Eating your veggies not always so bad

People always tell you your taste buds evolve, but I could never have predicted how much my relationship with vegetables would change over the years.

The first time it began to dawn on me that I had joined the ranks of the vegetable-loving minority was when a co-worker admitted that not only did he never get the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, he might not even get five vegetable servings in a month. On a good day, I probably get five servings of fruits and vegetables each.

Later, when a companion expressed disbelief that anyone could like vegetables as much as they liked fruit, I got to thinking. There actually are several vegetables I enjoy more than fruits. How did that happen?

As a kid, I never thought I could tolerate, much less enjoy, eating vegetables. My choices were limited to a few meager options, including mushy canned green beans, carrot sticks and iceberg lettuce salads.

I'll never forget the feeling of slimy, cold green beans in my mouth as I chewed them slowly, trying to work up the courage to swallow. Occasionally I resorted to the old-pro trick of hiding half my veggies under the remnants of my baked potato, then stealthily dumping the whole plate down the disposal.

The only vegetables I tolerated were tomatoes. Yes, I realize tomatoes are actually a fruit.

As an adult, though, I came to understand that vegetables didn't have to be the dreaded side dish, eaten first to get out of the way before moving on to the good stuff.

They can actually be the centerpiece of the meal, or, at least, a good complement to the rest of the food. When they're cooked correctly, I learned, vegetables can taste just as sweet as fruit or almost as rich as some entrees.

The first step was expanding my vegetable horizons. There were a lot of options I used to pass right up in the grocery store, but I made a conscious effort to try as many new veggies as I could find.

I've made some delicious discoveries.

During the spring, I sometimes feel like I could eat an entire bunch of steamed asparagus, sprinkled in lemon juice and dotted with a tiny bit of butter, in one sitting.

When it's drizzled in olive oil and roasted, a butternut squash can take on the flavor of a buttery potato.

And thanks to my broiler, I can enjoy the smoky sweet flavor of roasted bell peppers any time of the year.

If you've never tried roasting a red pepper, you should do it tonight. It's simple - just plop the whole pepper in a pan underneath the broiler. Cook, rotating occasionally, until the skin becomes thoroughly charred. After it cools, remove the skin - it will come off easily - and scrape out the seeds.

Slice the pepper and add it to salads, use it as a sandwich topping or toss with olive oil, feta cheese and capers for an easy side dish.

If only I didn't like steak so much, I'd have no problem being a vegetarian.

E-mail Shelley Mann at shelley.mann@gwinnettdailypost.com.