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When I worked in Japan, I developed something of an ice cream addiction. More specifically, I got into the habit of ordering Okinawan purple sweet potato ice cream at every opportunity, so often that I had to go on a bitter melon and fish balls (which are boiled balls of minced fish) soup kick to lose the extra weight.
All over the world there are interesting, and delicious, plant foods that add variety to your daily fare. For far less than you would spend on an exotic protein or a fancy dessert, these vegetables provide interest, taste, and color for your mealtime enjoyment.
The term kohlrabi is German for "cabbage-turnip." This round, green or purple above-ground "turnip" grows edible green stems in every direction, looking something like the vehicle in which extraterrestrials landed in a 1980's or 1990's science fiction movie. If you pick up this odd vegetable at the farmer's market, you can prepare it by:
- Serving the round central stem (but not the tough smaller stems attached to it) raw as crudite or in salads.
- Adding the pureed, boiled vegetable to creamy soups.
- Roasting it, to caramelize its sugars, along with potatoes as a side dish.,
- Steaming it and serving instead of cabbage.
- Making kohlrabi fritters, with the same recipe you would use for hashed brown potatoes.
In Kashmir, kohlrabi is an important vegetable eaten nearly every day, served with a spicy gravy over the round central stem and the leaves after they have been boiled until they are tender.
Although kohlrabi looks as if it should be grown in outer space, mizuna actually has been grown in outer space, at the International Space Station. Mizuna is a beautiful green and/or purple Japanese salad green with a peppery taste. Use it instead of arugula, or boil or steam it the same way you prepare spinach. Like spinach, mizuna loses a lot of its volume when it is cooked, so you have to start with a large amount of mizuna to make even a small serving of the cooked vegetable. Use mizuna and avocado to accompany grilled fish, especially tuna steaks.
Yuca (not to be confused with yucca) is a root vegetable popular throughout most of Latin America but especially in Cuba. In North America, yuca is also known as cassava. Yuca roots are rich in starch, which releases sugar into the bloodstream slowly when the vegetable is digested, giving the plant a lower glycemic index. They are also an unusually good source of calcium, phosphorous, and vitamin C. Yuca is available in the form of tapioca pearls, useful as a thickening agent or for making puddings. Larger pieces of yuca root can be used in the same ways as potatoes, for stews, for making "fries," and for making 'bread." If you buy untreated yuca in the market, however, be sure to ask how you need to prepare it. "Sweet" yuca can be eaten with minimal preparation, but "bitter" yuca requires extensive preparation to remove naturally occurring toxins, including cyanide. Untreated bitter yuca won't kill you, but it can make you sick.
4. Squash (and zucchini) blossoms.
Squash and zucchini grow from long, yellow blossoms. These can be harvested (before they have a chance to set fruit), stuffed with meat, rice, and/or cheese, and fried. The blossoms have a delicate "squashy" flavor and hold up well to frying, blending their flavors well with the fillings inside.