You may not be familiar with these odd-looking foods, but they deliver fresh flavors and plenty of nutrients to your spring dishes
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Look for: This large, green-leafed vegetable should have a swollen round stem about the size of a baseball, explains Emily Jackle, co-owner of Mile Creek Farm in Dayton, OH. (Any larger and it can be too woody and pithy, but there are varieties that are meant to grow big and are still tender and not pithy, so ask the farmer which variety he’s selling.)
Tastes: Similar to cabbage or broccoli stem but sweeter and juicier
Use it: The leaves and stem can both be consumed. The leaves can be used in place of any recipe calling for raw or roasted kale or collards, and the stem is delicious raw—simply peel away the tough outer skin and slice. “Around here, we eat kohlrabi like apples, ” Jackle says.
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Look for: Also known as white radishes, these look like giant carrots and can regularly grow more than a foot long, says Jackle.
Tastes: Juicy and crisp, daikons are on the spicier end of the radish flavor spectrum.
Use it: Daikon radishes are widely used in Asian cuisine, Jackle says, and are great to add to stir-fries.
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Look for: This bumpy, dark green squash should be about four to six inches long and firm to the touch, without brown spouts or bruising, says Kim Pezza, author of The New Century Homesteader.
Tastes: The flesh has semi-crisp texture without a highly noticeable taste, making it a nice way to carry a dish’s stronger flavors.
Use it: “I peel it, cut it into strips, dip it in homemade seasoned flour, and pan-fry until crispy on the outside and tender on the inside,” Pezza says. Enjoy with your favorite dipping sauce, just like French fries. [Tweet this tip!]
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Look for: A good rule of thumb is to buy a bunch with healthy, vibrant greens still attached, Jackle suggests. The turnip itself can be anywhere from golf ball to baseball sized.
Tastes: Crisp and sweet
Use it: Often called “salad turnips,” this variety can be enjoyed raw—simply chop into salads or grate into slaws, says Jackle. They can also be roasted, which intensifies the sweetness. And don’t toss the greens in the trash—they taste wonderful when lightly braised.
Garlic Scapes (or Green Garlic)
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Look for: This pencil-thin, curly, stem-like vegetable comes from the flowering head of garlic. “It should feel really firm to the touch, and if the ends are a little dry, chop those off before you cook or eat it,” says Jacqueline Fisch of Barefoot Essence.
Tastes: Similar to yet milder than garlic cloves; the texture when raw is similar to green beans.
Use it: You can cook with garlic scapes just as you would with garlic, says Fisch. Sauté with onions for a marinara sauce base; dice and add to guacamole and fresh salsas; use raw or lightly steamed in pesto; steam and season with salt, pepper, and fresh lemon juice and eat them like green beans; or throw them right on the grill with salt and pepper (watching closely since they're thin and might burn).
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Look for: The freshest fennel will have no dark color on the base with nice, long fronds, says Jason Bartner, chef, culinary instructor, and farmer at La Tavola Marche. (The darker the bottom, the longer it has been since the fennel was harvested.) Also look for smaller bulbs, which tend to be more tender than larger ones.
Tastes: Fennel can be a bit tough, but has a sweet, refreshing anise flavor.
Use it: “Thickly sliced fennel does not have a nice mouth-feel and the flavor is overpowering, whereas paper-thin slices have a delicate taste and can be eaten raw in salads,” says Bartner. You can also roast it with other root vegetables, toss it in the roasting pan with chicken, braise it in white wine, or use it in soups.
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Ramps (Wild Leeks)
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Look for: Grown in the wild, ramps have become overharvested in some regions and are considered rare delicacies in Canada, where it’s prohibited to buy or sell ramps commercially. If you’re lucky enough to spot them at your local market, make sure the plant (both the white bulb and green top can be eaten) is not wilted in any way, says Costanzo Astarita, chef of Baraonda Ristorante and Bar in Atlanta.
Tastes: A pungent cross of garlic, chive, and scallion
Use it: The bulbs are good pickled, and the whole plant tastes great grilled, sautéed, or fried, as you would any scallion, spring onion, or leek, says Shelley Boris, executive chef and co-owner of Fresh Company in Garrison, NY. “There’s a good reason why they’re one of the few wild foods still foraged for—they’re delicious and worth trying at least once.”
Sunchokes (Jerusalem Artichokes)
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Look for: “This hardy, nubby root veggie resembles a ginger root,” says Pooja Mottl, chef and author of The 3 Day Reset. It should have a light brown color with hints of pink and no blemishes, and feel firm to the touch.
Tastes: Moderately sweet and nutty with an appealing crunch
Use it: Sunchokes can be roasted or boiled and mashed as you would with potatoes, and seasoned with herbs like dill, sea salt, and pepper, says Mottl. Or you can peel the raw veggie and thinly slice to toss in salads, or sauté with butter or cold-pressed olive oil. [Tweet this tip!]
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Look for: This cream-colored, large bulb with a bumpy exterior has green that may be cut off or eaten, says Mottl. Choose bulbs that are very firm to the touch, as softness is an indicator of age. The green appearing on the bulb should be vibrant, an indication of freshness.
Tastes: “A souped-up version of celery stalks—it tastes like a combination of celery, anise, and parsley,” she says.
Use it: Celeriac works best with carrots and stronger, savory ingredients such as meats, shallots, and onions. It can be parboiled and combined with a mustard or light mayo-based dressing, as it is often enjoyed in French cuisine. “I prefer using it in stews and as a substitute for celery as a base for soups and vegetable-rice dishes,” Mottl adds.
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Look for: From the outside, jicama looks similar in color, shape, and texture to a potato. It should feel heavy for its size in your hand and firm to the touch, without any bruises or blemishes, says Mottl.
Tastes: Like a water chestnut—crispy and refreshing; it has a unique and gentle sweetness that’s similar to but subtler than an Asian pear or apple.
Use it: It pairs well with bitter greens like radicchio and arugula, onions, and fruits such as citrus, mango, and fresh basil. “Eat it raw by cutting it into bite-sized cubes or thin strips, and adding to a salad with ingredients such as the above,” says Mottl. “It can also be peeled and cut and eaten as a snack just as you would carrots sticks.”
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Look for: “Make sure the ends look freshly cut and not wilted,” says Matt Greco, executive chef at The Restaurant at Wente Vineyard.
Tastes: When cooked, rhubarb has a slightly tart but mild flavor.
Use it: It’s fantastic when baked with a sweet addition such as honey, sugar, or even port, says Greco. He also cooks rhubarb down with port wine and incorporates olive oil, champagne vinegar, and whole grain mustard to make a vinaigrette.