demystifying difficult vegetables

Some vegetables have a reputation for being difficult to prepare. You may notice vegetables in your local market and wonder "What the heck do I do with that?" There are a lot of new vegetables that have gained popularity over the last few years, thanks to the rise in farmer's markets, farm shares, and new diet fads focused on healthy, clean eating. Every week, it seems that I am noticing a new vegetable varietal in our local Whole Foods Market. You know what I'm talking about - those funny-looking brown roots, the bizarre greens that you know aren't regular heads of lettuce. I have made a point of trying to experiment and learn new techniques for these less-than-appealing looking items.

In the Jonash household, we certainly eat our fair share of meat and potatoes (my husband's family is from the Midwest, after all), but I am slowing convincing Eric that vegetables can be healthy, flavorful, and delicious without leaving you hungry. I have found that the keys to delicious vegetables are texture and spice.

Texture: If you overcook vegetables, they turn to mush. If you do not cook them enough, or leave large raw pieces of vegetables in a dish, they will be difficult to eat. The key is learning a few preparation methods for your vegetable of choice. For example, root vegetables like butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and celery root tend to be most delicious when roasted. A leafy green like kale is best when the fibrous stalks are removed, the leaves are cut into strips and massaged with a bit of salt before tossing raw in a salad dish. A bit of quick research online or in a vegetable-focused cookbook will go a long way. My favorite cookbook that has inspired a number of my vegetarian dishes is Yotam Ottolenghi's "Plenty" (and he published "Plenty More" if you need more inspiration!).

Spice: Adding spices to vegetables is a sure-fire way to brighten and heighten their natural flavors. Salt and pepper are natural choices, but I have started to experiment with different families of spices, including Middle Eastern spices like cinnamon, cumin, coriander, and cloves. You can also blend sesame, soy, ginger, and garlic to produce a dish with an Asian flavor profile. It is remarkable how much spice can help you transform a seemingly bland vegetable ingredient like cauliflower or cucumber into a sophisticated and flavorful dish.

In this post, I feature a couple of vegetarian recipes that center on unusual or difficult-to-prepare vegetables including celery root (or celeriac), cauliflower, and brussels sprouts. These vegetables are plentiful, delicious, and surprisingly versatile. I hope that you will take a chance next time you are in the store - grab that funny-looking vegetable and see what you can create!