (optional)
2½ tsp sesame oil
2½ Tbsp soy sauce
4 Tbsp lime juice
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- Slice the stems off the brussels sprouts and finely shred/slice them with a sharp knife. Thinly slice the apple and cut into thin matchsticks.
- Mix all dressing ingredients together and toss with the shredded brussels sprouts, apple, cashew nuts, toasted sesame seeds and chilli (if using), just before serving.