genes and veggies

roasted beet salad with avocado horseradish purée

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warm roasted beet salad with horseradish cream and fried brussels sprout leaves

I’ve been talking a lot about the dentist lately. Hard not to, when I spend so much time with the guy. Every week or two I go, open my mouth, and he files away. Each time I stare up into the bright light. There is a dead bug trapped in the bulb. How did it get there? Am I the only patient to notice it? Why does it feel oddly comforting that the bug is always there? This visit something in my peripheral vision snaps me back to attention. Some sort of short kerosene lamp and from it, a generous flame. I feel as trapped and paralyzed as the bug. He places some kind of material onto his file, holds it in the flame briefly, and tells me to open my mouth wider. Just another trip to the dentist.

So let’s change the subject, shall we? Vegetables.

fried brussels sprout leaves

My husband was telling me about a rather fascinating video he saw recently about why some people might love the taste of certain healthy greens while others find it awful. According to scientific research, genetics largely determine our taste.

Apparently, one chromosome from our father and one from our mother combine to determine how sensitive we are to the bitterness in certain foods. If both are non-taster genes, then the result would be a child who doesn’t taste the bitterness in many vegetables. If both are bitter tasters on the other hand, then the result would be a child who is very sensitive to bitterness. And what if one parent is a non-taster and the other is a bitter taster? According to the study, it would result in a medium bitter taster, and in this case it is possible to learn to like those more bitter vegetables.

So being a picky eater is in our genes! Of course, I don’t want this information to discourage you moms who try to get healthy greens into your kids! Don’t worry, evidently it is possible that over time, our sense of smell changes, which changes our sense of taste, no matter what genes we have. Which is why kids tend to be more picky eaters than adults. So if your youngster pushes their plate of broccoli that you’ve so lovingly prepared away and says “Blech!” …don’t take it too personally. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad cook.

vegetarian warm salad entree

As a kid I was not overly picky where vegetables were concerned. That probably had more to do with environment (Dad: “You’re not getting up from this table until you finish what’s on your plate.”) than genetics. There were certainly vegetables I hated. Like zucchini, which I eat constantly now. Or peas, which I would try to pile onto my lap discreetly, not taking into account how easily peas roll away

But many more vegetables I loved. There are lots of greens I grew up eating in the Maritimes, and one particularly special to New Brunswickers, is fiddleheads. What I wouldn’t give for a steaming pile of fiddleheads right now… It was also a real treat to have steamed beat greens with a squirt of white vinegar. Yum!! And I loved root vegetables. Especially turnip. In fact, I much preferred turnip raw. When my mother was cooking with it she’d slice a chunk off for me to crunch on happily. I loved how peppery it tasted. Which is probably why I love the taste of horseradish so much.

Here in Ecuador, I cannot get fiddleheads. *heavy sigh* However, I can get root vegetables. And something I rarely saw as a kid, avocados, year round. So why not make a dish using both? I added some fried brussels sprout leaves for texture and brought some acidity with the lime zest. The colors were just beautiful and felt like a humble roasted vegetable dish dressed up and ready for a night on the town!

roasted root vegetables

roasted beet salad with avocado horseradish purée recipe

2 large beets, peeled and sliced into 12 wedges
1 small turnip, sliced into 8 wedges
1 large red onion, sliced into 8 wedges
1 tbs olive oil
sea salt and finely cracked black pepper
1 ripe avocado
1 tbs vegetable oil
1 tbs prepared horseradish
1 tbs thick natural yogurt
juice of half a lime
fine sea salt, extra
1/8 cup walnuts
zest of half a lime
1/2 tbs red wine vinegar
1 tbs olive oil
1/8 cup brussels sprout leaves

Drizzle beets, turnip, and onion with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast at 205°C (400°F) for approximately one hour.

For the avocado purée, combine avocado, vegetable oil, horseradish, yogurt, and lime juice in a food processor and bzzz! away until smooth and creamy. Adjust quantities if needed and season with salt according to taste. Set aside.

Toast off the walnuts, either in the oven or pan toasted. Set aside and let cool.

In a small pot, add enough vegetable oil to come up to about two inches. I fry on a gas stove and never use a thermometer, so what I do is heat on low flame until small bubbles start to form along the bottom of the pot. I use any piece of vegetable (one of the peels of the turnip, for example) to test the oil. If it rises to the top of the oil quickly after you drop it in, it’s good to go. Fry all the leaves until floating and crispy. Transfer to paper towel to drain the oil and let cool.

Combine lime zest and red wine vinegar in a small bowl. Gradually add olive oil, whisking constantly and until fully integrated.

To serve, take a serving spoonful of the avocado purée and drag across the plate, forming a long well in the center. Do this on all four plates. Divide beet, turnip and onion wedges evenly among plates. Sprinkle the walnuts and brussels sprout leaves and drizzle a bit of the vinaigrette. Serve while the veggies are warm.

Serves 4

warm root vegetable salad recipe

I found the dish to be totally delicious. Perhaps you will disagree. But that’s OK. I blame your genes.

posted in meatless wonders, the opening act .

42 Responses to genes and veggies

  1. Crystal says:

    Very pretty! I love fiddleheads too. Spring is also the time for wild garlic (ramps?), I remember my uncle smelled strongly during the season.

  2. Pure genius methinks! Although I’ve never had fiddleheads, they certainly are something I’d love to try. Ramps (or what we call wild leeks around her) are rampant, and I do experiment with them, even as strong as they are. Who am I to blame, mother or father, for my yen for trying new foods?

  3. I am definitely liking how healthy this is and how über delicious 🙂

    Choc Chip Uru

  4. I love this salad. It has my favorite veggies in it. 90% of the time I only eat vegetables. This is half genetics / half growing up and my taste buds dying. I like when something has TASTE even if that taste could be described as bitter 🙂

  5. I love the combination of Greek and horseradish! I can almost taste this from here… definitely adding beets to my list this week. Beautiful presentation!

  6. There ain’t single one veggie I don’t like, this is right up my alley. Creamy and spicy avocado sauce sounds amazing.

  7. This looks delicious, especially the Brussels sprout leaves!

  8. Emma says:

    I’ve been trying to think of something extra special I can send you – whenever I make it back in to town before the post office has closed – to make up for being so late to deliver. Now you’ve got me thinking of ways to ship fiddleheads…. what do you think of fiddlehead chips, a la kale chips? I wonder if that would work. Unfortunately I don’t own a dehydrator….. hmm…. I’ll keep thinking… I could always send a jar of my pickled fiddleheads I suppose!

  9. MMMMMMMMMMMMM I can totally taste all these flavours and you’ve got me drooling! Seriously. I am (as you know) recently a big fan of brussel sprouts… and the beets? this sounds so healthy and cleansing! I’m comin over girl. Set up my spot at the dinner table!! 🙂 xox

    • kale says:

      you’ve got a permanent place at our table, baby! can’t wait for when we get to visit in the fall…. we will EAT, EAT, EAT!! xo

  10. Lovely recipe & I was fascinated by your post about genes and bitterness 🙂

  11. Interesting info. I never knew that genes played a role in our like/dislike for greens. This beet salad looks so good! I hope you finish up with the dentist soon. It sounds brutal.

    • kale says:

      me neither! very enlightening…

      i’ve got a few more trips before it’s over. i will be popping some bubbly at the end of all this dental craziness, that’s for sure!

  12. LinsFood says:

    Wow, 2 veg I wouldn’t normally go for but you make them look so sexy! Absolutely love the presentation too!

  13. Hmm, I must have one of each since I was averse to most bitter greens when I was younger but have grown fond of them over time.

  14. Food Jaunts says:

    It’s really hard for me to find fiddleheads as well 🙁 As a kid I loved (and still love) all kinds of greens, cabbage, brussels sprouts (personal fav) kale, collards so fingers crossed I end up with one of those kids that’ll eat anything! Great dish here, I love the fact that you used the crispy brussels sprouts for a fun garnish/counterpoint.

    • kale says:

      thanks so much! brussels sprouts are another item i hardly ever see here. in fact, i’ve only found them once. once in over a year and a half! that’s why i couldn’t bring myself to part even with the outer leaves. 🙂

  15. Liz says:

    Cute story about trying to hide your peas! I love beets and your puree sounds like the perfect complement to it. I have yet to taste fiddleheads…I’ll look for them this spring 🙂

  16. I’ve never been very picky about food but there are definitely vegetables I like more as an adult than as a child.
    This looks pretty darn amazing – like something at a fancy restaurant!

    • kale says:

      thanks leaf! we don’t get many opportunities to eat out anywhere nice, so it’s fun to bring some fancy at home! 😉

  17. This salad looks so simple and yet it has so many great ingredients. I love it! Can´t wait to see how horseradish and avocado taste together. I hate fish because they forced me to eat it as a kid, and I think I would´ve liked it eventually if left on my own. My palate has certainly developed with the years!

  18. Adore fiddleheads too, the short season will arrive soon. I am very intrigued by the avocado horseradish purée and it being served with a roasted beet sounds wonderful

  19. Oh yeah, forgot to mention, my dentist taped a motivational poster on the ceiling over the chair. It’s getting tacky lol.

    • kale says:

      strangest thing: i had another dentist appointment today and the bug is gone from the lamp!! after all this time… where did it go?
      i stared up at the long exposed ceiling bulb and wires instead.

  20. Natalie says:

    This looks fancy and delicious! I love roasted beets!

  21. Hotly Spiced says:

    I was also brought up with the, ‘you’re not leaving the table until you’ve finished everything on your plate’, style of parenting that disallowed for any genetic excuses. I love the look of your vegetable dish and the dressing of horseradish with avocad sounds wonderful. Happy Easter xx

  22. Carolyn Jung says:

    Hilarious! That is why I give credit to dentists who go the extra mile and decorate their ceilings with a pretty poster of the beach or snow-capped mountains. So thoughtful! 😉

    • kale says:

      definitely! meanwhile i am trying not to stare into his eyes awkwardly, but really, where else is there to look??

  23. What an amazing combination of flavors and colors! I could eat beets all day every day; I love them that much! 🙂 And thank you for the valuable information! 🙂

  24. rebecca says:

    sorry about seeing the dentist so much great salad nice bite from the horseradish

  25. i had no idea genetics played in a role in our taste preferences! this explains why i hate parsley and cilantro.

    i nominated you for an award 🙂 go to my blog to claim it!

  26. Joanne says:

    Whoa! Perhaps that explains why I learned to like so many bitter veggies the older I got! I detested them as a kid.

    What a tasty dish this is! Love the variety of veggies and flavors!

  27. I hope your trips to the dentist will soon just be a bad memory. I’ve had my fair share of work done as a child, and it’s not a fun place to have to go back to, but sometimes it’s unfortunately a necessary evil.

    On a different note, that avocado horseradish puree sounds delish!

    • kale says:

      you’re right about that. i feel badly for the dentist, actually. i can’t help but give him an intense scowls before we get started each visit. he just smiles pleasantly and says “I know.” – he must get it a lot.

  28. I’ve also heard that there are certain developmental steps in learning to like greens. Maybe that our tastebuds mellow as we age? Not sure, but I do know so many kids who grow up to be omnivorous adults. I guess there’s hope!
    I like your tangy veggie combo – horseradish puree sounds great!

  29. Erica says:

    Love the combination of flavors and textures here!Thanks for visiting my blog!

  30. Interesting about genetics affecting our tastes and preferences in food! I’m not the biggest fan of beets, but I do love roasted vegetables, especially brussels sprouts 🙂

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