We all know we should eat our vegetables, and many of us do. We eat our weight in mushrooms, broccoli and eggplant. We probably eat kale three to four times each week. Sometimes, however, it is easy to get into a rut and eat the same vegetables all the time. The number of different veggies available is so big, we could eat a new one every week and still never get bored. Yet, it’s easy to keep eating what we know and pass up the veggies that we have never tasted and that, maybe, we aren’t quite sure what to do with. Well, those vegetables deserve our love, too. They sit on their shelves watching people flock to their more popular relatives, thinking “Hey, I’m delicious. I’m healthy. What about me?” It’s time to turn our attention to these under-appreciated veggies. Make it a goal to buy one or two new vegetables each week, read up on the best ways to cook with them, and try them in recipes that sound incredible. Here are 10 vegetables (with recipes) that you may not be eating, but you should be.
It isn’t that we don’t buy or eat celery. We use it all the time – in soups and stews as part of the mirepoix with onions and carrots. Celery comes out of the fridge for crudité platters, to dip into hummus and to spread peanut butter on. Or maybe a celery stalk finds its way into your Bloody Mary at Sunday brunch. But when it comes to star ingredients for gourmet meals, celery is not usually on the list. Let’s change that. Celery may be known for its crunch but it’s also delicious as a side dish when it is braised until tender.
To make Braised Celery: peel the stalks of a bunch of celery to remove the fibrous outer coating. Trim the ends of the stalks and slice them into 4-inch pieces. Reserve the celery tops for garnish. In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbs. olive oil over medium-high heat. Add 1 thinly sliced onion, 2 minced garlic cloves and the celery to the skillet and let it cook for 5 minutes, until the celery begins to soften. Add 1 cup of low-sodium vegetable broth and kosher salt and black pepper to taste. Bring the liquid to a boil and then reduce the heat to low and cover the pan. Let the celery simmer until tender, about 20 minutes and until most of the liquid has been reduced. Turn the celery halfway through. Transfer the celery to a serving dish and garnish with the reserved chopped celery leaves.
Celery is very healthy, so add it to your smoothies and juices, turn it into soup and enjoy it in this Onion, Celery and Mushroom Stuffing. You can also forego lettuce and use celery as the star of the salad described in the section on fennel below.
Kale may get all the attention when it comes to dark, leafy greens, but chard is one of my favorites. Chard has thick, dark leaves and stalks that can be white (in Swiss chard) or colored (in Rainbow chard). It tastes similar to spinach, but much stronger and with a rougher texture. The stalks are edible with a mellow flavor and the yellow, purple, red and orange stems are a colorful addition to any dish. The stalks need to be cooked first since they take longer than the leaves though chard can also be eaten raw. Chard is often used in soups, stir-fries and stews. Try this Swiss Chard Quiche with Wild Mushrooms or this Cremini Mushroom, Rainbow Chard and Shallot Soup. My favorite way to eat chard is to saute it with garlic, red pepper flakes and nutmeg. Read Tips for Cooking Greens So They Taste Real Delicious for all the ways you can enjoy chard.
Unlike so many vegetables, fennel was not new to me when I began expanding my diet. I used to eat raw fennel as a snack when I was a child. It’s crunchy and it tastes like licorice – two qualities guaranteed to make any kid happy. In a sense, fennel is similar to celery but with a stronger flavor. One of the first salads I ever made that was “out there” for me was my Orange Fennel Salad. It went against every salad notion I used to hold: it has no lettuce, it has fruit and it has nuts. The salad is an amazing dish of sliced celery stalks plus the leaves, sliced fennel bulbs, orange segments, toasted walnuts and fennel fronds for garnish. This salad is so beautiful. The dressing for this masterpiece is my Agave-Mustard Dressing. Simply whisk together 2 Tbs. Dijon mustard, 2 Tbs. lemon or lime juice, ½ minced garlic clove, 1-2 Tbs. agave nectar, 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. For a spicy version, mix in ½ jalapeno pepper that has been seeded and minced.
Fennel is also delicious when cooked. It can be added to soups, stews and pasta dishes. It can also be the main ingredient as in this Roasted Fennel dish. Cut 4 fennel bulbs into 1/3-inch slices and place them in an oiled baking dish. Chop the fronds and reserve them for garnish. Toss the fennel with olive oil, kosher salt and black pepper. Roast in a 375 degree oven for 40 minutes or until fork-tender. Sprinkle vegan grated parmesan over the fennel and put it back in the oven or broiler for 5 more minutes or until golden brown. Garnish with the reserved chopped fennel fronds. For more ideas, see 5 Easy Ways to Eat Fennel.
If you have never seen kohlrabi, it looks sort of like a cabbage whose outer leaves are at the ends of long stems. It’s also known as a “German turnip” and it tastes like a cross between cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli stems. It sounds like an identity crisis waiting to happen but the truth is, kohlrabi is a very versatile veggie. It can be shred raw into slaws and salads for a mildly spicy crunch or use them instead of potatoes to make latkes and fritters. It can also be used to make Raw Carrot Sushi. Kohlrabi can be roasted until creamy and used in side dishes or turned into soup. Kohlrabi pairs well with mustard, dill and celery seed and it is also a common ingredient in Indian cuisine. The greens on the ends of those long stems can also be sauteed and eaten like any other dark, leafy green.
Any vegetable that can be turned into fries is a favorite of mine. To make Baked Kohlrabi Fries, peel 2 heads of kohlrabi and cut them into French fry-shaped sticks, 1/3 inch wide by 2 inches long. Toss the kohlrabi fries with olive oil and your favorite spices. I like ground cumin, garlic powder, chile powder, cayenne pepper, and kosher salt. Arrange the fries in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 425 for 20 minutes, flip the fries and bake for another 20 minutes until crisp and browned. Serve with your favorite condiment.
Leeks are relatives of onions and garlic, but they have a milder taste than either of them. They are most often used as an aromatic for soups and stews, but they can also be the main ingredient of dishes. Leeks can be eaten raw in salads, sauteed until tender, braised to make them soft and sweet or grilled until charred. Leeks are delicious when paired with potatoes as in this Cheesy Leek and Potato Gratin. Since I like to add green to all my dishes, Potato, Broccoli and Leek Soup is my version of the classic dish.
In a large saucepan, add 1 pound of quartered Yukon gold potatoes. Fill the pot with cold water until the potatoes are just covered. Add kosher salt, cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. Uncover the pot, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the potatoes are fork-tender, about 20 minutes. Five minutes before the potatoes are done, add 1 large head of broccoli cut into florets. Cook for 5 minutes and then drain the potatoes and broccoli and let them cool. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat 2 Tbs. vegan butter and 2 Tbs. olive oil over medium heat. Add the white parts of 5 chopped leeks. Season with kosher salt and saute for 10 minutes or until the leeks are tender. Add ½ cup vegetable broth and cook until it reduces by half. Remove the leeks from the heat and let cool. Combine the potatoes, broccoli and leeks in a food processor and process until smooth. Transfer the soup to a pot to heat back up. Season the soup with ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and kosher salt. If you like cream in your soup, add ½ cup of non-dairy creamer or coconut milk. If you prefer cheese in your soup, add 1 cup of vegan mozzarella shreds and let it melt into the soup. Garnish with chopped chives.
6. Mustard Greens
When I first began eating dark, leafy greens, I tried all different kinds. Mustard greens became one of my favorites. They have a strong taste that is slightly bitter, slightly spicy and slightly peppery. There is a definite mustard flavor to them. I like to add them to salads or use them on sandwiches and burgers instead of lettuce. This staple of Southern cuisine is also delicious when added to soups, stews, chilis and pasta dishes.
My favorite way to cook mustard greens (or any greens) is to saute them in a pan with olive oil, garlic, shallots, salt, pepper and a pinch of red pepper flakes and ground nutmeg. I don’t cook them long, just long enough to wilt and get bright green. Mustard greens are best when cooked in combination with other milder greens, such as kale or collard greens.
Another Southern staple is okra, which is also called “ladies’ fingers.” Okra is very healthy, but sadly, it has a bad reputation for tasting slimy. There are ways to cook it, however, so that it doesn’t end up slimy. Okra can be sliced and sauteed, roasted whole or put into soups, stews and gumbos. The first time I ever cooked or ate okra, I was worried they would be slimy as I had read about them. I sauteed them with garlic, scallions, crushed red pepper and corn and then combined them with cheesy mashed potatoes to make cornmeal-crusted potato-corn cakes. They were not slimy at all – just delicious. The next time I cooked with them was 3 years later. It was recent, in fact, and I made an Indian dish called Bhindi Masala, which is a version of Chana Masala made with okra instead of chickpeas. The dish has okra cooked with onions, chili peppers and tons of warm, fragrant Indian spices. It’s amazingly delicious and full of flavor.
To make it: heat 2 Tbs. coconut oil over medium-high heat in a large pan that has a lid. Add 1 large chopped onion and let cook for 4 minutes until browned. Add 1 tsp. each ground cumin, turmeric, and ground coriander, ½ tsp. ground cardamom, ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon and 1/8 tsp. ground cloves and mix so that the onions are coated with the spices. Add the 4 minced garlic cloves and 1-inch of grated ginger, mix and cook for about 1 minute. The mixture should be very fragrant. Add 3 cups of sliced okra and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add 1 seeded and chopped chile pepper, 1 tsp. garam masala, 1 tsp. kosher salt and ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper. Stir to combine and cook for 6 minutes. Add 1 tsp. agave nectar, stir and partially cover the pan. Continue to cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat, cover the pan completely and let the okra sit for 5 minutes. This allows the flavors to get absorbed. Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro and serve over rice.
Poor parsnips. They look like carrots that have all the color drained out of them. Their looks are deceiving, however, as parsnips are nutty, spicy and starchy. Parsnips are not usually eaten raw. They can be boiled, mashed, grilled, braised and roasted; they can be turned into soup, shredded into latkes and combined with other veggies such as potatoes and other root vegetables. You can add parsnips anywhere you would usually use carrots, such as stews and soups like this Roasted Winter Vegetable Soup. I like to use parsnips as well as carrots when I make chili to add that spicy kick from this bland-looking root. Boiling and mashing them along with potatoes results in a more flavorful side dish that is also healthier.
Parsnips are delicious when roasted, and their spiciness is balanced by the sweetness brought out in the oven. Since they are slightly spicy, parsnips pair well with maple syrup, brown sugar and sweet spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. To make Maple Roasted Parsnips: Cut 2 ½ lbs. of parsnips in half lengthwise and then cut them on the bias into 1-inch thick slices. Toss the parsnips with olive oil, salt, black pepper and 1/3 cup pure maple syrup. Arrange them on a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast the parsnips in a 425 degree oven for 30 – 40 minutes or until just tender and golden brown.
Last summer, I cooked a lot with radishes. I had hardly ever eaten them before except when some thin slices showed up in a salad. Boy, had I been missing out! Radishes are crunchy and peppery. They are related to cabbage, broccoli and kale. Most people know the round red radish that is the size of a golf ball and white inside, but there is actually a wide variety of sizes, shapes and colors. Another type of radish that has been increasingly popular is daikon, the long white tuber. The original radish was actually black. Radish greens are also edible so don’t throw them away. They start to go bad rather quickly so use them as soon as possible. They can be sauteed with other greens or eaten raw. I like to make pesto with them.
Besides eating radishes raw, I prepare them along with red potatoes for healthier side dishes. Usually, I slice both the red potatoes and the radishes thinly and pan-fry them alongside each other. They look identical and it’s delicious. Pickle radishes in brine to make Indian Radish Pickle. My favorite way to eat radishes is to saute them until they are caramelized. To make Caramelized Radishes: Trim 10-12 radishes and cut them into quarters (or halves if they are small). Heat 2 Tbs. olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the radishes and cook for 5 minutes. You want the radishes to get tender but maintain their crunch. Add 1 clove minced garlic and 1 tsp. dried thyme to the radishes and toss. Standing back from the pan, add 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar and ½ tsp. sugar to the pan. Add salt and pepper according to your taste. Cook the radishes until they are golden brown, about 3 or 4 minutes. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley.
Rutabagas look like big turnips and is often called a Swedish turnip. It’s a cross between a white turnip and cabbage. Rutabagas are slightly sweet and starchy, earthy and a bit tart. You can use rutabagas wherever you would use potatoes, sweet potatoes or turnips. Shave them raw for salads, roast them, grill them, make fries with them, slice them up for gratins and boil them with potatoes and carrots for a colorful mash.
To make Mashed Rutabagas: peel and chop 1 large or 2 small rutabagas Add them to a large saucepan and boil them in salted water until tender, about 35 minutes. Drain the rutabagas and return them to the pot. Mash with a potato masher. Add 1 Tbs. vegan butter, 1/3 cup non-dairy milk or cream, kosher salt, and black pepper to taste. Mix well and garnish with fresh chopped chives.
Have fun trying these underappreciated (and perhaps, new to you) vegetables. Make it a goal to include buying one or two new vegetables each shopping trip or cooking a new vegetable twice a week. Which of these ten veggies will you try this week?
Lead Image Source: Purple Kohlrabi/Flickr
I shred parsnips for a salad, it tastes like crab.