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Flavor Hacks 1: How to make kale (kinda) delicious.

April 2023 / by Cookhouse Hero

Dr Greger of Nutrition Facts has a handy system called the Daily Dozen (link below). One category is devoted to charismatic cruciferous vegetables ("crew-sif-er-us"). These include broccoli, cauliflower, arugula (aka rocket), bok choy, and yes, the ever popular kale. Don't love their pungent flavors? Me, neither. Let Cookhouse Hero help.

  • Real Food Recipes: Physician's Committee features a kale and cannellini bean soup recipe. LINK

  • In the News: Healthline investigates 9 health benefits of kale including its anti-cancer agents. LINK

  • Feeding Families: Goodnesst shares 7 tips to get your kids to eat kale because it's that nutrish. LINK

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Flavor Hacks 1

Flavor Hacks 1

(learn to love your nutrient-dense plate)

CH BLOG - April 2023 / © by Cookhouse Hero / Reading time: 4 minutes

First, let's become friends with the foods on our plate.

     Whenever I teach someone how to cook, one of the first things I focus on is garlic. Why? Because peeling and cutting garlic is tricky and sticky for beginners. I then see minced garlic in a jar or prepped garlic cloves in a container in their fridge. I understand why this is easier, but the flavor profile of processed garlic can be bitter, acidic, and dulled. Thus, I spend the first part of the session doing something that has a higher level of resistance and is less pleasurable (ie prepping garlic), so that the rest of the lesson seems easier. I then remind people to become friends with fresh garlic as soon as possible, because garlic is uber-nutritious and makes food taste better (unless we're allergic or the taste makes us nauseous). This is a kind of "positive learning manipulation" I've use as an educator. This is also connected to the reward center in our brain. In The Road Less Traveled (1985) by M Scott Peck, he points out that most of us choose short-term pleasure over long-term pain. An example is doing our favorite tasks in the beginning of the day and then dreading the less desirable ones for the rest of the day. Or having five calls to make and saving the one we don't want to make for last, while stressing about this horrible fifth call during the first four. We humans can be quite silly sometimes.

A way to move forward with a more balanced (and less stressful) approach is to embrace the concept of short-term pain over long-term pleasure. This looks like first eating the things on our plate that we enjoy least and then savoring the things on our plate we love most.

Seven flavor hacks for making cruciferous food medicine go down...


  • Roasted Garlic - Not only is garlic a food hero, it makes everything taste more savory. This is called umami, the fifth known flavor (aside from bitter, sweet, salty, and sour). Roasted garlic is also sweeter than fresh, and we know that anything sweet will more likely entice us to eat it. Take an entire bulb of garlic, cut off the top, and roast until soft in a 400 degree F oven for about an hour (204 C). Cover with foil if the top gets too browned. You can use a touch of pure olive oil spray but it's not needed. Then, smash the garlic and add this paste to just about any recipe. Bake three or four bulbs on your batch cooking day. Fresh, uncooked garlic is awesome and it's more potent, so heads up.

  • Dressings + Dips - Almost every plant-based cookbook will have an extensive section on sauces, dips, and dressings. When I bite into steamed broccoli - a food I particularly dislike on its own - I add a bit of hummus, baba ghanoush, roasted garlic and veggie dip, and any variety of dressings I've made with each bite. 

  • Hide + Seek - I've learned that hiding veggies in a recipe can work miracles; caregivers do this with their picky kids all the time. Smoothies are a perfect example. This means investing in a nutri-bullet type of appliance and/or a high-speed blender. Another example is creating a creamy pasta sauce, soup, or dip with all kinds of bitter or pungent ingredients tempered by other ingredients like nutritional yeast, raw nuts, and white miso. One more way to "hide" veggies is in a stir-fry, WPF lasagna, WPF pasta bake, grain-based salads, and bean-based salads.

  • Crackers + Toast - It can be easier to eat an entrée-sized chopped salad with kale, arugula, broccoli, etc when we also bite into Wasa crackers or toasted sprouted breads while eating. This adds that special crunchiness we tend to crave. Crackers and toast also absorb other flavors (see starches + legumes below). BTW: although sprouted breads are more nutritious, whole wheat pita, whole wheat wraps/tortillas, and dense German rye-based breads are cool, too. 

  • Fruit - Adding fruits like applesauce, smashed ripe pears, and date purée to a soup or casserole with cruciferous veggies works wonders. It seems unusual but the flavor blends in well. If making date purée, first soak dates in boiling hot water for about 15 minutes, and then blend well with a touch of hot water before adding to the recipe. 

  • Starches + Legumes - Sweet potatoes, hulled barley, brown rice, beans, lentils, tofu, etc are savory foods that temper and absorb other flavors. We can also cook grains and legumes in veggie stock instead of water for even more flavor. When we take a bite of roasted Brussels sprouts with a bite a roasted sweet potato, the flavor becomes fabulous. Heads up: sweet potatoes are a high-glycemic food but become lower glycemic when boiled for 30-40 minutes. Roasting any plant, especially starches, increases their glycemic factor. 

  • Aromatics - Perhaps the best flavor hack for any foods that we resist is learning how to cook with aromatics. These are high-flavor foods such as the onions family, peppers family, garlic (of course!), carrots, celery, citrus fruit, lemon grass, mushrooms, fennel, ginger, and more. Aromatic herbs and spices like pepper, basil, oregano, rosemary, cumin, and herbs of Provence enhance every dish. Also experiment with both dried and fresh herbs as well as low-salt tamari, low-salt mustards, low-salt salsas, horseradish (not cream), white miso, Bragg's liquid aminos, hot sauces, and vinegars.

Sometimes, knowing the Why is more important and more motivating than knowing the What.


What to do?

     When I consider living a possible hospital-free life while supporting animal welfare and stable eco-systems, this primary why for me can trump brief moments or even lifetime habits of avoiding nutrient-dense foods like kale. The What takes a back seat as I focus on Food and Fitness as Medicine, my primary Why. Also consider this vital distinction: if we think that something is too hard vs very hard, our reactions and actions are different. Too hard means we give up. Very hard means we have a fighting chance to make something happen. For example, if something is too expensive, we're not going to buy it. If it's very expensive, we might. See the difference? And I challenge any human to show a flawless life where everything is painlessly easy. Life demands great effort most of the time, right? Eating nutrient-dense, life-promoting cruciferous vegetables like kale and broccoli takes effort for those of us who have an aversion to these pungent foods. The best internal, psychological hack for eating these food heroes in great variety and abundance is saying YES to short-term pain before long-term pleasure. In this case, long-term pleasure means less visits to the doctor, less animal factories, and less carbon in our atmosphere. Pretty cool for a humble plant like kale.

Click on the links below to get inspired by more hacks, a handy app, and the why of cruciferous vegetables!

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