When I was a little girl there were no substitutes at the dinner table.
We didn’t have much money, but that wasn’t really the point to Mom. If I didn’t want her tahini-filled meatballs or fried liver and onions it was, she reasoned, because I wasn’t hungry enough. Mom often delayed dinner to whet my appetite. A ravenous kid is the best way to raise a good eater, she reasoned. But if I flat out refused to eat my dinner she’d comfort me by saying, “Don’t worry. We’ll have a big breakfast tomorrow.”
There were no fights. No screaming matches. She never pleaded with me. And she most certainly didn’t bribe me with dessert.
I raise my 5-year old daughter with the same principle—and just like at Mom’s, “ew” is never tolerated.
When kids react to food with “ew”—or any guttural reaction to food for that matter—it’s not only an insult to the food, it’s an insult to the cook. But I don’t think that’s the limit of the transgression. “Ew” is an even bigger problem—it’s disrespectful to the world. And I don’t mean that in a heavy handed, poetic way. I mean it literally.
I spent nearly four years cooking a meal from every country in the world, A-Z—all from my little kitchen in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I found delicious recipes everywhere, but that didn’t mean my daughter was always on board (I saw my fair share of frowns, fussing, and fits—especially around age 2). Contrary to what many strangers think, I didn’t cook the world to make her an adventurous eater. To me, it makes no difference if she likes cobra hearts or deep fried tarantulas. I simply wanted to add variety to my family’s meals and raise my daughter with an appreciation for other cultures.
So we tried dishes like Mongolian Carrot Salad and Moroccan Carrot Salad. The Mongolian Carrot Salad was dressed with garlic, vinegar, oil, raisins, and a bit of seasoning. The Moroccan Carrot Salad was dressed with freshly squeezed orange juice and orange blossom water. They were worlds apart in flavor and incredibly fun for our family to try—and best of all simple enough to make on a weeknight.
If my daughter had reacted to either of these salads with “ew” I would say what I always say:
You don’t have to eat this food. But you do have to use kind words. I’d then point to the world map that hangs in our dining room, show her where the recipe came from and tell her a little bit about the people who live in that part of the world. I would teach her to respect other cultures and their foods by modeling respect.
And then I’d give her one more thing to think about: “If an entire country eats it, how bad can it be?”
Our world is not a melting pot. It is full of distinct cultures, each with their own beloved recipes passed down from generation to generation. While globalization is blurring borders and making it easier to try new foods from far-flung regions—people will always feel a sense of pride about the dishes that remind them of home.
It’s worth remembering this at the dinner table.
Moroccan Carrot Salad
Serves 6 as a side dish
Morocco’s take on the carrot salad is homey, refreshing and features winter’s bountiful oranges in two forms – orange juice and orange blossom water. After a quick mix, nothing more than cinnamon is needed to give a burst of warmth (though a touch of sugar never hurts). Wonderful on the side of the heavy stews and roasts that are so popular this time of year.
2 lbs carrots, peeled & finely grated
2 cups fresh squeezed orange juice (all the pulp—about 9 oranges, juiced)
2 tsp cinnamon, plus extra for garnishing (if desired)
1/4 cup sugar, or more to taste
orange blossom water, to taste
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, adding orange blossom water to taste.
Best served within 2 days. Right before serving garnish with a dusting of cinnamon.
Tips: I used my food processor to shred the carrots but the grater-feed has rather large holes. In Morocco this salad would be almost pulverized and soupy. For soupier results, try the fine side of a box grater.
Recipe used with permission from Global Table Adventure.
SASHA MARTIN is an award-winning writer and blogger who spent almost four years cooking her way around the world. She graduated from Wesleyan University and was an M.F.K. Fisher scholar at the Culinary Institute of America. Her website, Global Table Adventure, is a go-to hub for foodies all over the world. National Geographic Books will publish her first book, LIFE FROM SCRATCH: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness in March 2015.