A stroll through your local farmers market may reveal all sorts of unusual and funky looking foods. There is no better time than now to sample all that nature has on offer! Channel that adventurous spirit of yours and stock up on these flavourful, nutritious and not-so-mainstream fruits and vegetables. Read on as we help the produce-curious by giving you hints on taste, nutrition and preparation to fuel that creative spirit!
Garlic Scapes. These shoots grow from garlic bulbs and have a mild flavor similar to the bulbs with less bite. Garlic scapes are antioxidant rich, with plenty of vitamin C, vitamin A and fiber. Few studies have been conducted on garlic scapes but they contain many of the same sulfur compounds that make garlic bulbs so beneficial for your health. Consuming scapes may help boost your immune system and reduce your risk for osteoarthritis, cancer and cardiovascular disease.[i][ii]
They make a perfect addition to any pre-BBQ marinade; mince and sprinkle on grilled seafood and chicken. Puree into a phenomenal pesto, dip, or caesar salad dressing.[iii]
Kohlrabi. Member of the Brassica family, just like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. It has a mild, sweet flavour that is a cross between water chestnut and turnip. Kohlrabi is a good source of fiber, vitamin C, potassium and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals, including cancer-fighting isothiocyanates.[iv] It is also extremely low in calories yet filling, making it a beneficial addition to a weight-conscious lifestyle.
To prepare it, first peel it like an apple (optional) then thinly slice or cut it into wedges. You can consume it raw to scoop up dip, shredded into a coleslaw, or try it pickled. Alternatively, you can cook kohlrabi like carrots: steam for 5 minutes, roast for 45 minutes or add it to stir fries.[v]
Zucchini Flowers. These beautiful, edible flowers are too delicate to survive the harsh grocery store environment, but if you look closely, you’ll notice them at many a farmers market. Zucchini flowers are slightly sweeter and have a more subtle taste than zucchinis. They contain water and a range of minerals, including a healthy dose of potassium, making them a tasty way to replenish after a sweaty day in the sun.
Although they are typically fried, we recommend either baking them or eating them fresh (since deep frying is never a healthy choice). Try consuming zucchini flowers fresh on salads, or as a soup garnish, or drizzle them with truffled vinaigrette and herb aioli. You can also stuff them with ricotta cheese and bake them at 200 degrees celsius for 20 minutes, or quickly sauté them and serve them as a side dish.
Gooseberries. Gooseberries are juicy and tart; depending on the stage in which they are picked, their flavour varies between a mix of sour grapes and currants. Gooseberries contain vitamins C, A, B6, B1 and B5; as well the minerals copper, magnesium and potassium. They are also an excellent source of phytochemicals which help fight cancer, aging, inflammation and neurological disease.[vi]
Try popping them on their own if they are well ripened (look for a purple tinge) or added to a fruit salad. If they are picked in the early stages and still green, they will be quite sour and better for cooking. You can boil both the green and the purplish berries and consume the liquid as a tea or you can add a scoopful to water and let it infuse for a sweet-tart alternative to lemonade. You can also make jam out of sweet gooseberries or use the sour ones to make relish.
Bitter Melon. A member of the squash family (and considered the most bitter vegetable), this pungent food takes a little getting used to for many but the health benefits make it worth the effort. Bitter melon is full of nutrients including vitamins A and C, as well as iron and calcium. Ayurvedic practitioners use bitter melon to balance the body, treating everything from skin ailments to weight loss to viral infections. Bitter melon also has potent anti-diabetic and blood sugar lowering properties and extracts of it are currently being studied for their cancer fighting capabilities.[vii]
Cut the melon in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and pith. Slice into ¼ inch sections and if you want to neutralize the bitterness immerse it fully in a bowl of water with 2-3 tbsp. of salt and let it sit for 20 minutes prior to cooking. You can add bitter melon to spicy dishes, rich sauces, omelets, curries and even hummus, or try pickling it for optimal health benefits.[viii]