The Toothless Gourmet

By Carol Sherman

Most of us have been to the dentist. Aside from the very lucky who need only a biannual cleaning, there are those of us who must relinquish a tooth or two over the course of a lifetime. But what if the necessary extractions leave you with no ability to chomp on an ear of corn, a toasted bagel, or a crunchy salad? What if the molars that turned steak and roast beef into digestible mush “bit the dust”? What to eat? Oh Lordy, what to eat?

So for the dentally challenged, a brotherhood and sisterhood long unrecognized and unacknowledged, I offer creative cookery solutions. Indeed a roadmap of good eating and good nutrition.

When I mentioned my gourmet food tips to my dentist, she was very enthusiastic. “We hear that from so many patients,” she said. “They just don’t know what to eat. It would be really helpful.”

What is essential is an open mind and a creative and adventurous spirit. A good chef’s knife, a food processor, and happy recollections of tastes and foods that you loved when your battalions of teeth were at the ready will open doors. No baby food or cans of chemically enhanced food supplements. Real food! Good food! Sometimes deconstructed, but familiar and nourishing and always made to suit your taste.

Admittedly, one or two of the preparations might look odd. But the goal is not art, but satisfying meals. I recall one morning, half awake, cooking old-fashioned oatmeal. Feeling especially hungry, I beat an egg and tossed it into the cereal. The egg cooked quickly. I put it into my blue bowl, topped it with a pat of butter, and then enjoyed my one-pot breakfast. If you like sweet things, you could add applesauce, brown sugar, and cinnamon to your oatmeal.

At that moment, I wondered if I could approach all my cooking with the same intrepid attitude. The goal was good nutrition and good taste. We all know the guidelines — protein, carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, good fats (canola, olive oil, avocado), and less salt and sugar.

Eggs became my default meal: scrambled, boiled, fried, omelettes with shredded cheddar. Egg salad made with low-fat yogurt and mayonnaise or mashed avocado with fresh lemon juice. I love bread and found that cutting up toast or artisanal bread into itty-bitty bits and throwing them into soups or sauces worked for me. Bread soaked in milk and egg for French toast led me to quiche. A frozen piecrust sprinkled with cubed Swiss cheese and cooked chopped spinach, with a custard of milk, eggs, and fresh-ground nutmeg baked for 45 minutes at 350 degrees produced six lovely meals to be enjoyed any time of the day or night.

Meat loaf or turkey loaf with the spices or herbs of your choice (curry, oregano, thyme, fresh dill, Italian parsley), eggs, and Panko bread crumbs if moist can be eaten comfortably in small bite-size pieces. Small and tender is the target. Chicken, tuna, chopped beef in cream sauce (remember S.O.S.?) go down easily. In restaurants, even a gourmet burger, half the bun ignored, can be eaten slowly with knife and fork.

Pasta is my love. Many of the dentally challenged can manage spaghetti al pesto, even lasagna in red sauce with minced sausage. Grated pecorino, a great source of calcium, is always welcome. And let’s not forget chili or black beans and rice.

We’ve talked about loaves, what about fishes? Broiled salmon, cod with lemon or remoulade sauce, cooked shrimp minced in a food processor, herbed rice, couscous, quinoa, green peas, and overcooked broccoli provide vitamins and minerals.

Let’s include more vegetables. Those crunchy salads might be a thing of the past, but chopped greens sautéed in olive oil and garlic, or baby kale or young spinach, will keep your eyes young. Roasted vegetables with a modest spray of olive oil spread out in a single layer on a cookie sheet, or baked whole sweet potatoes oozing sweetness, call my name. Soups with onion, carrots, and celery can be a starting point. Just add dried lentils or dried split peas and some tender greens. When ready to eat, crumble in a few Club crackers.

What about snacks? Forget about popcorn, Cheetos, or potato chips. A small serving of creamy mac and cheese is a happy option. There’s always hummus, salsa, guacamole. Try smooth peanut butter with yogurt and preserves, or sprinkled with low-sodium soy and sesame oil on leftover noodles. Baked beans with a dash of maple syrup (the real thing) and a bit of minced smoked ham will satisfy the midnight snacker.

For sweet treats, enjoy fresh raspberries, blueberries, or mashed bananas with fresh lemon juice. There’s ice cream, rice pudding, custard, even Jell-O. Try small pieces of Graham crackers that will literally melt in your mouth. I love homemade applesauce topped with crushed Graham crackers and a dash of cinnamon. It is deconstructed apple pie at its finest. And for a really indulgent sweet, there’s tiramisu or cheesecake.

There is a universe of good eating out there. Your imagination can lead you to satisfying and nutritious meals that can be enjoyed sans a full set of choppers. The only downside is that while your food choices are expanding, so might your waistline.

Carol Sherman is a poet who lives in East Hampton. Her most recent collection is “Adios, San Miguel.”