Exploring Exotic Vegetables
Kelly Izdihar Crosby
Are you looking for the next hip and trendy superfood? Or are you looking for new foods to add to your health-conscious diet? You’re about to be introduced to some interesting produce that are not only cool ways to spice up your dishes, but are also packed with the vitamins and minerals essential for healthy living.
You’ve heard of cabbage; you’ve heard of turnips. How about Kohlrabi? Known as a German cabbage turnip, kohlrabi is a perennial, cool-season vegetable. With its strange purple leaves and bulb-like appearance, it’s known for its sweet, mild flavor and crisp and juicy texture. It is the latest popular superfood and is considered the “new kale.” Full of vitamin C and potassium, this unique plant comes in two varieties, white and purple. Kohlrabi is also rich in dietary fiber with trace amounts of fat and zero cholesterol. Like cabbage and turnips, kohlrabi has phytochemicals known to protect against colon and prostate cancers. Eaten raw or cooked, kohlrabi is used for salads and soups, and the leaves can be fried to make delicious fritters.
Mizuna, known as Japanese mustard greens or California peppergrass, is mildly spicy and often used for Japanese stir fry dishes. Mizuna has been cultivated in Japan since ancient times, though its origins may be based in China. Like most mustard greens, mizuna is high in vitamins A and C and folic acid, plus cancer-fighting antioxidants. If you live in a colder climate, mizuna is an excellent leafy green to grow at home as it is very cold tolerant. Not sure what to do with it? YaQutullah Ibraheem Muhammad, a registered dietician at Veterans Health Administration, says, “Mizuna is a nice type of green leaf that can be used as an alternative to lettuce and spinach in salad.”
Is your green lawn polka-dotted with yellow weeds? Some would never think of eating them but those “weeds,” better known as dandelions, are not only edible, they are delicious! Most commonly eaten are the leafy greens of the plant, which have a hearty taste like chicory or endive, and are great sautéed, steamed, or eaten raw in salads. You can also eat the flower, which has a slight bittersweet taste, as well as the root, which can be used as a coffee substitute. The benefits of indulging in this versatile plant? Dandelion greens are good for digestion and for treating viruses, gout, eczema, and acne. Include them in your green smoothies as they are rich in calcium, iron, protein, and antioxidants.
Bored with broccoli? Craving more than cauliflower? Try adding Romanesco to your diet.
Romanesco was first found in Italy and is unique for its strange appearance. It appeals to mathematicians because of its resemblance to a computer fractal. Really, Romensco is quite a vegetable to behold. Think cauliflower, dyed light green, with spiky flowerets. And the taste? It has a slight nutty flavor and crunchy texture and is a great substitute for any cauliflower recipe. Its mild flavor is one that foodies claim you can enjoy once you get past its bizarre appearance. Perry VoScott, known as the Certifiable Foodie, says, “It’s delicious, a cross between broccoli and cauliflower. It has all the best of both vegetables, and the texture is like nothing else you’ve ever consumed.” Romanesco is also rich in Vitamins C and K, dietary fiber, and carotenoids — the fat soluble nutrients that give color to our fruits and vegetables.
Speaking of color…You’ve heard of sweet potatoes but have you ever seen a purple one? Purple sweet potatoes are known for their vibrant, bold hue. The purple sweet potato has only been commercially available since 2006. At your local farmers’ market you can ask if they carry purple yams or Hawaiian sweet potatoes. It has a rich flavor but is known to be denser and drier than other sweet potatoes. The purple hue becomes more intense when cooked and, like their orange relative, they are packed with vitamins B6, C, D, iron, and magnesium. Muhammad raves, “They are awesome and can be used in several recipes.” Add some pizzazz to your desserts by using it to make purple sweet potato ice cream, donuts, and sesame seed marble cake. Your family will marvel over the beautiful color, and be equally impressed by the delicious taste.
This summer, stop by your local farmers’ market and see what exotic vegetables are available. Introduce yourself and your family to a unique culinary experience while supporting local growers and remaining health conscious. You don’t need to be a chef to add these unique, nutritious items to your menu.
Kelly Izdihar Crosby is a writer and multidisciplinary artist living in Atlanta, Georgia. You can find out more about her and her work at www.kellycrosbydesign.com.