Food presentation is an interesting phenomenon. Not the fact that one can have a career in making food look pretty (which is admittedly impressive), but the fact that we have the need for making food look pretty in the first place. No matter what our first-grade teachers told us about finding the beauty of a person on the inside, humans seem to be, by nature, obsessed with looks. Looking at it this way, it doesn’t seem surprising that we would also let aesthetics influence our taste long before we’ve taken a bite.
Children will much more readily eat sliced apples than grab the whole apples sitting on the counter. I experienced this first hand while at a choir retreat with fifth and sixth-grade children last fall: we had apples, bananas, and oranges sitting out all weekend and no one ate them. I recalled one of the cooks at the International Language Camp mention this phenomenon, that sliced fruits and vegetables are more likely to be eaten, and decided to give it a shot. It worked like magic: in the last afternoon, thirty children ate upwards of five kilograms of apples (sliced and unpeeled), three bunches of bananas (chopped into thirds but not peeled), and three kilos of mandarins (peeled and wedges separated). The Germans even have a word for food served in smaller pieces: mundgerecht (literally: suitable for the mouth).
It doesn’t seem to affect choice in general if fruit pieces are peeled or unpeeled, as long as they’re not brown with age. A couple bananas were left over before rehearsal started, and after an hour and a half of singing, no one wanted to touch the slightly browned, though otherwise perfectly fine, pieces anymore. Some people may say slices are more often eaten with other sauces and dips (such as caramel cream dips sold in produce sections of American grocery stores), but in my opinion that’s not necessary either. None of these fruits were served with dips, and they were eaten just the same. My theory is: if the kids don’t know the option is there, they won’t ask for it.
This makes me wonder if the evolution of salads comes from this tendency to want to chop things up and make them easier to eat. Continuing my postings on salads (we’ve had cucumber salad before and I promised more to come) I thought I’d post about the wonderfully tasty carrot salad. Carrots in general seem to be difficult for us as a society to eat plain (in the US as well as Germany): usually when we eat a raw carrot we eat carrot sticks, and in Germany people still chop their carrots up every morning for their snacks. American capitalism, in contrast, has picked up on carrot sticks and produced ready-to-eat flavorless mini carrots in smaller portions, so we don’t have to chomp down on a large, vitamin and flavor-rich root. Even the organic industry has jumped on this bandwagon, with disappointingly little or no taste difference that I can tell. We have been carrot brainwashed to the point that we have all forgotten how a real carrot should taste. And what a surprise it was for me when I bit into a real carrot here in Germany for the first time in years and realized: carrots taste really good! So next time you’re in the grocery store, resist your human instincts for having things mundgerecht: don’t buy the processed minis – reach for the real thing. This won’t only save your taste buds, but it will save your wallet and the environment as well (just think of the waste factories produce in chopping and shaving all those carrots).
Karottensalat (German Carrot Salad)
375 g shredded carrots (about three “real” large carrots)
10 Tbsp vegetable oil (you can try this with olive, but it will give a different flavor)
4 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp mirin (this is a sweet rice wine, you can substitute in sugar, but start with only one teaspoon, as it’s much stronger)
I like to make this recipe with organic carrots, because then I only have to wash them rigorously before shredding them. This saves all the vitamins that are just under the skin. Mix the dressing and pour it over the carrots. Taste the salad for flavor, adjust as desired/necessary. You can also add a shredded apple if you like (Granny Smith is good) or a handful of sunflower seeds for a twist in flavor and texture. Let the salad steep and serve at room temperature. I like to serve this alongside a green salad to make it a bit fancier. Cucumber salad can also be served with these.