By Alan on Aug 03 in Blog tagged asian pear, Bhut Jolokis, chard, Chinese cabbage, Dennis Adamson, Kohlrabi, master gardner, tmoatillo, unusual produce, week 30 | Comments Off
Week 30: Unusual produce
I thought that it would be interesting to talk about some of the produce that can be found either through local venues, produce sections of our supermarkets or in the canned section that at least I was not familiar with growing up. Military Commissaries (grocery stores) are particularly know for this. Because military memebers are stationed all over the world they often aquire tastes from these regions. Some of them marry foreign individuals. These spouses want to have a taste of home available to them. As our cultures become more diverse we are either growing produce once unknown in our locality or grocers are making available fruits and vegetables that immigrants ate in their homelands.
You might be amused by what I think is unusual. The produce might be quite ordinary to you. I have lived in 10 states in all regions of the United States, in Europe and the Middle East. My wife and I have traveled to other parts of the world. I still tend to grow those things that I got used to eat growing up in Utah. Lately I have tried to expand what I grow and eat.
There is no way that I could give an exhaustive list. I have just chosen a few that I have some familiarity with through personal experience and one that I have been hearing about lately. I would love to hear from you on some produce that you grow that you think that I might like experimenting with. Especially if it grow in my region of the Western United States where the last frost is usually around mid May, the first frost the end of September and the humidity is low.
Several months ago I was waiting to teach a class at Thanksgiving Point on cold frames and other season extending techniques. I noticed a packet of kohlrahbi seeds. I had no idea what kohlrahbi was, how it was grown or what it tasted like. Last week at the local farmers’ market there was kohlrahbi for sale.
Kohlrabi was once a favorite vegetable of nobility and peasants in Europe. It is a member of the Brassica oleracea or cabbage family. Some think it is a cross between a cabbage and a turnip. They are both members of the brassica family, but they are not of the same species. The name comes from German Kohl (cabbage) and the Swiss German Rabi (turnip). The swollen stem somewhat resembles a turnip.
Its flavor is described as mild with hints of cabbage and broccoli. Also as sweet with a crisp, moist texture. It has only 19 calories per 1/2 cup, high in dietary fiber, potassium and vitamins A, C, folic acid and calcium.
The ones I have seen are quite large and that is what I would have picked from the store. The large ones are woody, fibrous and the outer layer is inedible. If you purchase the larger ones or pick them when they are larger they will need to be peeled. Their peak time is spring and early summer and should be grown as a spring crop.
Shopping tips I have seen are to select ones no larger than 2 1/2 inches in diameter with the greens attached. Yellow leaves indicate it isn’t fresh. It will store up to one month in the refrigerator.
Shoppers should choose small kohlrabi about 2 1/2 ” in diameter with an edible skin rather than the giant size with its woody, fibrous texture and inedible outer layer. The greens should still be attached . It the leaves are yellow they aren’t fresh. The larger globes definitely need to be peeled. Kohlrabi is available year round, but its peak season and sweetest flavor is spring through early summer.
It can be eaten raw. The stems and leaves can be chopped up and used in tossed salads, both have a mild flavor. The swollen stem needs the coarse tough base end removed even in the small ones. They can then be slice and diced for relish trays and eaten with dips. Coarsely grated bulbs can also be added to tossed salads. Slices can be used as a snack. Chop and add to soups. Both the leaves and swollen stem can be steamed. There are also recipes on barbecuing and using in stir fry. I plan on planting kohlrabi next spring.
My wife and I were vacationing in Japan in the early 1980s and disovered Asian pears. They looked like apples, but tasted like crispy green pears. The only sad memory of that vacation was when we purchased a small bag of these to take back to eat in our hotel room. The room wasn’t ready for us to occupy so we waited in the lobby. We set the bag of Asian pears down next to our seat and forgot it when the room was ready. When we went back to look for it the bag was gone and it hadn’t been turned into the front desk.
Asian pears are cousins to the pears that are typically seen in Western grocery stores. The fruit is more similar to an apple and is sometimes called an apple pear. Other names that this fruit goes by are: Chinese pear, Japanese pear, Sand, Nashi, and apple pear.
Asian pears are typically round, firm to touch when ripe, and are ready to eat after harvest. Asian pears are best when they are ripened on the tree, unlike the European pear that tastes best when ripened after picking. Asian pears will be crisp, juicy, and slightly sweet with some tartness nearer the core.
There are several Asian pear varieties available. Japanese pears are more round in shape, while the Chinese pears are more oval or pear-shaped. In the United States the Japanese type seems to be the most popular. I wish I had room to plant an Asian pear tree, but fortunately they are available in most supermarkets.
Chard (often called Swiss chard)
This spring I needed plants to put in my raised bed under my low tunnel for a photo to add to a power point presentation. A big box store had several plants that I had never grown. Among them was 2 varieties of Swiss Chard and a Chinese cabbage. I bought the chard because it was colorful. One had bright red stems and leaves with red veins. The other had white stems. There is also yellow varieties. All three colors are often sold together as ‘Rainbow Chard’ I eventually moved them to the cold frame, but never picked any of it because I hadn’t taken the time to learn how to use it.
Chard is a chenopod. The vast majority of Chenopods are weeds that cause havoc with peoples allergies. Chenopods also include spinach and beets. Flowering doesn’t occur in the commercial planting cycle and pollen counts won’t increase by planting these crops. It is very nutritious, ranking 2nd to spinach and is very popular with Mediterranean cultures. It is high in fiber, protein, vitamins A, C & K and minerals. All parts have low amounts of oxalic acid. It is fairly high in sodium. One cup has 35 calories.
Chard is a cool season crop, but mine is still going strong in early August. Once things settle down at our house with a Scout trip and a wedding, I will try to start using it in salads have my wife try it in recipes.
An Internet search shows that chard is best harvested while the leaves are young and tender. Red stemmed varieties are the most colorful, but also the most fibrous. One drawback is that raw chard is very perishable and the leaves will store in the refrigerator for only 2-3 days. The stalks will store longer if separated from the leaves. It is said to be slightly bitter. Fresh young chard can be used in tossed salads. The larger mature ones are usually cooked or sauteed. The bitterness is reported to decrease with cooking and is said to be more delicate than cooked spinach.
If you pick the small more tender leaves they can be used in salads like fresh spinach and is said to have a spinach-like taste. The leaves are cooked separately from the stalks and are cooked like spinach. The stalks can be chopped and sauteed or steamed for longer periods of time. When harvesting, cut the stems 1 1/2 inches above the ground when young and tender. This is when the stems are 8-12 inches long. Take care to not damage the terminal bud at the center of the rosette.
It is a brassica. Most Oriental brassicas are called Chinese cabbage in the West. There are both those that produce heads and leaf varieties of various sizes and shapes. They are most often used for stir fry or pickling.
There are two main groups. The Chinensis group is the leaf variety. The best know of these, in the West, is Bok choy. Bok choy has gluconsinolates that can be toxic in large doses and mild symptoms such as dizziness and digestive problems in small amounts. Thoroughly cooking it is said to diminish the symptoms in those with weaker digestive systems. It is commonly used in southern China and other parts of Southeaster China. Since it is winter hardy it is becoming more popular outside these areas.
The Pekinenis group is more common outside of Asia. Napa or celery cabbage is a variety of Pekinesis. These form compact heads. (place photo of chinese cabbage here) If picking the leaves, avoid limp ones. I have harvested its leaves and used it in tossed salads. If you harvest the head for cooking it is recommended that the leaves be separated. Often they are chopped up before cooking. They are a mainstay of stir fry and is said to have a more delicate taste than regular cabbage. It can also be used in a coleslaw type salad. Sliced or shredded, it can be used in soups. It is a good fall crop. If harvesting as a head, cut it at its base. Kimchi, the traditional Korean dish, is made from this variety.
Bhut Jolokia (Ghost chili or pepper)
I enjoy spicy hot food. I grow jalapenos peppers for my salsa or to eat along with hamburgers and other foods. I love jellies made with jalapenos peppers. I am also a big fan of wasabi. A couple of months ago I had the chance to try chicken wings cooked in a sauce containing Bhut Jolokia, commonly called the ghost pepper in the United States. The owner of the restaurant claimed that he had to sign a waiver when purchasing it. He made me 2 wings with the ghost pepper and 8 with medium hot sauce. He then watched as I ate the two with the ghost pepper. I had tears streaming down my face and my mouth was on fire, but I got them both down. After eating those two the other eight didn’t taste like they had any hot sauce on them at all even though other family members said that they were very hot.
Bhut Jolokia is found in northeastern India and parts of Bangladesh. It was the world’s hottest pepper from 2007 to early 2011. It is 208 times hotter than jalapenos peppers. It is 855,000–1,041,427 on the Scoville heat scale.
You can now purchase the plant or the seeds to grow your own. I have no plans of doing so. I love hot things when they add flavor to the food, but not when it detracts from the flavor. This pepper is definitely in the detracts from the flavor category for me.
This is the one that I have heard a lot about recently, but have no personal experience with. I am interested in trying this plant.
The tomatillo is sometimes called the Mexican green tomato, Spanish tomato and tomate verde among others. The Chinese lantern plant is in the tomatillo family. Tomatillos are closely related to the tomato.
In the market they are still usually covered by their paper-thin husks. Ripe ones are yellow, but they are usually prepared while still bright green. They are most often used in salsas, but can be sliced and placed in salads, sauteed or boiled and then often pureed to make sauces.
To grow them start the seeds 6-8 weeks before your last normal frost day. Harden off the plants just like you do tomatoes. You need more than one plant for pollination. Space the same as tomatoes and staking or using cages are used if you don’t want to to sprawl over the ground. Deeply water like tomatoes. Fertilize lightly at planting, at first bloom and 3 weeks later. Harvest when they are firm and the husk is a paper thin straw-color. Others like to harvest them when the husks are green and the fruit is also green, not yellow. The husks will often break open when they are ripe.
“And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good.” Alma 32: 33
Week 31: Lush growth in our hills
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