In Praise of Unloved Vegetables
Updated: Feb 3
Corn, tomatoes, beans… the darlings of the vegetable garden.Everyone grows them, everyone loves them.But to be honest, I’m a little tired of them.Of course, I went through my phase (as most gardeners do) of growing 300 tomato varieties because I just COULD NOT RESIST the descriptions of ‘tangy complex flavor’ or ‘breathtaking multi-colored streaks’, but after quite a few results that did not live up to the hype, I’ve slowly dwindled my annual assortment down to about 20 or so varieties.Don’t get me wrong, I will always grow these garden staples.But I’m slowly cultivating a deep admiration for some of the vegetable world’s ‘unloved’ members.
My experience with kohlrabi started at a very young age.My father has always grown kohlrabi and eats it fresh out of the garden soil as one would eat an apple (he does this with onions as well, but that’s another story).We nibbled it on it as kids, but I don’t recall ever being excited about it.Certainly, it was nowhere in the same caliber as peas or carrots.But somewhere in adulthood, kohlrabi became a vegetable I eagerly anticipate each and every spring.Changing taste-buds, improved cultivars-- I’m not sure what the shift has been, but in the last several years, I’m nearly certain I’ve eaten my body weight in kohlrabi.My favorite method of consumption is to cut into sticks, chill in the fridge and devour with homemade dill dip, but it also makes an amazing slaw and is tasty simply sliced and salted.I’ve heard rumor it’s delicious roasted, but never seem to have enough left over to try this.Kohlrabi is a cool season veggie and does well in my Zone 6 garden in spring and fall.
Perhaps a candidate for one of the garden’s ugliest vegetables, celeriac has a slightly sweet, mild celery-like flavor and is incredibly versatile in the kitchen. From an alternative to potatoes and noodles (sick of cauliflower and zucchini all you low-carbers?) to an unusual meat replacement (https://www.chatelaine.com/recipe/dinner/celeriac-schnitzel/), look beyond celeriac’s rough exterior to see the beauty within. Celeriac takes quite a while to mature and I start seed indoors 10-12 weeks before my last frost date in the spring.
Please drop everything you are doing and try this recipe right now-- https://www.marksdailyapple.com/mushroom-and-bacon-risotto/. Seriously, life changing. Also, with its subtly sweet and nutty flavor, parsnip makes amazing fries and a parsnip mash with a dusting of cinnamon is delightful…. so many tasty uses, so little time. There is a story that the Roman Emperor Tiberius loved parsnips so much, he had them specially imported from the Rhine valley. Good enough for the Emperor, good enough for me I say! The trick with parsnips is that they can take forever to germinate from seed, so be patient with them. And remember, the best flavor comes after the frost.
I’m seeing bulb fennel pop up in my grocery store regularly now, which tells me more folks are familiar with this versatile veggie. All parts of fennel can be used, from the bulb, to the stalks and fronds, to the seeds. With a subtle hint of anise (black licorice) flavor and a crisp, juicy crunch, some folks who HATE licorice still enjoy fennel, so don’t let that deter you from trying it. My go-to preparation is a raw fennel and apple salad; braised fennel is scrumptious too. Fennel originated in the Mediterranean region and likes the cool temps of our spring and fall but won’t tolerate freezing. I have the best luck starting seed indoors and protecting transplants with a cloche or row cover early in their life.
What under-appreciated or unusual vegetable would you add to this list? Do you have a love affair with a certain veggie that no one else seems to understand? Please share!