Mixing Unusual Flavors

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Everybody has ingredients that they avoid.  You know the ones, where you see them listed in a recipe and pass right on by because the very mention of them makes you shudder.  There are a few of these in the QV household, one of which is olives.  I’ve hated olives for as long as I can remember.  The smell, the taste…it all made me want to gag.  I couldn’t stand it when my dad would eat salad olives with lunch, and I always ordered veggie pizzas sans black olives.  If it arrived with them on, I’d spend time painstakingly picking them off.

For my mom, one of her big “yuck” ingredients is capers.  Never having tried them myself, I can’t say what she doesn’t like about the flavor.  All I know is, if a recipe calls for capers, it’s not happening.  And since one of the most common substitutions for capers seems to be green olives, I’ve never tried replacing them in anything, either.

This makes it all the more surprising that I would choose to try the Pan-Seared Seitan with Artichokes and Olives recipe from 1,000 Vegan Recipes.  Not only does it prominently feature black olives, the one olive I’ve always hated above all other olives, but it also calls for, you guessed it, capers.  After scouting around Google and finding no suitable caper substitute, I decided to just leave them out, figuring the worst that could happen was the dish would wind up tasting like it was lacking something.

seitan artichoke olive pan

As for the olives, I picked up a can of water-packed black olive slices instead of the ones in oil.  I don’t know about you, but even before I stopped cooking with added  oils, things canned or jarred in oil struck me as kind of gross.  The thought of handling food that’s slimy with an oil coating puts me right off.  But it turns out this aversion was a good thing!  Apparently what I always disliked about black olives wasn’t the olives themselves, but whatever oil or brine they commonly get packaged in.  I didn’t mind the taste of the olives on their own at all.  In fact, they made a nice complement to the artichoke hearts, which I also bought canned in water.

Seitan is, of course, the main attraction here.  I make homemade seitan using a cross between the recipes in Veganomicon and 1,000 Vegan Recipes and substituting tomato paste for the oil.  It comes out pretty well as long as I remember to watch the simmering liquid and not let it boil too long.  It worked nicely in this recipe, complemented by some diced tomatoes, garlic and parsley in addition to the olives and artichokes.

seitan artichoke olive meal

Leaving the capers out didn’t seem to have an adverse effect on the dish as a whole.  Of course, not knowing what capers taste like, I can’t say what difference it would have made to put them in.  The overall flavor was unusual, yet delicious.  For a bit of a twist, I cooked up some of the farro I got in October’s vegan package swap instead of the rice or pasta that the recipe suggested for serving the dish over.  What a great idea that turned out to be!  It was my first time trying farro, and it struck me as the perfect balance between rice and pasta.  I love it now and have even eaten it as a snack!

To add some green to the meal, I made a side salad with mixed greens, arugula and kale from the farmer’s market, some bell peppers, mushrooms and carrots.  To top it all off, I threw on a few mung bean sprouts, which were also a treasure from the swap package.  I wish I’d taken pictures of when I was sprouting them, since it was my first adventure with growing my own sprouts.  It was exciting to watch them change over the course of a few days until they turned into little green, crunchy, sweet garnishes for salads and just about everything else.  I ate them incessantly until they were gone, and I can’t wait to sprout more!

I love trying meals like this and exploring tastes I don’t usually cook with.  I so often find myself falling back on dishes that have similar flavor profiles–stew, chili, beans and rice–that I sometimes forget how fun it can be to experiment with something new.  Now that I know I enjoy black olives, I won’t be shying away from other recipes that include them.  Who knows, maybe my mom will even conquer capers someday!

What foods do you consistently avoid?  Have you tried any of them again to see if your tastes have changed?

serene_universe@yahoo.com' About The Author

Sam has been a vegan since summer of 2009 and has spent the subsequent years experimenting with all manner of vegan food. She holds a Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Foundation's program through eCornell and is a member of Toastmasters International. When she's not blogging or cooking, Sam likes to read, play the guitar and knit socks.

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