Bright colors, robust flavors, unusual combinations: these are the foods I crave. Spicy Carrot Spread with Garlic Yogurt hits all my buttons. As a bonus, the recipe is quick and easy. I make it often. I bring it to parties. I have it for breakfast. I leave out the yogurt and serve it to vegans.
For parents who worry about picky-eater children, my story should give you hope. Until I was out of college, I didn’t eat colored food except under extreme duress (as in, you can’t leave the table until you finish your lima beans).
I lived on nice, safe neutrals: white food, tan food, yellow food. I wanted no nasty surprises, and filled my shopping cart with cottage cheese and pineapple, chicken noodle soup, chicken pot pies, eggs. Mind you, I could do wonders with eggs.
My life changed the day I ate my first tomato, fresh from the vine and warm from the sun. My memory of that tomato is so vivid, I can taste it right now.
On a hot August day in Oregon, Randy Baidas and I walked to our campus swimming pool and found an abandoned garden. The garden had been a spring semester class project that lost its student minders to summer vacation. Randy reached into the jumble and picked a perfect tomato: red, ripe, and, in retrospect, beautiful.
“Have a bite,” Randy encouraged.
“No thank you. Tomatoes aren’t my food.” I was firm, clear, and most emphatic.
“You have to have a bite. Watch, I’ll eat it first.” Randy bit into the tomato, juices and seeds dripping down his chin. I wasn’t impressed.
“Really, I’m sure it’s good, but I don’t eat raw tomatoes.”
“I don’t believe it. When was the last time you ate a tomato?” This was the start of Randy’s cross-examination, well executed as befit the law students we were.
Under pressure, I finally admitted I’d never eaten a raw tomato. With that admission, Randy smelled blood in the water. He pressured and cajoled and finally persuaded me to take just one bite.
That one bite challenged all my assumptions about food. Tart and sweet, warm and juicy, the tomato was the best thing I’d ever eaten. When I finished, Randy handed me another. In short order, my face and hands and arms were sticky with tomato juice.
Randy laughed his laugh of laughs at what he’d wrought. I laughed too; easily, joyously. When we finally jumped in the pool, all visible remnants of our tomato orgy disappeared. Inside, however, those tomatoes are with me still. They’re with me when I order the quirkiest food on a menu, or try a vegetable I’ve never before tasted. They lurk in every dish I cook, and every recipe I write.
This colorful recipe is dedicated to Randy Baidas, who inspired me to broaden my food palette and feast on food of color.