You know you should be eating more of them, but it’s hard to muster up a lot of enthusiasm for vegetables. They tend to be fibrous and bitter, and they can get really boring. How many more carrot sticks and pieces of celery can you eat while keeping the excitement of healthy eating in mind? How many more green salads will you have to plod through? If you can’t stand the sight of one more broccoli floret, read on. We have some new adventures for you to try in the vegetable kingdom. They may look or sound weird, but don’t be daunted. Just commit to trying one of them this spring. Look for them at your local farmer’s market or natural grocer. Not only will you enjoy the satisfaction of being a more accomplished and adventurous cook, you will also get to look like a smarty-pants with your foodie friends.
1. Summer Sweet Peas
Mmmmmm, sweet summer peas. Your kids may object to their squishy texture, and you may object to the tedious work of shelling them, but there is no denying that peas taste like summer on your tongue. Did you know you can enjoy the flavor of sweet peas without the texture issues and pesky shelling? Enter pea shoots, the tender leaves of the pea plants. High in Vitamins A, C, and folic acid, pea shoots can be tossed raw into a salad. Or steam them slightly and add them to your risotto or pasta dish. They’ll also do just fine in a stir fry or baked with chicken or fish. Pea shoots have been popular in the UK for years, but have just recently made their way across the pond.
Another recent arrival is the kalette. A cross between the Brussels sprout and kale, the kalette looks like an overgrown, shaggy Brussels sprout, dense and green but shot through with purple streaks. It comes to us from Britain, and although it is a cultivated hybrid, don’t worry, it’s not genetically modified. High in fiber, Vitamin C, and iron, kalettes have the nutty flavor of Brussels sprouts with the softer, leafy texture of kale. Like Brussels sprouts, they taste great roasted with a bit of olive oil and salt. Like kale, their raw leaves can star in a salad, but you may want to let them sit in a vinaigrette for a few hours first.
Think of mâche clusters as spinach’s little cousin, but better. This dark, leafy green is sweeter than spinach, won’t coat your teeth like spinach, and won’t block your body’s absorption of calcium like spinach can. But it does have the same powerful nutritional profile that spinach does, and, icing on the cake, it lasts longer in the refrigerator than spinach. What’s not to like? You can use mâche (rhymes with “gosh”) clusters anywhere you would use spinach: raw in a salad or smoothie, cooked in a soup, pasta, or quiche … you get the idea.
They look like large bleached carrots and are vaguely reminiscent of medieval English diets, but if you haven’t tried a parsnip lately, you’re in for a treat. They are a winter vegetable that continues to ripen into early spring. Peel them just like a carrot, chop them up and throw them into your chowder or roast pan. They act a bit like a potato contributing a starchy texture, but with a lot more flavor. They add a mellow, sweet nuttiness to stews and make a great supporting side dish for a meat roast.
Finally, ramps, also called wild leeks, are wild onions that appear in forests in early spring. They look like green onions, except their stalks have a rosy color and they have wide, smooth leaves. They have a strong onion-garlicky flavor with a hint of wildness around the edges. It’s best to use them in small quantities to spice up a blander dish, like mashed potatoes or a casserole. Of course, you can use them like green onions in a salad, but you’ve been warned! They’ll bring the wildness of the forest into your greens.