Hixon Allotments Association

Cooking Unusual Vegetables.

Growing unusual vegetables and fruit fascinates me and it is always fun trying to find out the best way of eating them afterwards!

Traditionally this herb has only been used in it's crystallized form for cake decorating in England, but other countries boil the young stalks to eat. Some peoples even eat the young stalks raw like celery. Leaves can be stripped from the stalks and boiled as you might Spinach. A leaf or two can be added to soups. All parts of the Angelica are ant-acid and as such are useful to add to cooked Rhubarb to remove the need for adding sugar. Be warned Angelica has an Aniseed type flavour, is very bitter, and as a herb carries a health warning not to use in excess. Indeed, pregnant women should not eat it at all!

An asparagus stalk may well be tough at the lower end, so before cooking take a sharp knife and gently press the blade across the stalk working along the length starting from the cut end. You will reach a point where the knife easily slides through the stem and this is where to cut the edible from the inedible. There are many ways of cooking this delicacy, but it is easily overcooked which makes it soft and mushy. Steaming for a few minutes is probably the easiest method before serving with a little butter on it.

Cape Gooseberries – Edible Physallis
These bright orange berries develop and ripen in their lantern like cases when the case turns very pale brown and dries to a papery texture. Fruits should be removed from their protective cases and given a little wash to remove their waxy feel before serving in fruit salads, or used as an ideal accompaniment to a fresh, ripe, sweet, Melon. The plants will die as harder frosts come in the Autumn, but often the berries will carry on ripening on the dead and drying plants protected from some of the cold by their papery cases. The crop is always a bit hit and miss in Britain due to our sometimes cold Autumns.

Courgettes are on sale everywhere and most people either fry them sliced, or bake them in the oven. However, sliced thickly and placed on a Micro-waveable plate they can be cooked very easily in 3 minutes in a Microwave. (See Recipe)

This is another root vegetable that is not very popular and grows in much the same way as beetroot, but is rather larger. Usually costing one pound or more each in the shops, it is a worthwhile crop to grow if you like it's unusual taste. Cooking/use is much the same as for Swede or Turnips, but you are unlikely to want to cook a whole one at once! When you slice a piece off for cooking you need to cover the cut end, or treat with Lemon juice to prevent browning.

Globe Artichokes.
Not to be confused with Jerusalem Artichokes that are completely different. This member of the Thistle family produces the typical Thistle like head, but unlike other family members this one is edible. The “Globes,” should be harvested before they start to open and boiled in salted water for some 20-30 minutes. To eat them the outer scales should be removed while hot, coated in butter and then the base of the inner ones can be nibbled with more being eaten the nearer you get to the "Heart" and “Choke,” at the centre of the “Globe.” The Central, undeveloped part of the “Globe,” the "Heart," is edible, but do remove the fluffy "Choke," or else you will! The flavour is said to be reminiscent of Asparagus whose season it follows.
Another way of cooking the Globes is to peel away nearly all of the Scales until you get to those that have little colour to them. This will reveal the "Heart" and "Choke" and then with a sharp knife clean away the remnants of the scales from around the stalk and peel the top of the stalk also removing the "Choke."  This will leave the "Heart" that can then be well steamed, or boiled until soft. This method of preparation makes the Globes much easier to eat. Indeed, you can buy Artichoke Hearts pickled in tins at most Supermarkets.

Jerusalem Artichokes
Are a small, knobbly alternative to potatoes that not only grow in a similar way, but can be used in all the same ways after initially scrubbing their skins before cooking whole. Cooking time generally and boiling is perhaps a little longer at 20-30 minutes. If the Artichokes are at all damaged they should be roasted, or baked to prevent their insides from spilling out. Alternatively they can be oiled and microwaved for a few minutes until soft. Their odd, flavour gives a different twist to ordinary mashed potato. Jerusalem Artichokes are also said to help improve kidney function.

Some varieties of this easy to grow Winter vegetable have tougher central leaf stalks that need to be cut out before cooking than others. It can be cooked like and thought of as a Spinach alternative.

Kohl Rabbi
This is a member of the Brassica family and as such has a cabbage like flavour. It can be boiled in its skin and then skinned afterwards in the same way as you would beetroot. Boiling time will be at least 3/4 of an hour depending on size/age. After boiling it can be mashed with butter if soft enough, or else sliced and coated with butter if a little firmer. It can also be roasted in the tin with a joint of meat as you might roast Parsnips. For those who like salads it can be skinned, grated and eaten raw with salads as you might carrots. (It is not as chewy as carrots.)

This was traditionally grown in Yorkshire until more recent times and used to make a sweet sometimes called Pontefract Cakes so named from the area. However, the flavoured roots need to be pressure treated with Steam to extract the juice which then has to be processed with Molasses to produce the black sweets. Liquorice root can often be seen dried in short lengths that can be chewed and used to help wean people off cigarettes. Fresh roots are yellow in colour (Not Black) and can be used to flavour dishes in a "Bouquet Garnet."

Oca - Oxallis Tuberosa
This member of the Clover family produces edible tubers late in the Autumn that can be scrubbed and eaten raw like a Radish if they are small, or if they are bigger, boiled like a New Potato, or Yam. They have a Lemony tang and are very refreshing raw, but somewhat blander after cooking. The tubers are light coloured, but have very attractive red markings that make them look nice in a salad.

These are a root crop that grow in the same way as carrots, but  are longer and thinner and rarely grown although seed is freely available. The big advantages over other roots are that mature plants can be left in the ground all winter and they have no real pest problems, but they do need good, stone-free and deep soil.  Cooking can be done in several ways, but they are best scrubbed, cut into short, 2 inch lengths and then boiled in water with a little salt and lemon juice, before gently peeling by "squeezing," the skins off. If they cool off too much while skinning they can be popped back into boiling water for a few seconds before serving with some melted butter, as you might Asparagus.

Sea Kale
The plants are very leafy, but it is the stalks that you eat. Before harvesting the Celery like stems the plants should be covered with something like a bucket to exclude the light from mid Winter onwards. The stalks are best lightly steamed as they don't take much cooking and are very similar in taste to Asparagus, but come a little earlier in the season.

Swiss Chard
Basically this is another Spinach type of vegetable in the way that you cook it, ie loosely chop and steam/boil the leaves in their own moisture. (Microwave in a bowl for 3 Mins - Stir and zap again for 2 Mins, then stir and warm before serving.) However, when you are preparing the leaves by cutting out the central stalks from the leaves, the stalks can also be cut into suitable lengths, boiled separately and served up with mixed vegetables, or used in any other way that you might use cooked Celery.

This close relation to the cape Gooseberry is even more unlikely to fully ripen outside in the U.K. but good use can be made of the large green fruits in their paper cases by making Green Salsa with them. (See Salsa Verde Recipe)

This is slightly tender and grows very much like a Dahlia with large edible tubers that look like Sweet Potatoes or Yams. In a good year you will get a bucket full of usable tubers from one plant. The tubers can be peeled and then sliced or diced and boiled/steamed, or even roasted like your would a piece of Squash. They are very sweet, but their sugars are indigestible to humans so the tubers have no calories and are therefore ideal for Diabetics. Indeed research is being done for various dietary applications and one already commercially available is a sweetening syrup.