The world is an expanse of different ecosystems, climates, and agricultural ventures. This diverse mixture of factors leads to the incredible array of foods available from all over the globe, that you can easily pick up at your local grocery store, farmers market, or health food store. Yet, it’s easy to overlook the exotic and strange fruit and vegetable options. Questions bubble up when looking at these unique items including what they taste like, how to cook them, and how healthy they are.
Don’t let these questions stop you from exploring your options! Below are a few exotic options that are easy to find and cook to get you started.
While these veggies may be labeled exotic, they are all connected and are part of the same vegetable families that you eat every night. Choosing vegetables that aren’t grown in your locale simply offer different textures, arrays of nutrition, and bold flavors from around the world. It’s a great way to diversify a stale menu while keeping to a plant-based diet.
You may not recognize this veggie by the name salicornia, also called samphire, sea asparagus, glasswort, but, most commonly, it’s referred to as sea beans. While it’s most commonly found on seashores, the Salicornia can also be found in salt marshes “on all continents except Antarctica.” This veggie is reminiscent of a succulent plant and, due to its saltwater habitation, has a sweet and salty taste and a crunchy texture. Cooking the Salicornia involves a deep clean of the “fingers” and it’s often recommended to even “blanch in boiling water”. While being completely free of fat and low in carbohydrates, the salicornia provides a helping of protein, as well as descent quantities of vitamin A, calcium, and iron.
Stir-fries and salads are the most appropriate use for these “sea beans” such as adding a few to this already veggie loaded Asian Mushrooms and Vegetables Stir-Fry Noodles recipe or topping this hearty, grain-based Spelt Berry Salad With Cinnamon Balsamic Vinaigrette.
2. White Asparagus
Asparagus is one of the most popular vegetables due to its diversity in the kitchen, earthy flavors, and nutritious content. With that said, while we’re generally only offered the green variety at our local health food store, there are actually around 300 species of asparagus.
One such species exotic to our plates is white asparagus. Popularly consumed in Europe, white asparagus is named for its white coloring and differs from green asparagus in tenderness and mild flavoring. Like other vegetables with white coloring, white asparagus gets its unique coloring from “etiolation, which is the deprivation of light.” Much like it’s counterpart, white asparagus is free of fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, while also providing vitamins A and C. While it may be difficult to find fresh white asparagus at your local grocers, you can find a bounty of the stuff in its canned version.
Even though white and green asparagus differ slightly in taste and texture, you can substitute white for green, such in these asparagus-rich plant-based recipes: Crispy Asparagus With Truffle Aioli, Two-Tone Soup With Asparagus, Spring Vegetable Paella, or this Chickpea Asparagus Spring Frittata.
Also referred to as batata, white or Cuban sweet potato, or canote, boniato is a potato-like vegetable that can found at international markets, Asian grocers, and, on rare occasions, at your local health food store. Yet, before it hit the grocery store shelves it was a native vegetable to the tropical climate of the Caribbean. The boniato is a variety of sweet potato that is part of the morning glory family.
Boniato differs from other sweet potatoes in both physical appearances — white meat and pink or purple skin — as well as in taste — slightly sweet with a chestnut flavor. The boniato sweet potato is also a nutritious source of vitamins A and C, a large amount and variety of antioxidants, as well as potassium.
In recipes, due to their subtly sweet and nutty flavoring, this tropical potato can be subbed for sweet or white potatoes. Here are a few to get your started: Curried Chickpea and Avocado Sweet Potatoes, Sweet Potato Bites With Cashew Cheese, Spelt Sweet Potato Gnocchi, or these Sweet Potato and Plantain Truffles.
Trying new fruits is a fun and eye-opening experience. Due to the limited varieties of fruits in your standard grocery store, we tend to miss out, not only on an array of flavors and tastes but also on the diverse nutrition that many fruits from around the world offer. Here are a few exotic, easy to find fruits that can get you started in your own explorations!
You may be familiar with this fruit, yet I’m guessing you probably steered clear. It’s not the most appealing of edible items, with a spiky, burnt-orange and brown skin and incredibly smelly flesh. Yet, once you sidestep the unappealing physical appearance and strong smell, durian is an incredibly tasty treat! The most common variety is grown in tropical regions including Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand. Durian is a large fruit, maxing out at one foot by six inches with a whopping two cups of yellow, white, or golden custard-like flesh inside. What durian lacks in carbs and healthy fats, it makes up for in vitamins — A, C, B6, B12, thiamin, niacin, and folate — and minerals — calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, and sodium.
While the flesh is both sweet and savory, durian is most commonly used in desserts. Try your hand at substituting durian for these more common tropical fruit ingredients: Mango Rice Bowl, Raw Mango and Passion Fruit Cheesecake, Raw Triple Layer Mango Dragon Fruit Cake, or this Raw Custard Apple and Apricot Cheesecake.
Unlike durian, this is a hugely unheard of fruit in the states. This is largely due to the sensitivity of the cherimoya tree as it enjoys temperatures below 85 and over 32, yet has a difficult time at both lowlands and high elevation. This is why cherimoya is typically only found in southern Ecuador and northern Peru, as well as a few areas in southern California. The cherimoya is a grapefruit-sized, heart-shaped fruit with “creamy white, sweet and slightly tart flesh, green skin, and an abundance of large, black seeds.” It’s a hodgepodge of state-side fruits, similar to an artichoke bred with a strawberry and tasting somewhere between banana and pineapple. They are also rich in vitamin C and offer trace amounts of iron, calcium, fiber, and sodium.
Luckily cherimoya is available at select health food stores and, if you get your hands on some, you can try it out in your favorite smoothies, such as this Chocolate Banana Smoothie or this Orange Creamsicle Smoothie, or a fresh fruit salad, such as this Spicy Fruit Chaat or this Simple Basil Citrus Salad With Balsamic Jam Dressing.
Indigenous to China and Burma, longan, also referred to as long yan rou or dragon’s eye meat, has been used for hundreds of years for medicinal purposes in Asia. This golf ball sized fruit grows in abundance from the branches of a dimocarpus longan tree.
When it comes to enjoying the fruit, remember to discard the skin and seed — unless you tend to use them in medicinal recipes — and eat the flesh which is juicy, soft, and most commonly compared to honeydew melon. With that said, be prepared for a slight musky aftertaste, depending on the variety you buy. The longan is similar in nutrition to most of its fruit counterparts offering vitamins C and B2, and minerals including magnesium, potassium, and iron, as well as trace amounts protein and fiber.
The longan fruit is incredibly rare, yet not impossible to find. You’ll most likely find it available for purchase online, such as this 3lb bundle of fresh longan, which most likely originates from Florida, or you can buy it in a dried state from a health food store.
With a host of new fruits and veggies to try, we highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
Lead image source: Shutterstock