Start Cooking: Test Some Food “Rules”

We’ve all learned how to prepare our cooking ingredients to maximize their flavor. For example, peel vegetables (e.g. onions or turnips) because the skin is tough, bitter or useless. However, it’s okay to leave some vegetables partially or unpeeled (e.g. certain potatoes or Persian cucumbers).

I never question some rules; They make a lot of sense or have been shown to be strongly true. “Refresh your dried herbs and spices at least every two years,” reads one. (I choose even less time.) Or, “Don’t store or keep fresh tomatoes in the fridge,” another. (This will irreparably destroy their flavor.)

However, when I thought about it, I wanted to test other imperatives, such as: B. “Always remove the green sprouts in garlic cloves because they are bitter.” Or, “When peeling or peeling citrus fruits, never include the white pith as the pith is astringent.”

But aren’t those cute little green centers of garlic clove just new growth? And isn’t new growth almost always tender and bland? And I, for one, am forever unable to accurately or completely separate the zest from the pulp of a lemon or a lime, but I can’t seem to taste any astringency or bitterness there. (I have a friend who loves to eat a whole lemon even though he spits out the seeds.)

So I decided to test these principles and share the results.

I removed the green shoot parts from 10 cloves of garlic, crushed them, and then also crushed an equal amount of the cleaned ivory flesh. I tasted and swallowed 1/2 teaspoonfuls of both raw, swallowing specifically to test the bitterness and “heat” of the raw garlic. (Don’t try this at home, ha.) Also, I’ve cooked portions of both in an extra virgin olive oil film.

What have I discovered, at least for once?

That the small green sprouts had far less “fire” or flavor (but no discernible bitterness either) than the clean garlic flesh, which, raw, was overwhelmingly “hot” and full-bodied. And that when sautéed soft and golden, they were both “sweet” and nutty, the regular garlic flesh even more so.

Speaking of at least the green sprouts, just like you would expect from baby veggies.

Lo and behold, the pith of the common lemon is surprisingly tasteless, or at least that’s how I found it after repeated chewing. I look forward to further taste tests with my next lime, orange, tangerine or grapefruit. Perhaps the pith of the grapefruit brings me bitterness, its thickness the most amazing deflector in the citrus world.

Three years ago a friend gave me dried sage from a trip to Greece. It was a lot less aromatic and flavorful than some sage leaves I dried from my herb garden last summer. No wonder, and who knows how long before that the Greeks had dried theirs?

Carrot skins, by and large, have a, um, “difficult” taste: neither bitter nor carrot-like sweet; not dirty-tasting when scrubbed well, but a bit more “earthy” than pleasant. To tell the truth, I was surprised, discouraged, and at times wanted to keep the skins on while cooking. But I think I’ll be peeling all carrots for whatever kind of food from now on.

Did you know that the flesh of the daikon (Japanese radish) at the top end is “hotter” and more flavored than that of the middle part, or even more than that of the pointed end? The meat of the top end is almost bland. Exactly the same goes for another root vegetable, the carrot, although people like to substitute “sweet” for “bland”.

Makes sense right? The last, least developed, most tender growth comes at the top end in both vegetables; the longest, possibly gnarled, at the top, closest to topsoil and sun.

A Southwestern cooking instructor once told me, no, the seeds of chili peppers are not their hottest facet; the “veins” were those whitish “ribs” that run along the inner walls.

Sure enough, here’s a sort of Scoville scale for both a raw jalapeño and a raw Fresno chile: from the three parts of the pepper — the flesh, with skin but deveined; the tiny seeds alone; and the veins pulled out alone—the flesh is the least hot (if you can say that of a jalapeño or a fresno), the seeds follow, and the most fiery, the veins.

Well that hurt.

Any other “eating rules” I could test for you? Email me at

Vietnamese Carrot and Daikon Pickle

Enough to fill a 1 liter jar.


  • 1 large or 2 medium carrots, peeled
  • 1 med radish, peeled
  • 1/3 cup white cane sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher or fine sea salt
  • 1 cup of warm water
  • 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar (or 4 tablespoons distilled white vinegar)


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