Many of us are creatures of habit when it comes to making dinner. We use the same vegetables over and over again, and if you eat anything often enough, it starts to become unappealing. But we know we need fresh fruits and vegetables in our diet. What can we do?
Finding new and interesting vegetables to try sounds good in theory, but you might not know how to cook them, what they pair with, and ultimately how they taste. But never fear, culinary adventurers, because we have done the hard work for you.
Kohlrabi, also known as a German turnip or turnip cabbage, is a bulb-like cruciferous vegetable renowned for its cancer-fighting properties. Both the bulb and the leaves are edible and have a similar taste to the stalk of broccoli. Kohlrabi can be eaten raw or sliced thinly in salads. It can be steamed, mashed, or roasted in wedges. It’s low-carb and makes a good alternative to mashed potatoes.
2. Fiddlehead ferns
Fiddlehead ferns or fiddlehead greens are the curled fronds (leaves) of a young fern plant that are harvested as a vegetable. These delicate delights are available only in early spring when ferns grow their new shoots, so blink and you’ll miss them. Fiddleheads have a taste and texture similar to asparagus. You can find these rare treats at your local farmers market in the springtime. I make sure I eat them every spring and I prepare them by sautéing them in garlic and butter with some salt and pepper. Sheer perfection.
Cassava, also known as yuca, is an edible, starchy root. Native to Brazil, the cassava plant is an integral part of Brazilian cuisine but has recently gained popularity in the United States. Cassava root has white flesh and thick, brown, waxy skin. The root itself contains residual amounts of cyanide and must be carefully prepared before consumption.
To prepare the root, chop off both ends of the yucca root using a sharp knife, then carefully slice down the full length of the yuca. Once you’re underneath the peel, you can work your thumbs down the length of the root, peeling the skin off like a jacket. Chop into chunks and boil for about 15 minutes. You can also chop the root into smaller pieces and deep fry them as an alternative to french fries.
Sunchokes are a low-calorie, high-fiber root vegetable. They can be eaten raw or roasted. Sunchokes are tubular-shaped, thin-skinned, and come from the sunflower plant family. They’re in season from late fall through early spring.
Sunchokes are a great source of iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium, however — word of warning — these little vegetables can have quite an effect on digestion. (Let me put it this way: their unofficial name is the “fartichoke.”)
That aside, they taste slightly nutty and sweet and can be prepared in many ways. Like the potato, you can roast them, boil them, mash them, or fry them. I like to roast them with olive oil until the skin caramelizes and the center is soft and creamy.
5. Garlic scapes
Garlic scapes are the curly, shoot-like stalks that grow out of the bulb of the garlic plant. Scapes are harvested at the beginning of the growing season, typically late spring to the middle of summer, so we are just in time. A popular way to prepare scapes is to blend them into a pungent pesto. But they’re also delicious when treated like asparagus and grilled or roasted with a sprinkle of sea salt and butter.
This psychedelic-looking vegetable is like the lovechild of cauliflower and broccoli. Originating in Italy, this vegetable can now be found at your local farmers’ market.
This gorgeous-looking vegetable is crunchy and mild-tasting. Romanesco is rich in vitamin C, vitamin K, and fiber. It can be prepared several ways. Blanch it and throw it together with some pasta — keep it simple with a hard, aged cheese and olive oil, or pair it with this three-ingredient pasta sauce. Try it roasted or sautéed in olive oil with onions and garlic. Don’t be afraid of getting a little char on the veggie. Romanesco even works well on an Italian sub.
7. Sweet potato greens
You may be familiar with sweet potatoes (we all know they make the best fries), but did you know you can eat the greens too? Sweet potato greens are loaded with vitamin B-6, vitamin C, and riboflavin. They have a velvety-soft texture and are similar to kale and Swiss chard but without the bitterness. Sweet potato leaves can be found at your local farmers’ market. They can be eaten raw in a salad or cooked in a simple stir-fry, or sautéed until just wilted and dressed with a little olive oil, sea salt, and lemon juice.
Perhaps not as obscure as the other vegetables on this list, celeriac is having a bit of a moment. It’s popping up on fine dining menus the world over.
Celeriac is celery root and it looks a little unappealing. Once you discard the gnarly outer layer, however, you’re left with a root vegetable that is edible both in raw and cooked forms, with a vibrant and distinctive celery flavor. It can be eaten in soups, stews, casseroles, mashes, and other savory dishes. You can also shred it and toss it into salads. Celeriac is low in calories and high in flavor, making it a root-vegetable superstar. I like to roast and puree it as a side dish to meat.
9. Purple cauliflower
This stunning variety of cauliflower comes in various shades of purple and retains its color even when cooked. Unlike the traditional white cauliflower, which is the most common variety found in grocery stores, purple cauliflower has a striking appearance due to the presence of anthocyanins – pigments responsible for the purple color in certain fruits and vegetables, such as blueberries and red cabbage. These pigments also have antioxidant properties, making purple cauliflower not only visually appealing but potentially beneficial for health as well.
It has a milder taste than regular cauliflower and can be used in the same way as the traditional white variety. Like its white counterpart, purple cauliflower can be used in various dishes, such as steamed or roasted as a side dish, added to stir-fries, soups, stews, or even used raw in salads for a splash of color.
10. Water spinach (kangkong)
Widely consumed in Southeast Asian cuisines, water spinach is a plant with long, hollow stems and tender leaves. Water spinach is a semi-aquatic plant, often found growing in waterlogged or swampy areas, which is how it earned its name.
The stems are crisp and succulent, while the leaves are tender and smooth. It is commonly stir-fried with garlic, chili, and other seasonings to make a simple and delicious side dish. It is also used in soups, curries, and noodle dishes. Additionally, water spinach is sometimes used raw in salads or pickled as a condiment.
One thing to note is that in some regions, water spinach is considered an invasive species because of its rapid growth and ability to spread quickly in waterways. As such, there are concerns about its impact on local ecosystems in areas where it has been introduced outside its natural habitat. However, it remains a beloved and cherished vegetable in many parts of Southeast Asia, where it has been a dietary staple for generations.
This is an update by Hella Staff to an article previously published in March 2020 written by Ruthie Darling.