Seniors & Aging

Time to root for oddball yet nutritious vegetables

With an appearance often said to resemble an alien spaceship, it’s no wonder kohlrabi is often passed up in the produce section. But, like celeriac, kohlrabi can be used a variety of ways, including raw, steamed, roasted and sautéed.
With an appearance often said to resemble an alien spaceship, it’s no wonder kohlrabi is often passed up in the produce section. But, like celeriac, kohlrabi can be used a variety of ways, including raw, steamed, roasted and sautéed. Tribune News Service

Adding more vegetables to your diet is a lot easier if you have more to choose from in the produce department.

So rather than pass by the unfamiliar ones, talk to the produce manager and ask how to prepare some of those oddball vegetables, the one that might look a little rough around the edges but are full of vitamins, minerals and fiber.

Megan Stilp, produce manager at the Community Food Co-op in Cordata, says she always welcomes questions from customers. She has done her own research on how to make the most of the bounty of the produce section, and often picks up tips from customers themselves.

Whether it’s trying new vegetables or finding new ways to prepare the old standards — such as shredding Brussels sprouts or using cauliflower to make pizza crust — finding healthy ways to get more nutrients and fiber into your diet just takes a little know-how.

“People want more options when it comes to vegetables,” Stilp says.

Here’s what you can do with some of more unusual vegetables you might see in the produce aisle in the coming months.

Celeriac

Often called “celery root,” celeriac is a root vegetable that is actually a variety of leaf celery. Its knobby exterior can be removed to expose a large root that’s similar to a turnip and has a mild celery flavor. Stilp says the co-op has a dish on their hot bar that includes cooked celeriac whipped like mashed potatoes.

Celeriac can also be grated or sliced into matchsticks and used like cabbage in a slaw with apples and celery. Or it can be sliced thin and cooked with cheese and cream in a baking dish au gratin-style.

High in potassium, fiber and calcium, celeriac is low in calories, yet can fill a craving for a starchy side dish as an alternative to potatoes.

Kohlrabi

With an appearance often said to resemble an alien spaceship, it’s no wonder kohlrabi is often passed up in the produce section.

Like celeriac, kohlrabi can be used a variety of ways, including raw, steamed, roasted and sautéed. Similar in flavor to mild broccoli, kohlrabi can be cut into matchsticks and added to a stir-fry as an alternative to broccoli stems.

Stilp says kohlrabi can also be grated and mixed with a bit of flour and egg to be fried like a potato fritter. Kohlrabi is rich in vitamin C and in phytochemicals known for cancer-fighting properties.

Sunchokes

Also known as Jerusalem artichokes, sunchokes are a tuber with a texture similar to that of a potato, but with the flavor of a mild artichoke. Sunchokes should have their rough exterior peeled if they’re being cooked, although some people say the skin can be left on if it’s being eaten raw.

Sunchokes can be roasted, sliced thin and added to a salad raw, or added to a gratin with a bit of sage, Stilp says. Thin slices can be sautéed like a potato hash; or it can be steamed, puréed, and used for a base of a cream-like soup.

High in a variety of minerals and iron, sunchokes are valued for their high amount of soluble fiber. Sunchokes are also considered a “prebiotic” that can help beneficial intestinal bacteria, known as probiotics, to flourish.

Dandelion greens

Yes, dandelion greens are the leaves of one of the most odious garden weeds, but the greens are purported to help with digestion and a variety of other medicinal uses. A member of the chicory family, the bitter flavor of dandelion greens can be offset by adding them to a salad of butter greens, nuts and avocado, Stilp says.

The greens can also be lightly sautéed in oil. But keep in mind you’ll need a lot of dandelion greens; they cook down to a fraction of the raw amount, Stilp says.

And while it’s perfectly acceptable to forage for dandelion greens in your yard — as long as it’s not a chemically treated yard — cultivated greens found in specialty grocery stores are a less-bitter variety. Filled with vitamin A, vitamin K and calcium, dandelion greens might not be prized in your garden, but they win a gold star for nutrition.

Easy dish

Stilp says many hearty root vegetables, including sunchokes, kohlrabi and celeriac, are perfect for combining with more common vegetables, such as beets and carrots. Stilp cuts up vegetables, tosses them in coconut oil, and roasts them in a 400-degree oven. It’s an easy way to use a variety of vegetables at once, and they can be served on the side of a meat dish or with cooked grains or pasta.

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