I know I'm going outside a lot of readers' comfort zones with this column, so bear with me.
It's so easy to get set in our ways as we grow older. We know what foods we like and don't like and that's the end of that discussion for many people.
But we know through scientific studies that as we age, our tastebuds diminish, which may explain in part why cookies Mom made when we were kids don't taste the same to us when made today.
So, why not tempt those fading tastebuds with some new flavors and textures? Instead of being stuck in our ways of cooking and preparing food, we should embrace the idea that out there just may be something we haven't tried and might truly enjoy eating. Think of it as opening your eyes -- and your mouth.
In the 21st century, the world of food has expanded and contracted. What once was exotic and hard to find is now available at the supermarket.
Some foods, even while grown close to home, never made it into our diets. For example, the lowly soybean grows all around us, but it took Asian cooking to make Midwesterners sit up and eat the little bean (steamed in its pod) called edamame. Now you can find it in the fresh and frozen food sections of the supermarket.
Next time you're eating in an Asian restaurant and there is edamame on the menu as an appetizers (usually salted and eaten with your fingers), give it a try. It has a very mild flavor. If you already like edamame, then consider this dip from Linda Cicero of the Miami Herald.
KICKIN' EDAMAME DIP
16 ounces frozen and shelled edamame, cooked according to package instructions
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
4 to 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
Place all the ingredients except the olive oil and lime juice into a food processor and process until smooth.
Add the olive oil and lime juice and process to combine, scraping the sides of the bowl several times. For a thinner consistency, add water 1 tablespoon at a time while the processor is running. Makes about 2 cups, 8 servings, each with 150 calories, 11.5 grams fat, 0 cholesterol, 6 grams protein, 7 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 297 mg sodium.
Now we come to a recipe that uses eggplant and pimiento, also called pimento. Pimientos are peppers similar to red bell peppers, though the flesh of a pimiento is said to be much sweeter.
Eggplant is a staple in Middle Eastern food, though typically it is cooked down to almost a pulpy consistency in spreadable dishes like baba ganoush. This spicy recipe is much more like a hot relish.
Susan M. Selasky, of the Detroit Free Press Test Kitchen, said we're probably most familiar with pieces of pimiento stuffed into green olives. Those pieces have been roasted and the skin removed. It's a process similar to roasting red bell peppers, she explained.
Small (4-ounce) jars of diced pimiento are commonly sold at most grocery stores. In this recipe adapted from a 1975 issue of Gourmet Magazine, larger jarred pimiento peppers are used. Susan says you can substitute jarred roasted red peppers.
Serve this relish on crostini or with grilled chicken or fish.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup minced onion
2 garlic cloves, peeled, minced
2 to 3 cups peeled and diced eggplant
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 to 2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons drained, prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and saute until the onion is browned. Add the eggplant, pimientos along with some of their juice, lemon juice, ketchup, salt, horseradish, sugar, tarragon and pepper and paprika.
Cook the mixture over moderate heat, stirring, for about 15 minutes or until eggplant is tender. Serve it hot. Makes 1 1/2 cups. Per 1 tablespoon: 24 calories, 2 grams fat, 2 grams carbohydrates, 0 grams protein, 79 mg sodium, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 gram fiber.
Here's how to reach me: Phone, 239-2664; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org; or write, Suzanne Boyle, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427.