Name That Veggie: New Picks for Your Palate
From artichokes to zucchini, an abundance of fresh veggies is a sure sign of summer. However, unless you belong to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and have produce-stuffed crates delivered to your doorstep, you’re likely missing out on some fun, in many cases, little-known choices.
Next time you visit your local farmers’ market, veer off the beaten path to increase your produce options. Here are some tips on how to choose, prepare and store three less-common (but still healthy and tasty) veggies.
Root veggies striped in rings of red and white, these eye-catching bulbs are delicious raw or gently cooked (although this will fade the contrast).
HOW TO PICK ’EM
- Freshly harvested beets have bright, healthy-looking leafy greens still attached and firm bulbs with no soft spots. (If sold loose without tops, beets should be heavy for their size with no sprouts or wrinkles.)
HOW TO STORE ’EM:
- Raw beets can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks. Cut off the greens (store separately) and leave at least an inch of the stalk attached and taproot intact.
HOW TO COOK ’EM:
- Trim back the roots and leaf stalks to about an inch and wash under cool running water. To keep the skin (and therefore the color and nutrients) intact, be careful to not scrub the skin too hard when washing, and do not cut or slice off any part of the vegetable.
- Place beets in a large pot and cover with cold water. Add 1 teaspoon each sugar and salt per half gallon of water. Heat until just boiling, then reduce heat to medium. Simmer 45 minutes to 1 hour or until tender (for large, fresh ones) or up to 4 hours (for large, older ones from storage).
- Remove from heat, drain and shock by plunging them quickly into cold water.
- Remove from cold water, cut off root tips and stems with your Chicago Cutlery® paring knife, and gently rub off the skins with a damp towel.
- Serve sliced or mashed with a bit of butter, salt and freshly ground pepper.
TIP: Beet greens are edible, too; lightly sauté or toss young greens into salads.
A smaller, milder eggplant with a mildly fruity taste, white aubergines are harvested young and often called “baby” whites.
HOW TO PICK ’EM
- Choose eggplants that are firm and heavy for their size, with vivid coloring and smooth, shiny skin free of discoloration, scars and bruises.
- Look for bright green stems and caps.
- Test for ripeness by gently pressing the skin with the pad of your thumb. If it springs back, the eggplant is ripe, while if an indentation remains, it is not.
HOW TO STORE ’EM:
Although it looks hardy, eggplant is very perishable and sensitive to both heat and cold. If it is wrapped in plastic film, remove as soon as possible to let it breathe and maintain its freshness. Store whole unwashed eggplants in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days.
HOW TO COOK ’EM
- White eggplants generally have a tough, unpalatable skin. Slice into sections with a Chicago Cutlery chef or santoku knife, then remove skin with a paring knife. If you are baking it, scoop out the flesh once cooked.
- To tenderize and reduce some of its naturally occurring bitter taste, you can “sweat” the eggplant by salting it. After cutting the eggplant, sprinkle with salt and allow it to rest for about 30 minutes. This will pull out some of its water content and make it less likely to absorb any oil used in cooking. Rinse to remove most of the salt.
- Extremely versatile, eggplant can be baked, roasted, grilled or steamed…but since it’s so nutrient-dense to begin with, we like this slightly indulgent pan-fried recipe from Kalyn’s Kitchen.
TIP: When cutting an eggplant, use a stainless steel Chicago Cutlery chef or santoku knife. Carbon steel will react with the eggplant’s phytonutrients and cause it to turn black.
Tender and a tad sweeter than the green and white varieties, purple asparagus will turn green once cooked as the heat destroys the purple pigment.
HOW TO PICK ’EM:
- Look for asparagus stalks that are firm to the touch and free of blemishes.
- Check to make sure the tips are closed tightly. A dark green or purple tinge on the tips is a good indication of quality, but yellowish or dried-out tips mean the asparagus is too old.
- Choose the diameter of the spears according to your needs, as size is not an indication of quality.
HOW TO STORE ’EM:
- Raw asparagus will stay fresh for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator. Keep spears cool and damp by storing upright in a container with the stems wading in an inch of water, and cover loosely with a plastic bag. Or wrap the ends in moist paper towels and seal the whole bundle in a plastic bag.
HOW TO MAKE ’EM
- Remove woody ends by gently bending to find the spear’s natural snap, and then use a paring knife or vegetable peeler to remove the outer layer (and any stringiness) around the bottom.
- Asparagus is better slightly undercooked, so lightly steam or boil until crisp-tender, then toss with melted butter and a squeeze of lemon.
- Or brush with olive oil, season and broil, roast or grill to intensify the inherent sweetness.
- From off-the-radar to on-your-plate, you can start small with side dishes or salad add-ins, or go all out and make them the main attraction. Just keep your eyes peeled for these colorful veggie variations and give them a place in your warm-weather rotation.
YOUR TURN: What are your favorite unusual farmers’ market find?