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