Oddball veggies hold surprising pleasures for the adventurous
I try to be a seasonal locavore, almost to a fault. I love saying that I’ll eat anything — the more obscure, the better. But as much as I love food of all kinds and while I pride myself on being an adventurous eater, in the past few years I’ve had to face the fact that I still have a few kid-like suspicions of “weird food.”
Kohlrabi is one of the weirdest looking foods out there, I have to say. I didn’t grow up with them and when I saw them at markets I’d be intrigued, but not enough to actually buy one and try it. If I was apprehensive at the thought of eating something that looked like a Sputnik baby, then I can only imagine how a whole lot of other people felt about it!
Two years ago I finally made myself try one and I fell in love with it. The round vegetable is the stem of the plant, with leaves growing out of it in a pattern that certainly looks like space satellite antennae. You just snip off those leaves (save them!) and peel the ball with a sharp paring knife. Cut off a quarter-inch thick slice and taste it — it’s certainly a member of the cole (Cruciferae) family — a cousin to cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kale. The texture is like the floret stems of cauliflower — quite firm — and the flavor is closest (I think) to cabbage. It’s very sweet and mild and can be used in so many ways.
You can cube, slice or shred it to put raw in salads or slaws. You can use it instead of turnips in any dish (it doesn’t have the peppery-ness of turnips). You can slice it and throw it on the grill. Once you try it, I have no doubt you’ll be a convert like me and want to put it in everything. Those saved leaves are an added bonus, in that you have another leafy, dark, bitter green that you can use just like kale or collard greens.
Kohlrabi is an incredibly easy crop to grow here both in the spring and in the fall. If you are a square-foot gardener, get a packet of seeds and plant one of your square feet with it. You’ll be like me in no time and it will be a must-have in your garden, or at least you’ll be running to the farmers’ market early to beat out the chefs who buy them all when they are in season.
Another “weird” vegetable for a lot of people is okra. Usually people tell me it’s the “slime” in okra that they just can’t handle. Okra is a vegetable I did grow up with and I have loved it in every preparation I’ve been exposed to — stewed, fried and pickled being the extent of the repertoire. I even really like the slimy mouthfeel. My drawback to it was that my absolute favorite treatment was fried, and I hate to fry anything. I love to eat fried food, (and fried okra was my husband’s favorite vegetable in the world) but cleaning up my kitchen after a frying is not my idea of a good time. So, I limited my household to one batch of fried okra a year.
But a couple of years ago, while harvesting okra in a community garden with some volunteers, one of them shared a tip that changed my life: simple grilled okra. It is amazing. I haven’t done any research to find out why, but when you grill it the slime completely disappears and the okra flavor is intensified. For your next get-together, grill a few pounds and walk around with a platter heaping with the blackened pods. People will follow you like love-starved puppies, asking for “just one more of those.” My husband and I can eat well over a pound by ourselves and we have it weekly while okra is in season.
With all the wonderful vegetables in season, it makes sense to feature them in a vegetarian menu. Celebrate the summer vegetables that are still in bountiful supply and the fall vegetables that are gearing up.