I had to eat beetroot every single day for nine years. I didn’t want to eat the beetroot, but I was forced to at boarding school by a very large woman with forearms that looked like the kind of heavy-weaponry that America spends inconceivable amounts of money on every single year, which then inevitably doesn’t work the first time they deploy it anywhere that’s not a tree-lined avenue in Wisconsin.
Now, I have nothing against beetroot – but I challenge you to eat anything for three thousand two hundred and eighty five days straight, and then see how you feel on the other side. Needless to say, that for whatever the reason, there are very few people who don’t have some sort of food weirdness lurking around. Even those who’d consider themselves fairly adventurous will unexpectedly turn around and confess some ridiculous aversion to, I don’t know…cocktail sausages or something.
Come to think of it, I might have something against cocktail sausages. But that’s probably more to do with not being too wild about ‘cocktail’ as a food genre on the whole.
The problem is that, no matter how sensitive towards other people’s food aversion you’d like to be, it does sometimes make cooking for them a bit of a chore. Without even having to pause for thought – these are just some of the ones from my pool of friends (and their justifications) off the top of my head:
Cherry tomatoes (apparently they look like alien brains)
Any chicken on the bone (bones freak me out…) Um, okay.
Mushrooms (this is what I imagine baby meat feels like…) I’m not going to think about this one too much.
Onions (It’s the texture) This was a beautiful girl I used to cook for a lot. I tried hiding the onions in a lot of things I made in some of the most creative ways I could think of, but she was like some sort of invasive surgery – capable of finding the damn things and picking them out, no matter how finely they were chopped and cooked in. Seriously, if ever you actually do need to find a needle in a haystack, just wrap the needle in a sliver of cooked onion and giver her a call.
Risotto (it looks like worms!!)
Cheese – I mean what the fuck!?!?! Who doesn’t like cheese (I just don’t like cheese okay!)
Duck (I used to have a pet duck)
Sweet potato pie (Potatoes aren’t meant to be in a dessert!)
Pawpaw (It’s. Just. So. Slimy)
Lamb (It just tastes so much like…lamb) Yes. Yes it does.
Parmesan (It smells like vomit) – this one is my dad, and yet somehow he stuffs his face full of marmite every day of his life. Go figure.
You add to this a fair number of kosher eaters, general vegetarian-types of varying fanaticism and my lone vegan friend (shame, we try not to make too much fun of her, but we don’t allow her in any of our photographs) – and dinner parties with this bunch get fairly tough.
The interesting thing about this is that I really believe that food aversions can be ‘cured’, as it were. Mostly just because I think not liking something comes from having been exposed to really horrible examples of it in the past, and from that, the switch gets flipped. Which logically mean it can be unflipped, right? To me, it makes sense that all that needs to happen is a meal where the thing you don’t like is done properly and wonderfully, and once you’ve gotten over the conditioning of supposedly not liking the thing – and you can learn to appreciate it on its own terms again. A sort of mental/tastebuds ‘reset’.
I believe this because in the past I’ve helped one of my oldest friends get over his mushroom aversion, recently managed to turn the risotto-hater and also most impressively got over my own fear of pawpaw (Yes, that one was me. Oh, and for my American friends, I’m talking about Papaya here…). In fact, it was while I was talking about exactly how much I hated pawpaw that I suddenly realised it’d been a really long time since I’d actually had some, nicked a piece of a nearby plate of fruit salad – and couldn’t believe it when, to my enormous surprise, I didn’t hate it nearly as much as I thought. In fact, I pretty much ate the rest of the plate like a vaccuum-cleaner set to ‘super suck’. You see, I’d just gotten so used to telling myself I didn’t like it, that I didn’t question if it had carried on been true.
So, having said all of this, I took it as a personal challenge when I overheard someone claiming not to like tuna. And because fighting in the streets is frowned upon, I’ve decided to cook them some instead and see if I can persuade them otherwise.
Grilled Tuna with Chilli, Ginger and Lemon Butter.
My approach for this is to just get out of the way and let the tuna speak for itself. If you’re doing this for first-timers, make sure the steak is fresh, don’t make it too rare and just let the richness of the lemon-butter work its magic.
Ingredients (for 2)
2 large tuna steaks
1 dried chilli, finely chopped and seeds removed
1 knuckle-sized piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped
a splash of olive oil
2 whole tomatoes
1 clove of garlic
a splash of milk
the juice of half a lemon
2 anchovy fillets
1 heaped teaspoon of sugar
a handful of fine beans
What to do
This first bit you want to get going as far in advance as possible – even the day before if you want.
Turn the oven to 180 degrees celsius. Cut the garlic thinly into slices, then cut the tomatoes in half. Put them in a baking tray lined with oven paper, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with some fresh thyme leaves, a dash of salt and pepper, and place two garlic slivers on each tomato-half. Get that in the oven and leave them until they properly look gummy and golden – it should take about 2 hours or so. Once they’re done, leave them to one side to cool.
Whisk together the chilli, ginger, olive oil, pinch of salt and dash of pepper, add the tuna steaks and just let that all get to know each other for about 30 minutes or so.
In the meantime, peel the potatoes, pop them in a pot of salted, boiling water and leave them until cooked and tender.
In a saucepan, add the butter and anchovy fillets (they’re the key to this, it makes this sauce rich and beyond delicious – what I’m saying is don’t you dare leave them out), and once the butter has started to melt and foam, stir vigorously so that the anchovy fillets break apart and integrate with the butter. Squeeze in the lemon juice, add the sugar and also a dash of pepper (the anchovies should give you salt enough). Stir stir stir and then reduce the heat so that it stays warm without bubbling. Give it a taste to see if the balance is right – you might find you need a bit more lemon or sugar depending on both your taste and the strength of your lemons.
At this point bring another pot of salted water to the boil, and add the beans. They’ll need to cook for about 15-20 minutes, so it’s best to put them on just before you’re about to start finishing up.
Once the potatoes are boiled, drain all the water and then add just splash of milk. Chop up the baked tomatoes (with all the garlic and thyme from the baking tray) and add them to the potatoes as well, then mash it together until creamy.
Get a ridged or normal non-stick pan good and hot and then slap in the tuna, cooking it on each side for a maximum of 5 minutes. You just want the outside to be pleasantly seared, and once its cut open for the inside to be a rose-coloured pink.
Serve the tuna with the mash and a small grating parmesan over the beans, then spoon over the lovely lemon butter sauce.
Holding thumbs that this will do it.