7 Recipes Using Weird Looking Vegetables

Chow on 09.23.11
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You know you do it. You pass by the weird looking vegetables and head to the carrots and broccoli. Or you open up your CSA and realize that you have no idea what that crazy vegetable is, nor do you know how to cook it. Parentables contributor and editor Blythe mentioned to me this week that she got a kohlrabi in her CSA and didn't know what to do with it.

I did a series of posts a couple of years ago on Planet Green called Try a New Vegetable for just this reason. It was a lot of fun to do, because it forced me to try things that I'd been passing by in the grocery store myself..

Most of these vegetables are pretty easy to cook and they are nothing to be afraid of. So be brave and give one of these a try this week. Who knows? Your kids might be intrigued enough to try something new as well.

1. Celeriac or Celery Root

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I'm not a big fan of celery, although I always have it on hand for making stock. Celeriac, also known as celery root has a much subtler taste, but the celery flavour is discernable. It is also possibly the oddest looking vegetable on this list. The first timeI had it was at a friend's dinner party. It was sauteed simply and it was crispy and a bit nutty tasting and I fell hard for it. It's quite versatile and for me, the best thing is that it is local and available fresh all winter long in Ontario. This roasted celeriac soup is a great way to cook it. Look for smaller celeriac that feels dense. Larger roots may be a bit hollow in the middle.

2. Jerusalem Artichokes

Photo: Kelly Rossiter

These babies are also available all winter long in Ontario, so we eat a lot of them. They are neither artichokes, nor are they from Jerusalem. Also known as sunchokes, they are actually tubers of sunflowers, which isn't surprising because they look more like something you plant in the fall rather than like something you eat. They make an absolutely fantastic soup, but you can also mix them with potatoes in a gratin. This recipe for Jerusalem artichokes with sage is a nice change for a side dish. Look for the smoothest skin you can get on this vegetable, Just scrub them, don't peel them because all of the nutrients are right at the skin level. They oxidize quickly, so prepare them just as you are ready to cook them. I have to be honest and say that these are pretty gas inducing, so expect a windy evening.

3. Kohlrabi

Photo:Lisa Romerein/Getty Images

For years I saw kohlrabi in the supermarket and never tried it. In fact, it's part of the cabbage family (kohl is German for cabbage, which I should have remembered from my high school German classes) and you can do all kinds of things with it. You can cook it on it's own or pair it with one of my favourite vegetables for this crispy sauteed kale and kohlrabi. Even my husband loves this dish. You don't need to cook it, you can have it in a salad as well.

4. Parsnips

Photo: Kelly Rossiter

My mother flirted with trying parsnips for many years, but my father was a very picky eater when it came to vegetables and he said he wouldn't eat them. Now she kicks herself for waiting so long to try them because they quickly became one of her favourites. They have a wonderful natural sweetness that really comes out. As with the Jerusalem artichokes, they work really well with potatoes, but they also make a really delicate and lovely bisque. If you have access to venison, this venison pie with chestnuts and parsnips is amazing.

5. Fennel

Photo: Getty Images

I avoided fennel for a long time because anise isn't one of my favourite flavours. However, the taste isn't overwhelming, and I have come to quite like it. It works really well with mashed potatoes. It's quite common to see recipes using fennel in salads, but my particular favourite recipe is for a spiced carrot soup that I had in a restaurant and loved so much I had to try to duplicate it.

6. Artichokes

Photo: Kelly Rossiter

A lot of people find artichokes daunting, but they really aren't hard to deal with and they so much superior in taste when they are fresh over the canned variety. You can have them straight up with a dipping sauce like I did when we were in France, or you can take some baby artichokes and grill them, or toss them with some rapini and olives for a delicious pasta

7. Romanesco Cauliflower

Photo: Kelly Rossiter

Perhaps the most beautiful vegetable you can eat, it is certainly the only one that is a fractal, and a chartreuse one, at that. The first time I made it I cooked it in a bit of bacon fat, then added a bit of stock and when it had softened put it over pasta. And, as with everything else, when in doubt, make soup

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