A trip to the farmers market should ideally be done without a list: Just let your eyes and an open mind dictate your shopping. Be on the lookout for the wild and zany produce that can pop up between the cucumbers and corn—vegetables that may be a tad on the unconformist side but still packed with robust flavor and hefty nutrition. Here are seven unusual farmers market veggies we vouch for as well worth trying.
1. Green zebra tomatoes
Don’t be fooled by the green--it’s not an unripe tomato but more of a sweet tasting tomatillo. Tangy, firm and of course striped, these tomatoes can do everything a traditional tomato can, but they can also take the place of green papaya in Asian healthy recipes.
Although these sputnik-shaped vegetables resemble roots, this iconoclastic vegetable is not a root vegetable. It’s actually a member of the brassica family, cousin to cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower with a flavor profile to match. They are great peeled and sliced and eaten as a crudité, or can be steamed, sautéed or roasted. Among the most nutritious vegetables, fresh kohlrabi stem is filled with healthy fiber and is a source of vitamin-C: a 3.5 ounce serving provides 102% of the recommended daily allowance.
These are not turnips on steroids! Underneath the brownish skin is a delicious, surprisingly sweet vegetable whose crunchy white flesh tastes like a water chestnut. Full of vitamin C, fiber, and potassium, jicama is loaded with phytonutrients. While my favorite way to eat jicama is raw, it is also a welcome addition to stir-fry dishes.
Not to be confused with artichokes, sunchokes are the roots of sunflowers. They have a nutty taste and a texture that becomes creamy when cooked. Among fruit and vegetables, sunchokes are one of the best sources of inulin, a fiber that fills you up and feeds friendly bacteria in the gut. (A word to the wise: sunchokes can also cause serious bloating for the inulin intolerant.) Extremely versatile, you can turn these knotty tubers into soups and purees, roast, boil, or mash like potatoes, or eat thinly sliced in salads.
5. Romanesco broccoli
This is what broccoli would like if it took a psychedelic drug. This trippy vegetable showstopper is another prodigal member of the brassica family. Use it as you would cauliflower or broccoli—it does well with a variety of cooking methods, including steaming and sautéing. Delivering calcium and health-supporting sulfur compounds, you can’t go wrong with this cruciferous deviant. For best effect, create a raw vegetable platter with romanesco as the centerpiece.
Another one of those weird-looking root vegetables that comes out in full glory at farmers markets, celeriac has a bulbous, knobby exterior and is delicious either cooked or raw. While it won’t win awards in the looks department, the flavor is a distinctive cross between celery and parsley. Loaded with bone building vitamin K, celeriac can be roasted, stewed, blanched, or mashed, or grated and eaten raw in salads.
When it comes to taste, okra stands alone. There is no other vegetable to compare its unique flavor profile to. It’s mild, slightly grassy and almost nutty. The only down side to okra is if its cooked wrong can be slimy—it has mucilage in the pods that becomes thick and gelatinous when cooked. Pre-cook sliced okra on high heat before you add to your dish, be it a traditional gumbo or Indian curry or a stir fry. Okra goes well with big, bold flavors such as cayenne, paprika and cumin.