Unusual Produce

Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana)

Horseradish is a member of the mustard family (sharing lineage with its gentler cousins, kale, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts and the common radish) and is cultivated for its thick, fleshy white roots. The bite and aroma of the horseradish root are almost absent until it is grated or ground. During this process, as the root cells are crushed, volatile oils known as isothiocyanate are released. Vinegar stops this reaction and stabilizes the flavor. For milder horseradish, vinegar is added immediately.

Horseradish dates back 3,000 years and has been used as an aphrodisiac, a treatment for tuberculosis, a rub for low back pain, a bitter herb for Passover and an accompaniment for corned beef, chicken and seafood. One tablespoon of horseradish has only six calories and no-fat. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends horseradish as part of a healthy, low-fat diet because of its fat-free, high-flavor qualities.

Jicama (Pachyrhizus tuberosus)

Sometimes known as the Mexican water chestnut, this root vegetable has a crisp, white flesh under an inedible sand colored outer skin. Jicama has a potato-like texture when cooked, and when eaten raw, jicama has a crisp apple-like texture with a subtle nutty flavor.

After peeling the vegetable you can slice the root and add it to a salads or try it sautéed in a stir-fry or simmered in stews. A fine source of starch, it is also used extensively in custards and puddings.When purchasing jicama, look for ones with smooth, unblemished skins. Once you get it home it’s best to store it in a cool dry place for up to 3 weeks. Once cut, you should wrap the rest and keep it in the refrigerator for up to 1-week.

Ugli Fruit

UGLI® is the registered proprietary trade mark under which Cabel Hall Citrus Ltd. markets its brand of tangelos, grown exclusively in Jamaica. This exotic citrus hybrid is a cross between a mandarin orange and a pomelo (the original grapefruit).Ugli fruit makes a delicious addition to fruit salads or green salads. When eating raw as a snack, it’s best to peel the fruit and divide it into sections like an orange, rather than the traditional way of scooping grapefruit from the segments after cutting it in half.

When buying, look for heavy, solid greenish-yellow fruit, and don’t be concerned with bumpy or uneven colored skin. Store the fruit at room temperature. High in vitamin C and dietary fiber, Ugli Fruit is best eaten within 5 days.

Tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica)

Also know as a husk tomato, the tomatillo is a native of Mexico, where it’s called tomates verdes, tomates de cascara or sometimes fresadillas, and provides that tart flavor in a host of Mexican green sauces. The fruit is greenish-yellow in color and is encased in a papery husk. The tomatillo has a flavor with hints of lemon, apple and herbs.Although the fruit will turn yellow as they ripen they are generally eaten while green.

Look for firm shiny, green fruits. You can store tomatillos in a brown paper bag or sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 1-month, preferably after removing the husks.As you’d imagine, tomatillos are perfect in Mexican food, simmer with garlic, onion and jalapenos for a delicious enchilada sauce, chop and add to guacamole.

Samphire (Salicornia herbacea)

Also known as Sea Bean or Sea Asparagus, this plant is not seaweed but a succulent plant that is salt-tolerant and grows wild in North American, Europe, Asia and Australia. The spiky green leaves and stems of Samphire are crisp and aromatic, and taste of the salty sea. It’s used raw with a simple vinaigrette in salads and as a garnish for seafood (the salty sea flavor of the Samphire compliments seafood dishes), or as a side dish after sauteeing in a pan with butter, garlic and parsley. It also makes delicious soups and is often brined and pickled in Europe, where sailors took it along on long voyages along to prevent scurvy.

Samphire is rich in iodine, phosphorus, calcium, silica, zinc, manganese and vitamins A, C and D. Choose Samphire that’s crisp and firm, then store for a week or so in the refrigerator.

Treviso (Armoracia rusticana)

A member of the chicory family, this variety of radicchio was developed in the Veneto region of Italy and has a bitter, mildly spicy taste. It is somewhat less common in the states, though becoming more so, and resembles a Belgian endive. Choose heads that have crisp, full colored leaves. Treviso is highly perishable and will only keep for a day or so.Like raddicchio, Treviso is wonderful on the grill, lightly coated with olive oil, chopped up in a pasta dish or tossed in a salad. Try grilling quartered heads of Treviso over moderately hot charcoal for several minutes, then sprinkle them with coarsely grated smoked mozzerella, remove from the grill and drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar. Or chop and combine with grilled onions for a bruschetta topping.

Radicchio is low in calories, but high in magnesium, potassium, and has 10.8 I.U. of vitamin A, and is 70{efe9c63bbffb0135f2e597f2d9ca45c10d8defabb613d387abd1305fe38892e0} carbohydrate with just a small amount of protein and just a trace of fat.

Daikon Radish (Raphanus sativus)

Daikon is a mild-flavored East Asian giant white radish. It is also known as the Japanese radish or Chinese radish, though botanists today believe it actually originated in Mediterranean Europe. Daikon flesh is white and they are slightly hotter than traditional red radishes. An essential part of Japanese cuisine, it may be simmered and served alone or with noodles, and is also commonly grated, and served either as a garnish or as an accent in soups such as miso soup. It also accompanies tempura, for mixing into the sauce and is used to make takuan, a kind of fermented pickle used in sushi and as a garnish for white rice

Daikon radishes should be firm and evenly shaped. They will keep wrapped for up to two-weeks in the refrigerator. Season: All year, athough they are most flavorful in the fall and winter.

Fiddlehead Ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris)

Also called the ostrich fern, this seasonal frond often comes to us from Maine and Vermont. These tightly curled green shoots are picked before their leaves unfurl; gathered from the wild, they’re rare and expensive. Fiddleheads taste like asparagus combined with artichoke; others say the taste resembles okra. They can be used like any firm green vegetable and are exciting substitutes for string beans, spinach, artichokes and asparagus, in pasta dishes and as a side for steak, lamb, seafood and poultry. They’re a good source of vitamins A and C, but shouldn’t be served raw as they have a slight bitterness until cooked and may cause stomach upset if eaten raw in large quantity.

Choose fiddleheads that are a bright jade green and firm. Pass up any that have excessive fuzzy brown scales. If you must store fresh fiddleheads keep well cooled (35 F) and tightly wrapped to prevent drying out.

Graffiti Eggplant (Solanum melongena)

Unusual in color but having the same classic eggplant shape, this variety is appropriately named with its graffiti-like markings on its very smooth skin. Either ivory with purplish markings, or purplish with ivory markings, it has a green stem and leaf protrusion shooting out from its base, wrapping the top like a cap of an elf.

In choosing, make sure the colors are nice and bright all the way around; the purple, a dark purple, and the white, a bright white. The tips should be nice and green all the way through, and the lighter weight the eggplant the better because that means it’s free from seeds and will be sweet, not bitter.

Chayote (Sechium edule)

This member of the gourd family is a mild tasting, pear-shaped, firm-textured vegetable. It was domesticated in Mexico and used by the Aztecs and the Mayans, but can now be found cultivated across the world, primarily for its fruit. Its taste and texture is between a cucumber and an apple. The fruit does not need to be peeled and can be eaten raw in salads (as in the photo at the right), or can also be boiled, stuffed, mashed, baked, fried, or pickled. Somewhat bland, chayote benefits greatly from “aggressive seasoning”. Both the fruit and the seed are rich in amino acids and vitamin C, and is a popular substitute for apples and pumpkins in pies in Latin America.

Select firm, smooth, unwrinkled chayote — old chayote become very wrinkled and become dry and tough. Chayote will keep refrigerated for many days but it’s best to use quickly.

Broccoflower (Brassica oleracea)

Looking like a cross between broccoli and cauliflower, it’s actually a type of cauliflower with the same shape and texture. Originating in Holland, broccoflower is almost chartreuse in color and has a milder and slightly sweeter flavor than its close cabbage-family relatives. An excellent source of Vitamin C, use it as you would broccoli or cauliflower.

When shopping, look for a firm, compact head with tight florets, and avoid any heads that have begun to brown. Store unwashed, tightly wrapped broccoflower in the refrigerator for four to five days. To cook, wash the broccoflower head well, cut into florets, and steam until tender. Or cook broccoflower in stock, then purée with milk or soy milk for a fast, creamy soup.

White Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)

Often referred to as White Grass, this perennial plant is a member of the lily family. White asparagus comes from the process of etiolation, which is the deprivation of light. Farmers keep dirt mounded around the emerging stalk, depriving it of light. Since the plant can’t produce chlorophyll without light, there’s no green color to the stalks. Preferred in Europe, these sunlight-deprived stalks are a little milder and more delicate. Season: harvested by hand during the peak season of March through June.

Asparagus, one of the more nutritionally valuable vegetables, is the best vegetable provider of folic acid, which is necessary for blood cell formation and growth, and liver disease prevention. Asparagus is also very low in calories; each stalk contains less than 4. It contains no fat or cholesterol, is very low in sodium, and is a great source of potassium and fiber. Finally, the plant is a source of rutin, a compound that strengthens the walls of capillaries.

Peru is the world’s leading asparagus producer.

Persimmon (Diospyros kaki)

If you bite into a fruit that looks like an orange tomato and your lips pucker because of the bitter taste, you may be chewing on an unripe persimmon. The oriental persimmon, the most common variety found is U.S. markets, is native to China, where it has been cultivated for centuries. It spread to Korea and Japan many years ago where additional cultivars were developed before being introduced to California in the mid 1800’s. Persimmon fruits, which strikingly resemble tomatoes, can be classified into two general categories: those that bear astringent fruit until they are soft and ripe, and those that bear non-astringent fruits. An astringent cultivar must be jelly soft before it is fit to eat, but when it is, the fruit is sweet and delicate.

Some persimmons will begin to appear in the markets in late September, but November and December are when they’re most plentiful. Eat the soft, sweet flesh raw, or use it in various baking and dessert recipes.

Crenshaw Melon (Cucumis sativus)

Considered one of the most sweetly succulent members of the melon family, the Crenshaw is a hybrid muskmelon. It has a golden-green, smooth yet lightly ribbed rind and a beautiful salmon-orange flesh. The fragrance of a ripe Crenshaw – sometimes called Cranshaw – melon is seductively spicy. These melons are large (5 to 9 pounds) with an oval shape that’s rounded at the blossom end and slightly pointed at the stem end. Avoid a melon that’s too firm, too soft, has dark blemishes on the skin or is extremely green-colored

Another excellent source of Vitamin C, Crenshaw melons are the third highest selling melon in the United States with a season that runs from August through December.

Casaba Melon (Cucumis melo)

A Casaba has a round bottom, wrinkled skin, and a pointed tip. Its smooth textured green flesh is juicy and subtly sweet. Good-quality Casaba melons will be fairly large and firm with a small amount of softness at the stem end, and the coloring will be rich yellow with very little green on the skin. The rind will be ridged when the melon has been allowed to ripen on the vine and the skin will have a slightly waxy feel when the melon is ripe. Like all melons, avoid product that is too firm, too soft, has dark blemishes on the skin or is extremely green-colored.

Another excellent source of Vitamin C and only 48 calories in a cup, a Casaba is generally used raw in fruit salads or fruit platters, or pureed in a delicious chilled soup. Its season is June to October.

Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica)

Also known as the Japanese Plum this round juicy fruit tastes like a mix of apricot, plum and pineapple with hint of floral overtones. Care in handling is essential because fresh loquats are delicate and bruise easily. The loquat, a member of the same family as the apple and pear, has a high sugar, acid and pectin content. It’s easily eaten as a fresh fruit and mixes well with other fruits in fresh fruit salads or fruit cups. Firm, slightly immature fruits are best for making pies or tarts. The fruits are also commonly used to make jam, jelly, and chutney, and are delicious poached in light syrup.

A type of loquat syrup is used in Chinese medicine for soothing the throat, like a cough drop. Loquats can also be used to make wine. Loquats are best ripened at room temperature and then kept in a bag in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Their season is April through June.

Pomelo (Citrus maxima )

The pomelo, the ancestor of the grapefruit (which actually is a hybrid between the pomelo and the orange), is the largest of all citrus with a yellow-green rind that is very thick but soft and easy to peel away. The resulting fruit is light yellow to coral-pink and varies from juicy to slightly dry and from seductively spicy-sweet to tangy and tart. Pomelos have been known to get as large as a basketball and can weigh up to 25 pounds. It is grown in many eastern countries including China, Japan, India, Fiji, Malaysia, and Thailand. It is also now grown in the Caribbean and in California and Florida. Pomelos and their rinds are popular in Chinese cuisine, especially for Chinese New Year. The Chinese believe the delectable pomelo is a sign of prosperity and good fortune — good things will happen if they eat it.

One-fourth of a pomelo has 60 calories and provides 130{efe9c63bbffb0135f2e597f2d9ca45c10d8defabb613d387abd1305fe38892e0} of the Vitamin C recommended for the day. It is sodium, fat and cholesterol free and is a source of potassium. The pomelo season runs from November through February or early March.

Rainier Cherries (Prunus avium)

In the past decade, the Rainier has grown from niche fruit in the Pacific Northwest to one of the most popular cherries in the world. Since a Washington State University scientist first crossed two sweet, red varieties, the Bing and the Van, in 1952, the resulting soft, sweet blush of the Rainier – which gets its name from the monarch mountain of the Cascade Range – has become popular as far afield as Britain, Europe, Australia, and Japan.

Rainers have golden skin with a pink to red blush, a clear flesh and a very sweet, delicate flavor. The pigments that give cherries their beautiful deep dark red color, called anthocyanins have been shown through lab tests to give ten times the anti-inflammatory relief of aspirin, without irritating the stomach. The U.S. is the world’s largest producer of cherries.

The Rainier cherry may be the sweetest, prettiest and most pampered of cherries, but it is also by far the most difficult to grow and harvest. The odds of a successful crop change daily, even hourly, with every shift in the weather. A cup of Rainiers contains just 90 calories, 23 grams of carbohydrates, and 3 grams of dietary fiber. Their season is from June through September.

Cactus Pear (Opuntia cactaceae )

This fruit, also commonly called the prickly pear, has a stiff, spine-covered rind that comes in various colors corresponding to the color of the plant’s blossom. The flavor of the ripe cactus fruit resembles strawberry or a honeydew melon. Choose firm but not hard fruit. The perfect stage of ripeness usually last only one week.

Many people love making prickly pear juice, which substitutes for lime juice in summertime margaritas, as well as cactus pear jelly, which is a perfect for grilled lamb, roast duck or venison, or as a glaze for fruit tarts.

Asian Pear (Pyrus serotina)

A cross between an apple and a pear, with a skin that may be smooth with a lacquer like shine but more commonly is russet. Ripe Asian pears are firm, crunchy, very juicy, and lightly sweet, some with a tart edge. There are varieties with a grainy or sandy quality, giving them the name “sand pears”. The fruit is round to oblong with thin, tender, smooth greenish yellow skin and they’re at their best when left on the tree to ripen before picking.

For centuries Asian pears were cultivated in China, Japan and Korea where it’s still possible to find trees that are well over a hundred years old growing in forests or private gardens. When buying, look for hard Asian Pears with a mild pear fragrance. Avoid wrinkled or soft pears. Store the pears for up to 4 weeks in a plastic bag in the refrigerator or at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. Their season is from July to late October.

Red Banana (Prunus armeniaca)

Typically 4-6 inches long with maroon to dark purple skin and sweet, sticky, orange- tinted flesh, the red banana is shorter and plumper than the traditional Cavendish banana. When raw they have a flesh that is cream to light pink in color, providing a mild taste that has a slight raspberry flavor. The fruit can be used in salads or fruit compotes, but is most often used as a baking banana.

Select firm bananas free from bruises or cracks in the peel and look for a deep purple color. This indicates the banana is ripe. If the color of the peel is lighter, the banana is not ripe. Bananas ripen naturally without being refrigerated. However, by placing them in a refrigerator the skin darkens quicker but they are kept from becoming soft and mushy for a longer period of time. Good-quality red bananas are slightly soft but avoid mushy or damaged fruit. Red bananas are available year round.