FOOD FOR THOUGHT - September 3, 2003 - Mark R. Vogel - [email protected] - Archive
See also: Fennel - Leeks - Salsify - Crosne
How often has this happened to you: You go food shopping. You’re planning out the week’s meals in your head. You enter the produce aisle and feel overwhelmed by the bewildering array of vegetables. You want to try something different. Something other than the usual potatoes, carrots, broccoli, green beans, etc. You peruse the selections, pick up something strange looking and say to yourself, “what the heck do I do with this?” put it back in exasperation and stick with one of the old standbys.
You are not alone.
There are a dazzling number of vegetables accessible to today’s consumer. Vegetables are not only one of the healthiest foods on the planet, but because of the great multitude available, they are one of the best ways to add variety to your hackneyed dishes. But of course you need to know what those odd looking creatures are and “what the heck to do with it.”
I’ve listed a number of vegetables, (and ideas for using them), that are fairly common in most supermarkets, but still somewhat foreign to the average home cook.
Swiss chard is a large leafy green vegetable with pronounced white or red stalks, (depending on the variety), that is available year round. It is a member of the beet family. If you’re tired of sautéed spinach or escarole, give Swiss chard a try. Rinse it very well and cut the leaves off the stems. The stem narrows as it reaches the top of the leaves. You can leave a few inches of the narrow end of the stem. Sauté it in oil until the leaves start to wilt. Then add chopped garlic and sauté one more minute. Then add some brandy, cognac, and/or a little chicken stock. About four ounces or so. Then cover it and allow the liquid to steam to facilitate the rest of the cooking. Some people use the leaves raw in salads and cook the stems much like you would asparagus.
Speaking of asparagus, have you ever had “white” asparagus? It’s the same vegetable as green asparagus only grown underground to restrict it’s exposure to sunlight and thus, prevent the development of chlorophyll.
It is available late winter through late spring. The stems of white asparagus are tougher than the green variety and must always be peeled. Cut off about a half inch of the bottom end of the stem as well. Simmer it in water seasoned with salt, lemon and butter until it is fork tender. I use two tablespoons salt, the juice of one to two lemons, and three tablespoons butter. Simmering time can range from five minutes to a half hour depending on the thickness of the asparagus.
A member of the turnip family, (and hence it’s sweet turnip like taste), kohlrabi has pale green bulbs attached to long leafy greens, both of which are edible. Make sure the bulbs are firm and the greens have no yellow spots. It is available spring through fall. Kohlrabi has a number of uses including soups and stews but I like it best in salads, particularly the bulbs. Cut off the bulbs and peel them just as you would a turnip. Slice them thin and toss them in with your salad. They add a crunchy and tasty dimension to the tried and true salad mixes. You can also sauté either slices of the bulb in butter or the leaves in garlic and oil like Swiss chard.
Parsnips are not that exotic of a vegetable and most people have heard of them. But I don’t think they are used as often as they should be. They’re definitely more popular in Europe. Parsnips, available year round, are a yellowish white root vegetable that taste similar to carrots. Choose ones that are firm with minimal spotting. Parsnips are amenable to most cooking methods. Peel them and then cut them into chunks and roast them just as you would potatoes or carrots. Use them in making stock, (particularly vegetable stock), in place of, or in addition to carrots. You can slice and boil them, also like carrots. Or, one of my favorites, make mashed parsnips. Peel and thinly slice a pound of parsnips. Boil them for about an hour. Drain, and then mash them in a food processor until very smooth. Return them to the pot and add butter, cream, and salt. (Sugar is an optional ingredient). Stir and heat them until all the ingredients are incorporated. I’ll leave the amount of butter and cream up to your dietary parameters but I use at least three tablespoons of butter and four ounces of cream.