by Marnie Record, workforce specialist, Value-Added Local Food program, Lincoln Land Community College
Stuck in a rut cooking the same foods each week? There’s a world of tastes that you probably have not yet explored growing on nearby vines and stalks.
Piles of sweet corn and peaches fly off the farmer’s market tables during the height of the summer growing season, but unearth some of the more unusual produce for a welcome respite from the routine weekly taco Tuesday and spaghetti Sunday nights.
During the dead of winter farmers pour over seed catalogs with painstaking precision to determine what varieties they will plant. The catalogs themselves contain photographs of vegetables worth framing such as the midnight blue watermelon dotted with yellow stars and moons, the red tomato painted with green and tan stripes, and the candy cane swirled beets. Farmers end up with a collection of vegetables that come with histories and beauty along with the best flavor and highest germination rates. Once planted, farmers spend at least 12 hours a day taking care of their precious seeds. They get to know each plant intimately toiling in the soil for weeks or months before harvest. So if you don’t know what something is or what to do with it, don’t be afraid to ask. Farmers love to tell about the food they grow.
Here are a few of my favorites to try:
Paradicsom Alaku Sarga Szentes Pepper
Sweet bell peppers abound, but this favorite of Gus Jones and Andy Heck, LLCC farmers and Small Axe Market Garden owners, offers a “rare and delicious” alternative according to the growers. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds describes this as one of the truly great Hungarian peppers. It looks like a miniature squat pumpkin. The ribbed flesh is very thick, crisp and juicy.
LLCC instructor, Chef Greg Christian, says “the shape and flavors of this unusual pepper lends itself to being perfect for stuffed peppers. I prefer a simple recipe with rice, ground beef or lamb, fresh herbs and green onion.” He points out that the peppers need to roast only about 10 minutes if they are filled with cooked ingredients.
Kholrabi is a pale green or purple bulb with tough-looking leaves sprouting from the top. I had seen kohlrabi at the farmers market for years before I mustered the courage to tell a farmer that I had never eaten it and didn’t know what to do with it. He immediately cut one open and served it to me raw. I’ve been buying them regularly since this discovery of crispy, melt-in-your-mouth goodness. The flavor compares to the heart of a broccoli stem, but with more sweetness and juiciness.
In addition to thinly sliced raw kohlrabi, Chef Christian cooks it slightly poached in a little bit of salt and some butter. Once you get past the thick stalk and peel back the skin, poaching the flesh makes it extremely creamy.
I find it a wonder that our foraging forefathers looked at a celeriac root and decided that it looked edible. Kahlil Gibran, a favorite poet of mine said, “Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.” He might have been referring to celeriac upon first uttering these words. Beneath celeriac’s knobby, hairy exterior lies a creamy flesh which tastes like a subtle blend of celery and parsley. It has more complexity and earthy subtlety than celery stalks.
Chef Christian directed me to Auguste Escoffier, a legendary figure among chefs and gourmets and one of the most important leaders in the development of modern French cuisine, for his favor to celeraic. Its classic application is in the cold French salad in which the root is peeled, grated, blanched in lemon juice, and then dressed with a mustardy mayonnaise. But celeriac is a great addition to mashed potatoes or as a starch-free alternative to potatoes.
Green Zebra Tomato
Jones and Heck grow a plethora of stunning heirloom tomatoes almost too pretty to eat, but the green zebra leads many to believe that its green color equates to unripe. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. The bright green fruit offers a rich tasting sweetness that’s too delicious for words. The green zebra is a beautiful chartreuse color with deep lime-green stripes making it one of the more attractive tomatoes.
When it comes to preparing dishes with heirloom tomatoes, the simpler the preparation the better. Fresh garden basil and good olive oil are best friends to the stand-on-its-own flavors of the delicate heirloom tomato.
A staple in Asian cuisine, the daikon radish looks like a larger carrot or parsnip. The pure white, smooth root vegetable is mild in taste and can be used in place of more common radishes.
This is an extremely versatile vegetable that can be eaten raw in salads. It also can be stir-fried, grilled, baked, boiled or broiled. It is often pickled or preserved by salting as in making sauerkraut. Daikon also is used in soups and simmered dishes. To prepare, peel skin as you would a carrot and cut for whatever style your recipe idea calls for. Chef Christian suggests simply poaching one inch thick pieces of daikon radish in quality chicken broth like that made by Debbie and Matt Daniels of Bear Creek Farm and Ranch. “This makes a nice accompaniment to any bar-b-que,” Christian says.
Escoffier’s Waldorf Salad
1 cup chopped apple
1 cup chopped celeriac
1/4 cup chopped, toasted walnuts
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix the apple, celeriac and walnuts together. Add lemon juice to mayonnaise and toss lightly with the apple, celeriac and walnuts. Season with salt and pepper. Serve atop salad greens.
Daikon Radish Kimchi
4 pounds daikon radishes, peeled and cut into one inch pieces
1 pound Napa cabbage, cut into one inch pieces
2 tablespoons salt
1⁄3 cup sugar
1⁄4 cup Korean chile powder
2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
5 scallions, white and light green parts only, cut into one inch pieces
1 inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
Put radishes, cabbages and salt into a large bowl and toss to combine; let sit for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, in another large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients. Add the salted radishes and cabbages and any juices from the bowl and toss to combine. Transfer mixture to a clean 1-gallon or 4-quart glass jar, pressing down on the ingredients to compact them. Cover jar with cheesecloth and let sit at room temperature for 4 days.
Uncover jar to release any carbon dioxide, stir ingredients, re-cover jar with lid, and transfer to refrigerator. Let sit in the refrigerator, shaking the jar to disperse the ingredients from time to time, for at least 5 days. The kimchi will keep, refrigerated, for at least 6 months (its flavor will sharpen over time).
Kolhrabi Carrot Fritters with Avocado Cream Sauce
By: a Couple Cooks
Serves: 8 fritters
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 cup grapeseed or vegetable oil
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Green onions (for garnish)
Cut the leaves off the kohlrabi and peel the bulb. Peel 1 carrot. Shred the vegetables in a food processor, or by hand using a grater. Squeeze the shredded vegetables in a tea cloth (or with your hands) to remove moisture, then add to a medium bowl with 1 egg, ¼ teaspoon kosher salt and ¼ teaspoon cayenne. Mix to combine.
Place ½ cup oil in a large skillet (enough for ¼-inch depth). Heat the oil over medium high heat, then place small patties of the fritter mixture into the oil. Fry on one side until browned, then fry on the other side. Remove and place on a plate lined with a paper towel to drain excess oil.
In a small bowl, mix ½ avocado, ¼ cup plain yogurt, juice for ½ lemon, and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt to make the avocado cream (or blend the ingredients together in a food processor).
Serve fritters with avocado cream and sliced green onions.
Have any food-related questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll answer reader questions every fourth column.
For more information about food preservation, the Value-Added Local Food program at LLCC offers an eight-week credit course covering a wide variety of food preservation methods from Sept. 14-Oct. 31 on Monday evenings from 5-9 p.m. For more information call 217-786-4993.