To me, the mark of a good cook is getting people to eat what they normally wouldn’t. I’m not talking about morality; I don’t expect to create a pork chop so perfect it’ll turn a vegan into a carne-craving Jedi. It’s not that I doubt my ability, it’s more that those people are nucking futs. But, before you say “I don’t like eggplant,” try MY eggplant. Before you proclaim “sushi is foul,” let ME take you to fishy paradise. Having cranked out a trio of very differing palettes, I’ve learned how to make acquired tastes accessible (without making them generic).
Our problem with trying new things is multifaceted.
One, until we can feed ourselves, it’s mama (or some maternal approximation) that shovels our gullets. This in itself is fine, but it also creates a very linear understanding of foodie goodness. (We’re not meant to survive on mac n’ cheese and chicken dinosaurs once shaving become relevant.) Mama also fed us with one purpose: to shut our whiney mouths. Being the horrible children we were, we would of course reach for the most processed, preservative-filled crap. I’m not saying that from a place of superiority, either, as I wouldn’t have my junk food any other way.
Reason two, because we are as superficial as are we are horrible, we eat with our eyes first. Knowing that, how do you sell someone on foie gras? How do you make goose liver, which looks exactly like what it is, seem delicious in the mind’s mouth? Easy, get out of your own way. See yourself over there coming at you? Let yourself pass right on by and just maybe your horizons will broaden.
There are very few things we can’t enjoy if they’re done well and if we can get over their psychological aspects (food allergies notwithstanding). When I met Russell, two of his bugaboos were the aforementioned eggplant and mushrooms. No points for guessing what he gobbled up tonight, then thanked me for with all sincerity. All it took was breaking him; his mental hurdles, his spirit, his will, etc.. As soon as I get him eating pineapples on pizza, my flag will have been successfully planted through his soul. Maniacal laugh.
Tofu Eggplant Mushroom Stir Fry
- 1 package firm tofu
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1/2 lb Japanese eggplant, sliced
- 1 package oyster mushrooms
- 1 package Bunapi mushroom (you may substitute whatever type of mushrooms you like)
- 8 scallions, sliced
- 2 tbsp oyster sauce
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 1 tpsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 1 tsp chili oil
- 1 tsp sugar
Drain and slice tofu. Sprinkle with soy sauce. Heat oil in wok over medium-high heat. Fry tofu in oil, browning each side. Remove from pan and place on paper towel-lined plate. Add garlic to pan, followed by chopped veggies. Stir fry for 5-7 minutes until eggplant is almost cooked. Whisk remaining ingredients together and pour into wok. Continue to stir fry until the eggplant is done. Add tofu and fold into veggies and sauce. This can be served with rice, but as I’m watching my calorie intake, we ate it without.
I realize that, while I bash vegans, I also made a dish that almost suits their otherworldly agenda (if you substitute the oyster sauce with plum sauce). Be that as it may, I gotta say this was amazing. As I said earlier, I haven’t been too far-reaching with my Asian-inspired dishes but this was perfect. It’s all about the ingredients and how they come together. Salty, spicy and slightly sweet. And the texture of the tofu juxtaposed against the vegetables… just wow. Ask Russell, he’ll tell you. Of his own volition. Right, Russell?