Mystery Vegetables

Kohlrabi? Broccoli Raab? Asian what’s that? And what the heck is that thing that kind of looks like a miniature purple cabbage?

Vibrant kohlrabi! Delicious raw or cooked!

Vibrant kohlrabi! Delicious raw or cooked!

If you are new to the Farmer’s Market scene–or even if you are seasoned–there can be some downright weird looking and sounding produce out there.  It seems like the diversity in our produce dropped quite a bit with the rise of transportation, but it has steadily come back up with the growth of farmer’s markets, CSA operations and even those food boxes that you can order online to arrive at your door every month.  These avenues allow farmers to experiment with and grow vegetables that cannot or will not be sold at conventional grocery stores.  I’ve even noticed that the produce aisle at the grocery store is looking a bit more adventurous as time flies by.

However, sometimes we ask ourselves: what’s a consumer to do with these UEO’s (unidentified edible objects, of course)?!

I started thinking about this post a few weeks ago when I found myself at home with about two pounds of broccoli raab.  This is a crop that we have grown for the last couple of years but have never gotten the harvest timing correct.  The farmer I work for almost always takes the week around the Fourth of July off; and this, coincidentally, was when the raab was ready for harvest every year.  She planted a different variety this year, and with the unusually warm weather we’ve been having, it was ready for harvest a bit before the fourth.  This variety also lasted a bit longer, waiting awhile to completely bolt…unlike the previous variety with seemed to bolt overnight.  Because of these timing issues, I knew what broccoli raab looked like, but I had NO idea what it tasted like or how to prepare it.  As someone who sells this product and should encourage others to try it, this was not a good place to be.

The elusive broccoli raab that is now one of my favorite vegetables. YUM!

The elusive broccoli raab that is now one of my favorite vegetables. YUM!

I asked around–what does broccoli raab taste like?  How is it prepared?  Where is it from?  The answers I got were a little vague, most people who have heard of it only eat it once a year or so, so what should I have expected?  “It is an Italian veggie, usually sautéed or steamed as a side dish for fish or another simple protein.  It’s probably good with garlic and olive oil (but really, what isn’t?).  As for the taste…it’s hard to describe, it tastes like broccoli raab!”

So, I tried it raw…I wasn’t very impressed, but the explanation was right–it doesn’t really taste like anything else.  It is broccoli like, but more bitter or pungent…it took two harvest days for me to actually bring some home to properly examine, cook and taste.  I ended up roasting it with olive oil, sea salt and some nutritional yeast.  I end up roasting a lot of vegetables because it is quick to prepare, relatively easy, and I can do other things while they cook away–like play with Ava!–unlike doting over something on the stove.

This was a great idea.  I ended up eating almost the entire two pounds…that day, by myself.  I landed on the description that broccoli raab has a texture between broccoli and asparagus, with it’s own, distinctive, vaguely broccoli-like taste.

Packing CSA bins for a lucky customer!

Packing CSA bins for a lucky customer!

Of course, almost all vegetables are delicious roasted, so how could I have gone wrong?  This is where my advice comes in:

If a vegetable is fleshy and you don’t know what it is, give it a little taste while it is raw.  It might not be that good, but you might be able to tell if it is a little cabbage-ey, broccoli-ey, potato-ey or something else a bit more familiar, and then prepare it how you would one of those familiar foods.  If it is altogether not that great or even flavorless (or even if it is!)– roast it! YUM ROASTED VEGETABLES.

Recipe for mystery fleshy vegetables:

Ingredients

  • Mystery vegetable, cut or split up into bite sized pieces if originally large, can keep whole if small to begin with (think radish or spring potatoes)  or if it is long,thin and carrot or asparagus like.
  • Drizzle-able olive oil
  • Apple cider vinegar (I bet balsamic vinegar or lemon juice would work, too)
  • Salt to taste (can substitute with soy sauce, tamari or liquid aminos if going the Asian route)
  • Pepper to taste
  • More options: Large flake nutritional yeast, diced garlic, your favorite herbs and/or spices

Preparation:

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees farenheit
  • Place enough vegetables to cover the pan in a single layer in a little pile in the middle of a shallow sided cookie sheet or roasting pan
  • Drizzle with olive oil and splash a little bit of your acid of choice on the veggies, sprinkle with some salt and other optional flavors.
  • If using garlic you can add it now or add midway through cooking if you don’t like dark garlic.
  • Stir them around a little bit. Try to get oil on most surfaces, but you don’t have to be too thorough.
  • Spread veggies around pan so that they are in one layer with air space between the pieces; again, some touching is okay, but keep enough air flow to get the veggies crispy!
  • Place in center of oven
  • let roast for 10-15 minutes
  • Remove one piece of vegetable using tongs, fork or something else that is not your fingers and let it cool slightly.
  • Look at the color, has it changed?  Is it more green/red/yellow/orange?  Great! you might be there.
  • Taste your vegetable. How is the texture? How is the salt level?  Add more if needed, also add garlic if you haven’t yet.  Stir veggies around pan a little bit and roast a bit longer.
  • Repeat the tasting process until they are to your liking.

 

After doing this, you will get a better idea of how long the vegetable needs to be cooked, and you can cut down on the checking process a bit for future preparations.  You can also pair it with other vegetables knowing when to add which vegetable based on cooking times.

As for those leafier veggies–taste them!  They are probably good in salads or wilted with something warm.  I love most leafy greens in the morning with a bit of oil and vinegar, salt, pepper and a hot, runny-yolked egg on top to wilt them a bit.  Haven’t tried arugula?  try it this way!

My co-working happily packing bins for our CSA members.

My co-working happily packing bins for our CSA members.

Also, if you know the name of your mystery vegetable, there is a plethora of cooking information on the good ol’ internet.  Jot down names at the farmer’s market so you get the spelling correct and keep those CSA newsletters handy.  I always make sure to read reviews of recipes to find our what others have discovered.  Usually, I adjust the recipes accordingly.

Any lacto-fermenters out there?  Have you fermented mystery veggies?  I’d love to hear a quick description of your process and the outcome…

If worst comes to worst, freeze the vegetable to become a part of some future chicken/turkey/beef/veggie stock.  This is hard to mess up!

The ever helpful Farm Baby Ava says "HI!"

The ever helpful Farm Baby Ava says “HI!”

Have you had any seemingly exotic or just plain weird vegetable encounters lately? What did you do?  How did it turn out?  Let us know!

Bring on the fresh summer produce!!

Sending peace and love from Abundant Alaska,

Alex, the Rural Farmgirl

Leave a comment 13 Comments

  1. Susabelle says:

    Oh, my. I have not tried broccoli raab. I would probably miss its window of picking, too, as I’m so busy with my day job and my the release of my new novel that I only really get to play in my garden two days a week for an hour or so. I do grow a TON of kohlrabi, which I absolutely ADORE. So yummy. I eat it raw, or eat it cooked. I have not roasted it, but I might try that. My go-to recipe for kohlrabi is a kohlrabi and red lentil soup. The mild, almost sweet flavor of the kohlrabi mellows very well, and red lentils cook fast, unlike the traditional lentils. I make huge batches and then freeze it in meal-sized portions for winter. A good google search will find the recipe – it is simple and uses few ingredients. She uses collard greens, but I have used kale and like it better than collards. You could also use beet greens or spinach.

  2. Joan H says:

    Oh my. I could have used this info last summer. My first summer in rural Arkansas, signed up worth a local farmer for WEEKLY CSA produce, etc. Bag after bag of mystery veggies! Mostly it was the greens that confused me. I finally figured out you can cook them all the same way, but I wanted to know what I was eating! I bought a cookbook written specifically for southern produce and CSA/farmers market cooks, but still did not get a lot of photos to help me identify the items. I spent a lot of time researching, and guessing. This is a great post. Thanks!

  3. Jaye says:

    Broccoli raab is great when you peel the exterior layer off, the leaves as well!
    Sauté with tons and of garlic and olive oil for 5’min or so

    Can add sausage or pig oil nuts

  4. Jennifer says:

    Joan, I had that same issue with my CSA share this spring! Lots of things we didn’t know WHAT to do with! We ended up blanching anything we didn’t know what to do with right away and we’ll put it in soup this fall.

  5. susana says:

    I haven’t tried the broccoli RAAb, but if it taste like broccoli I may try it….love broccoli and cauliflower.,..love mesculem greens. I juice kale. Iove what i have heard about broccoli raab ….taste better if you use it in soup with other veggies and love oil in the soup. My problem is knowing what to do with okra…..I planted Lots of it for my husband, but since he`s passed on to glory, I’m stuck with what to do with it all. I can only eat so much of it in soup. Any ideas or recipe?

    • Alexandra Wilson says:

      Hmmmm…okra…I’m not too familiar with this veggie since it’s a southern thing. I have a friend from Georgia who uses it in pork dishes, and I’ve always enjoyed eating them, but I have no idea how she prepared it! I recommend Googling some recipes that have great reviews and giving them a try. Good luck!

    • Susabelle says:

      Okra is a tough one. A few okra is all most people need. They are great for thickening soup, believe it or not. I will eat it deep fried, but that’s so high in calories, it seems like an awful waste to make them that way.

      I’m sorry to hear about your husband, though. Many blessings to you, Susana.

  6. Dori Troutman says:

    Alex,

    Yay! I’m super excited to try Broccoli Raab. I’ve seen it but have been intimidated by it! :-) So I’m going to buy some at the farmers market and give your recipe a try.

    Speaking of roasting/grilling veggies. We were at a wedding recently and they sprinkled Romaine lettuce (which was cut in half horizontally) with a bit of balsamic vinegar and then grilled it quickly on each side. They chopped it and put it in a salad with cherry tomatoes, feta cheese and bacon crumbles. OH MY WORD. That was the best salad. I’ve tried it at home and not been quite as happy with it, but still it is very good. A good change up to the regular salad!

    Ava is darling in her little Farm Baby shirt! :-)

    – Dori, the Ranch Farmgirl –

  7. Debbie says:

    Hi Alex,
    I’ll have to look for some at the Farmers Market, too! Last week we were introduced to Ground Cherries… The vendor next to us had quite a tent full of delicious farm fresh produce. People were lining up all day to get some.. Finally when it slowed down a bit I went over to ask about the cute little round things wrapped in husks. The farmers wife unwrapped one and let us all try one. They were so delicious. I Googled it and you can get seeds from Baker Creek Rare Seeds. I think I’ll give them a go next year! I liked them just plain. They are similar to a cherry tomato but smaller and sweeter and a little firmer in texture. Yummy though! Your little farm baby, Ava is growing up so quickly… I’m glad she’s not afraid of dirt!
    Fun and informative posting, as always! Happy Summer, Alex.
    Deb ( Beach Farmgirl )

    • Alexandra Wilson says:

      My dad was just telling me about ground cherries–they sounded very interesting from his description, yours makes me want to try them! Thanks for the check in; I always appreciate it. Ava is definitely NOT afraid of dirt! She is getting so big and adventurous.

  8. Tanja Eiben says:

    I know broccoli raab (or Kohlrabi) from when I grew up in Germany. Both my mum and grandma had it growing in their garden and I get always very sad when I see those tiny barely walnut-sized bulbs in the supermarket, because ours were usually the size of a small apple! My mum always just sauted them in veggie broth, with salt, pepper and fresh parsley until they were soft (kinda like a cooked potato), add a little bit of half and half and then served it as a side dish. Sometimes, when it was supposed to be really special, she added bacon crumbs. My other favorite way of eating kohlrabi was to slice it raw and mix it in a cucumber salad. It is pretty close in flavor, but will actually make the cucumber salad taste more crunchy. Today I like to use pieces of raw kohlrabi with my veggies to dip in hummus and other dips. Always cut away the skin and the parts that looks “woody” (like it has fibers in the tissue), as those taste bitter and are hard to chew. When biting into a fresh kohlrabi it always reminds me of the consistency of an apple, very crunchy, but with a slight vegetable taste.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>