Monday, January 10, 2011

Nutritious Mush

When I was young my parents taught me how to cook.  By and large they were successful though I claim no great skill.  One lesson they tried to impart failed utterly to make an impact; they tried to teach me about presentation.  Regularly they would suggest adding specific vegetables to add colour or talk about how food could be made to look more interesting or appealing.  The trouble with this is that I am generally perfectly happy to consume my food as a grey mush as long as the overall taste and nutrition remain the same.  I would be quite content if someone was serving me dinner and they put a steak, potato and vegetable dinner into a blender and served it to me in a bowl as the look and texture of my food very rarely has any interest for me.  As long as I can eat it fast and get back to whatever I was doing and be confident in the nutritional value I am content.

I think I am a bit weird in this.  Certainly children are very wary of things that have different textures than what they are used to and respond to presentation, though usually with "Ewwww, I won't eat that!" to anything new.  Adults mostly seem to have a preference for nice looking food too which has to be part of the reason gruel is at the bottom of the barrel of foods.  Maybe a part of that is the ritual aspect of eating and people would find food that looks strange or unappealing as breaking their ideas of how dinner is supposed to be.  There might even be a bit of the brain, something buried deep, that worries about food that looks strange as an evolved defence against poisoning oneself on strange fare.  There is certainly something to be said too for the ability to look at a dish and know what is in it; although people can be easily fooled into eating nearly anything there is something comforting in that illusory certainty of content.

There is one distinct outlier in this sea of "Just serve it to me in mush form in a bowl and make it snappy".  For some reason when I make Beef Chaser (based off my father's recipe for Chicken Chaser, with my own modifications) the way in which it is made and the texture of the food becomes critical.  This dish is rice, beef, whole tomatoes, big chunk mushrooms, onions, garlic and spices.  The key component is the whole tomatoes.  More than anything this meal is all about having a whole tomato that is outrageously hot and popping it in my mouth without any cutting.  I roll it around in my mouth trying to avoid burning myself and when it eventually reaches a critical level of non-burningness I crunch it to bits and savour all the seeds and hot, spicy juices that squirt out.  Somehow the entire essence of meat, garlic, onions and tomato is contained in that single moment and the sensation is wonderful.  It simply would not be the same dish were it to be mushed up into a paste and yet I can think of no other meal that even approaches this kind of textural importance.

I do wonder why this is.  Perhaps there were some critical moments of my life going on when I ate this dish or maybe that sort of experience is actually really unique to this particular style of cooking and particular food.  I don't know the answer to those questions, but I do know that although normally I have no problem eating my dinner fresh from the blender or in a tupperware container I will fight anyone who tries to cut up my whole tomatoes in Beef Chaser.


  1. I have to side with the children on this one. Don't you dare put my steak in a blender with vegetables!

  2. Baconshake!

    But in all seriousness, I think that you really aren't appreciating the differences that texture really makes. And there could be a number of reasons...
    1) I suspect you're often distracted while eating... and it could be simply thinking about other things. If you're concentrating on dinner, then you notice more of the finer details.

    2) I don't think you've actually tried putting food into a blender. You have to try it to really understand.

    3) Eating food is mostly about experiences. You remember a particularly memorable meal with pleasure and so preparing the dish brings back those memories.

  3. In the states there are some prisons that are using bland food as punishment for misbehaving prisoners. It's called nutraloaf, and basically it's chicken and vegetables with some other things all blended up and then baked in one big blob.

    It's got nothing unusual in it, and it is completely nutritious, but more than one lawsuit has attempted to challenge serving it as unconstitutional "cruel and unusual punishment."

    Here's a food critic review of it:

  4. I certainly don't deny that most people care a lot about taste, texture and presentation. Food and the rituals and expectations surrounding eating are important in our society, they just have very little meaning to me in particular. That isn't a recommendation nor a condemnation, just a fact.

  5. I know for a fact that you have ALWAYS been a quick and voracious eater, starting with your first days in the hospital after birth.

    Tomatoes hold heat (and juice) because of their structure. Are there other vegetables like that? Probably.

    One texture I really notice is waterchestnuts in a stir-fry. Always crunchy. Always a pleasant surprise to bite into.

  6. I don't think that Mom and Dad taught me those lessons. That either means that I innately figured out presentation or they decided that I was a lost cause..... hmmmm