Give it another go

Jan. 21, 2014 @ 10:00 AM

One day in my high school cafeteria I was delighted to find breaded veal patties. 

I sat down with my lunch and my best buds, Bo and Rhi, eager to eat my unexpected bounty. 

Excited, I took a bite — and shrieked.  It didn’t taste like veal; it tasted like what Alpo smells like.

“Oh my gosh, they’re feeding us dog food!”

Bo and Rhi had known what was coming, and were laughing so hard they could barely speak.  Bo finally asked me, “Debbie, do you really think they’d spring for veal? For us?  It’s liver!”

Well, that shocking meal did me in.  I was done with liver and all other organ meat.

Our friend Chef Chrissie has a theory that when people dislike a food, it’s only because they haven’t eaten a well-prepared version.  I’d countered with the ‘yeah-but’ gambit.

Yeah, but organ meat is a horrible abomination.

Yeah, but then I had Chef James’ chicken liver mousse at the Carolina Inn, and Miss Kathy’s dirty rice at Duke’s Atrium Cafe.  Now that’s some organ meat I can get behind.

As badly as I hate to admit that Chrissie’s right, he is (but only about this).  How many people are convinced that they loathe Brussels sprouts?  And how many of them have only eaten malodorous, over-cooked, slimy sprouts when they were children?  I’ll bet that’s a very over-lapping Venn diagram.

One day in Whole Foods I was with The Kid, who was 7 or 8 at the time.

I don’t remember what it was, but they were handing out samples of something of which I’m not a fan.  The Kid wanted to try it, so I said, “Go ahead, but it’s gross.”

With a withering, disapproving glare, the hander-outer guy scolded, “When you say something like that, there’s no way your child will like it.”

His remark made me angry, but the irritation was borne of guilt.  He was right.

One of our new friends from Duke Hospital is Maggie, the health unit coordinator for surgical ICU at the new pavilion.  The Kid and I were chatting with her, and she mentioned a recipe she had developed.  It’s an interesting take on something that is in the “yucky” column for a lot of people — eggplant.

She gave me the bare-bones recipe, and I filled in the blanks.

Maggie’s Eggplant Ingots

2 -3 medium eggplants

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

3/4 cup finely shredded Parmesan or Pecorino cheese

1 tablespoon kosher salt + more for sprinkling

Freshly ground black pepper

Oil for frying

When you’re at the grocery store looking for eggplant, make sure you pick ones that are as blemish-free as you can find.  Each bruise or nick will translate into brown spots on the flesh. 

Peel and cut eggplant into 1 inch cubes.  Put them into a colander and toss with 1 tablespoon of salt (this will leach out any bitterness). After 30 minutes, rinse salt off veg.

Put about 1 inch of oil in pan, and heat on medium until it shimmers, or is between 345 and 360.

Place flour and cheese in a zip-top bag.

Put eggplant in bag, and shake so that it’s completely covered.  Using a slotted spoon, take cubes from bag, shimmy off excess flour, and fry in small batches until GBD (golden brown and delicious).

Remove to paper towel-lined platter and sprinkle with salt & pepper.  Keep warm in 200 degree oven until all the eggplant is cooked.

These can be eaten like tater tots, or you can use them as a meat substitute over rice or pasta.  They’re so tasty though, they may not make it out of the kitchen.

Sure everybody’s got something that they truly abhor. The Kid, despite having tried them cooked myriad ways, just can’t find any love for beets. With Petey, it’s artichokes.

But as a full grown adult human, it would behoove you to give some of your traditional dislikes another go. And if you have kids, it’s even more important. How can you urge your picky eater to give something a try if you’re unwilling to give okra another chance?

Just don’t ask me to eat any icky, icky lima beans.

Thanks for your time.

Debbie Matthews lives, writes and cooks in Durham. Her email address is