Exotic and Peculiar Vegetables Vol II
photos are from Wikicommons
Ordinary to you maybe bizarre to me
What makes these peculiar? Peculiarity, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Some of these vegetables will be old family members to some and wild-eyed strangers to others. Living in the U.S.A., we have access to a huge variety of foods but your average supermarket carries only those items that sell well and quickly. Ethnic markets are available to many of us and that is where you will have to go to find some of these items, others, well you might have to grow your own or travel out of the country.
Each entrée starts with the most common name but with so many names for so many items you may need to use the find function of your browser to locate a particular name
To find nutritional information most of these are in this database of nutrition: http://nutritiondata.self.com/
Due to the amount of information this is presented in two articles
Jerusalem artichoke, sunroot, sunchoke, earth apple or topinambour
Jerusalem artichokes are really a type of sunflower native to North America, they haven’t been to Jerusalem and have nothing to do with artichokes. The important part of this plant is the tuber and the flavor of the tuber gave the plant its name. Unlike other starchy tubers, these tubers store inulin instead of starch. Inulin is a fiber the plant uses to store energy and is useful to industry as a base for making fructose. The peel is completely edible so to peel or not to peel, that is the question. Wash well and prepare as you would potatoes, they make an excellent puree, sautéed or boiled or roasted.
Jicama, Mexican Turnip
Jicama is a vine native to Mexico as well as the tuberous root. The root's exterior is brown and papery, while its flesh is creamy white with a crispy texture like apples. The flavor is mild and sweet, somewhere between raw green beans and an apple. Jicama is popular in cooked dishes in Mexico but it really stands out when eaten raw. The sweetness is mild enough to lend a pleasant crunch to green salads and fruit salads. Jicama has spread to Asia where it is featured in many cuisines, at home jicama can take the place of water chestnuts in stir-fries. Jicama makes an excellent slaw, julienne finely and add any dressing you like. The only preparation needed is to wash and peel. Other parts of the vine are toxic so if you grow your own use just the root. Old specimens and those that are too large will have started turning the sugars into starch giving them a woody flavor, so pick small, unblemished, firm roots.
Kohlrabi, (Brassica oleracea) German turnip
This odd looking vegetable is a relative of the cabbage and turnip is a tuber that grows above ground, the stems sticking out are the ends of leaves that have been removed.The flavor is definitely in the cabbage family, but milder than cabbage, perhaps like broccoli. Kohlrabis are good raw and fresh or cooked in many different ways. They are moist and firm enough to roast whole and serve with a little butter but they are great julienned and tossed with a salad. If the greens are still attached they can be cooked like turnip greens
Loofah, (Luffa aegyptiaca) luffa, plant sponge, Chinese Okra,
Another member of the gourd family, luffahs are mostly used, grown to maturity, peeled and seeded to make good bath sponges. Harvested young, luffahs are also served as vegetables. Flavor has some bitter notes that can be removed by soaking in salt water for a half hour before cooking. Peel and remove seeds before soaking, then cook like summer squash.
Lotus, (Nelumbo nucifera) lotus leaves, lotus root, lotus seeds.
Lotus is a type of water lily and the leaves, roots and seeds are all used in Asian cooking. Even the flower petals are used as a garnish and the stamens are used to brew a type of tea. Lotus leaves can be bought dried in Asian groceries, they must be rehydrated before use then they are used to wrap food, both sweet and savory for steaming. The leaves can be very large, enough to wrap an entire chicken with one leaf and they impart a sweet aroma to the food being cooked. The immature seeds can be eaten raw or cooked and even candied and they have chestnut like flavor. Ripe seeds are roasted and ground into flour, or boiled to extract oil. Lotus roots are starchy tubers with both crisp and fibrous texture and a slightly sweetish flavor like water chestnuts or daikon. With such a mild flavor lotus root will absorb the flavor of the dish.
Lovage, (Levisticum officinale)
Lovage is another ancient herb with a long history in Southern European cuisines. The flavor is like strong celery with just an undertone of anise. The leaves can be used in salads, or added to soup, and the roots can be eaten as a vegetable or grated for use in salads. This plant has a long list of uses as herbal medicine. The plant grows like giant celery with plants reaching as much as 8 feet tall. It is a perennial widely grown across the U.S. Europe and Asia in zones 4 to 8. Available as a dried herb and powdered root, to get fresh you may have to plant your own supply.
Malabar spinach, (Basella alba) Phooi leaf, Red vine spinach, Creeping spinach, Climbing spinach
is in the Basellaceae family, not the spinach family. The taste is similar to spinach, and it is cooked like spinach, but it's a bit slimy like okra. Unlike spinach, Malabar spinach is a very warm-season crop so it’s a good choice for Southern gardeners to grow during the warm months. This crop is native to tropical Asia, probably originating from India or Indonesia. It occasionally shows up in Asian market
Parsley Root, (Petroselinum crispum var. tuberosum)
Parsley root is seldom seen in the U.S. but it is common in Eastern European cuisines where it is often added to soups and stews. Appearance is similar to a parsnip, a white root. Flavor is assertive, something like a mix of celeriac and carrots. This is a winter vegetable with limited availability, mostly in specialty markets.
Parsnip. (Pastinaca sativa)
Parsnip is another root vegetable, related to carrots, chervil, parsley, fennel, celery, and celeriac. Appearance is like a dirty white carrot and the flavor is something like a carrot but a bit sweeter. This vegetable deserves more use, it is fairly uncommon on our plates but it is quite delicious. Ancient Romans were already cultivating parsnips over 2 thousand years ago. Parsnips are a cool season crop so they are at their best from fall through spring but some are available all year as they have a long shelf life. Parsnips should be harvested after a week or two of frost which turns the starch into sugars so they are not a good crop for gardeners in the deepest south.
Purslane, (Portulaca oleracea) Verdolaga, Pigweed, Little Hogweed, Pusley
Portulaca is a weed in the South but it is also eaten as a leaf vegetable. It has a crunchy, slightly sour and salty taste and is eaten throughout much of Europe, the middle east, Asia and Mexico. The stems, leaves and flower buds are all edible. Add them to salads fresh or cook as a side dish. Look for in Hispanic markets.
Radicchio, (Cichorium intybus, Asteraceae) Red Leaf Chickory,
radicchios have tender but firm leaves with a slightly bitter and spicy flavor. Leaves are red with white veins and heads may be rounded or elongated depending on type. Radicchio is available year-round, with a peak season from midwinter to early spring
Salisify, (tragopogon porrifolius), white salsify, goatsbeard, vegetable oyster, oyster plant. ALSO Black salsify (Scorzonera hispanica), Spanish salsify, bla
Salsify is a member of the sunflower family that originated in the area around the Mediterranean. Called oyster plant because the flavor is thought to be similar to an oyster but it has a touch of sweetness and milder flavor than an oyster. Some say the flavor is more like an artichoke. Both the roots and leaves are eaten but when salsify is in the market, it rarely has leaves attached. The appearance is like a long, dirty-brown or dirty-white carrot with a creamy white center and they must be peeled to cook. Salsify is an acquired taste for some but for fans this goes well in soups and stews. Salsify is good on its own, roasted, boiled, or boiled and mashed. Salsify is a winter plant with a small market for fresh but it is available all year long in cans.
Samphire (Crithmum maritimum) also marsh samphire (Salicornia europaea)
There are two edible plants known as samphire. (there are other samphires that are not eaten)
The type of samphire used in the U.S. is known as marsh samphire, glasswort, sea bean and sea pickle ). It's abundant in marshy areas along both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and has spiky green leaves. The name glasswort was derived from the fact that the ashes were once used in making glass. Samphire is the latest trendy vegetable for chefs to use as a garnish. Both the leaves and stem are crisp, aromatic and salty, tasting of the sea and green vegetables. Samphire should be cooked briefly to preserve the fresh green color. For older less tender plants, the flesh is stripped off the hard stringy core after cooking. Fresh marsh samphire can be found from summer through fall, in some specialty markets, also, sometimes found pickled in jars in gourmet markets. Marsh samphire is best eaten fresh, in salads or as a garnish. When cooked it tends to taste quite salty and fishy. The second type of samphire is rock samphire (Crithmum maritimum) which grows along the coasts of Great Britain and northwestern Europe, this is only available imported in high end specialty markets.
Edible seaweed are various types of multicelled algae that are eaten around the world in coastal areas. They appear most prominently in Asian, especially Japanese cuisine. Fresh water algae are mostly toxic while salt water algae are safe to eat. Some seaweeds that are technically safe to eat may irritate the digestive system, including having a laxative effect. If you want to gather your own, it is best to get expert advice on what is good to eat. Seaweeds vary in nutrition and the best of them are quite nutritious, good sources of minerals and certain vitamins. All seaweeds are high in iodine.
Dulse is a red algae, common in Iceland, Canada, Ireland and other Northern Atlantic countries. Its shape resembles that of a hand. High in Vitamins B6 and B12.
Hijiki, looks like black noodles when it is dried, grows wild around the South-Pacific.. Hijiki is high in calcium, fiber and algin. Hijiki has a rather slimy texture which just gets more slimy the longer it's soaked.
Sea Lettuce looks similar to lettuce,with a strong taste and aroma of the sea, slightly pungent. High in iron and fiber, also contain vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin C, sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium.
Nori, Red algae, noriis the seaweed we see wrapped around sushi. Sold dried in sheets, nori is made by shredding and building sheets in a process much like paper making. High in protein, vitamins and minerals.
Kelp, there are many types of kelp, all are is a rich source of natural vitamins and minerals, including essential trace minerals. Arame, is a dark brown, stringy kelp which is normally sold dried. Tastes somewhat sweet and nutty. Kombu, is important in Japanese cuisine, also eaten in other parts of Asia. Kombu can be found fresh, dried, pickled, and frozen in many Asian markets. High in potassium, iodine, calcium, and vitamins A and C, B-complex vitamins and glutamic acid. Glutamic acid is the vital aspect of kombu, this is the source of umami, the other basic taste, like sweet, sour, salty and bitter, umame is the meat-like savory flavor present to some degree in many foods but prevalent in things like cheeses and cooked or cured meats. Umame is the reason that MSG makes food taste better the same way salt makes food taste better, it releases and intensifies savory flavors.
Wakame, another form of kelp, wakame has a subtly sweet flavor and is most often served in soups and salads. One of the highest sources of calcium, traditionally added to miso soup. Wakame can be found either dried or fresh.
Sorrel, (Rumex acetosa), spinach dock, narrow-leaved dock.
Common sorrel is a leafy green vegetable that resemble spinach. It has been cultivated for centuries and much of its use is as an herb rather than a vegetable. The leaves may be puréed in soups and sauces or added to salads; they have a sour flavor that some say is similar to wild strawberries. The sour taste is due to oxalic acid, which is toxic. It would be difficult to eat enough sorrel to be fatal but someone subject to kidney stones is well advised to avoid this vegetable. Oxalic acid combines with calcium in the blood to form calcium oxylate, which makes kidney stones. Sorrel has been used as a diuretic, a diarrhea medicine, a spring tonic and is one of the ingredients in herbal cancer medicine. In Russia and Ukraine it is used to make soup called shav. It is somewhere between difficult and impossible to find fresh sorrel but a little bit makes its way into specialty markets. If growing your own choose only the small youngest leaves which will have the lowest level of oxalic acid. Sorrel is a good source of vitamins A and C. with lower amounts of potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
Tannia, (Xanthosoma sagittifolium) malanga, otoe, new cocoyam, tannia, tannier, yautía, macabo, taioba, dasheen, quequisque, ‘ape, Singapore taro
from the American tropics, grown for their starchy corms,with a nutritional value comparable to the potato t. Cultivation of tannia or yautia is ancient in the New World. In the raw state, tannias contain calcium oxalate crystals and saponins but roasting and cooking the tubers eliminates the toxins. The taste is said to be earthy and nutty and they are a common ingredient in soups and stews. They may also be eaten grilled, fried, or puréed. Available sporadically in some Hispanic markets in the U.S.
Taro, Dasheen, Eddoe, Colcassa Satoimo, Elephant ears,
Dasheen, Colcassa and Eddoe are different cultivars of the taro plant satoimo is the Japanese name and elephant ears is the name chosen for the ornamental plant we grow in gardens. The root of the taro plant is a staple for much of the world and the leaves are eaten as well. In Jamaica Callaloo soup is made from the leaves of the taro and the leaves themselves are also called Callaloo (however there are other leaves that use the same name). The raw plant is toxic due to the presence of calcium oxalate. The toxin is minimized by cooking, especially with a pinch of baking soda. It can also be reduced by steeping taro roots in cold water overnight. Calcium oxalate contributes to kidney stones, and anyone subject to this form of kidney staone is well advised to avoid taro. Taro leaves are also toxic and must be handled carefully, but are completely safe after cooking. Flavor is mildly sweet and nutty. Taro root is usedto make poi in Hawaii and in a multitude of recipes from fried foods, pureed, stir-fries, soup, stews and more.
Tindoori, (Coccinia grandis) Ivy Gourd, tindori, tindora, parwal, kundru, tondli, ghiloda, kundri, kowai, kovai, kovakkai, manoli, tindla, gentleman's toes, bab
A tropical vine, which grows in Africa, Asia and the Americas, it is very vigorous and considered an invasive species and a “noxious weed” in many places. In a suitable climate, it grows into a dense canopy that smothers the vegetation beneath, much like kudzu does in Florida. Cultivation is in Southeast Asia where it is harvested for both the leaves and the fruit. Popular in India. Young leaves and shoots are cooked and eaten as a side dish or added to soups. Green fruits, looking something like gherkins, are eaten raw in salads or added to curries. Ripe scarlet fruit is eaten raw. Flavor is said to be something like bitter melon. May be available in Indian groceries, fresh or frozen.
Tomatillo, (Physalis philadelphica), husk tomato, jamberry, husk cherry, Mexican tomato, or ground cherry
some of the same names are also used for cape goose berries
Tomatillos are a rather distant relative of the tomato, both being members of the Nightshade family, it is a closer relative to the cape gooseberry. Used extensively in Mexican cooking, this plant is native to the New World. Used both when ripe when it may be yellow, red, green and even purple and unripe, green and firm, tomatillos have a papery brown husk that splits open as they mature and is removed before cooking. Flavor is somewhat lemony or citrus like when raw and green, they sweeten somewhat as they ripen, but sweetness is inconsistent. Used raw, cooked or canned in moles and salsas. Becoming common in markets and always available in Hispanic markets.
Water Spinach, (Ipomoea aquatic) swamp cabbage, water morning glory, water convolvulus, Chinese water spinach, asagaona, ong choy, phak bung and ensai many othe
The origin of this plant is uncertain but it has a history as a medicinal plant going back some 2 thousand years. Water spinach thrives in wetlands, canals, rivers lakes and ponds and is considered an invasive species in many southern countries. In Florida, it is a prohibited plant and considered a "noxious weed" because of the danger it poses to clogging waterways (where it already thrives). The young tips and stems are lightly fried, simmered, or added to soups, stir-fries and curries. Used extensively in southern Asian cuisines you may find it in some Asian markets. Flavor is similar to common spinach, use the youngest fresh leaves.
Wild Mustard, (Sinapis arvensis), charlock
This plant has been eaten for centuries in many parts of the world and if you want to partake you'll have to go out and look for it in the wild. It grows as a weed across all parts of North America. It is related to but not the same plant as mustard greens (Brassica juncea) sold in grocery stores in the Southern U.S.
Wild mustard is very nutritious, providing vitamins A, C, D, and K, folate, potassium, calcium, iron, fiber, and phosphorus, and you can't beat the price! Wild mustard has 4 petal yellow flowers and rough hairy leaves. Wild mustard can also be distinguished from similar Mustard species by the presence of reddish purple rings or patches at the junction of its stems. Wild Mustard seeds can be used as a spice, grind them to make your own gourmet mustard or even a poultice. The flavor of the greens is said to be a little bit sharp and a little bit bitter. The best greens are the youngest shoots which will be tender and less pungent. Penniless Parenting has an excellent article about using wild mustard, and Penny was kind enough to provide the photos so be sure to check her out.
Yam, ñame, (Dioscorea, X) tropical yam
Yam, ñame (pronounced nee-AH-may) are the common names most often seen in U.S. markets. The appearance and flavors of yams are as diverse as its name. First, these tubers must be differentiated from sweet potato yams, a name used in the Southern U.S. for the orange fleshed sweet potato. The U.S.D.A. has ruled that yams in the U.S. have to have sweet potato included as part of the name to separate them from other yams. To confuse things further there are many cultivars of yams with different characteristics. These yams belong to the family (Dioscorea,?) while sweetpotatoes are (Ipomoea batatas) Dioscorea species tubers contains the toxic alkaloid dioscorene, so they must be cooked in order to be edible. There is the sense that whenever someone has an edible tuber they call it a yam as there are hundreds of names and many types. Yams are generally rather bland and starchy and go well with highly flavored sauces and seasonings.
Cushcush yams (Dioscorea trifida) also called American yam, mapuey or ñame mapuey
Small and elongated, like a sweet potato, these yams are native to the Caribbean and often resemble a mitten or a horse’s hoof. Their skin may be charcoal to purplish. Descriptions of the flavor vary dramatically so perhaps it is best discovered by cooking your own.
White yams (Dioscorea rotundata) also called ñame blanco or water yam are the most commonly found yams in food markets. They have dark coarse skin which is difficult to peel and their pale flesh is crisp and slippery. The flavor of white yams is faintly sweet and bland. This is native to Africa and is still very important there, especially during drought because yams keep well for months.
Purple yams (Dioscorea alata) are not common in the U.S., but you might find them at Asian food markets. Look for ratala , as they’re called by Philippine grocers, or kand , in Indian markets. This yam has a thin, bark-like skin and lavender-violet flesh that turns a deep red-violet when cooked, purple yams are lightly sweet with a touch of smoke and nuttiness. Used in many desserts in Asian countries.
Chinese yam, (Dioscorea opposite) yamaimo, Unlike other yams this native of China can be and is eaten fresh and raw, often shredded into salads in Chinese cuisine
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