By Robin Mather, Special to Tribune Newspapers
June 22, 2013
The farmers market is a bazaar of plenty, and chief among its pleasures are vegetables rarely seen in supermarkets. There, mizuna snuggles next to the kale; kohlrabi nestles next to the bok choi; breakfast turnips tuck up to the early carrots; and black radishes mingle with their more familiar red-and-white cousins.
You might buy with confidence if you knew these stranger vegetables as new friends. We're certain these unfamiliar vegetables will please you once you understand their flavors and how to approach them.
Shake hands, won't you, and say hello?
Related to Chinese cabbage, mizuna is sold in both baby and mature versions. It's a mildly peppery green — think arugula, but less strident — that's equally good raw, in salads, or cooked by itself or mixed with other greens. The plant is so pretty, with its feathery foliage, that it can sneak into flower beds with the neighbors never the wiser.
Mizuna is common in gourmet salad mixes. Use it in stir-fries, braises, soups and stews. Or steam it. It shrinks to about half its volume when cooked.
Blanch the leaves in boiling water just until they wilt; drain and chop; saute in olive oil with chopped garlic. Finish with a squeeze of lemon juice and be generous with the salt, which defeats some of mizuna's bitterness.
Combine 1 pound ground lamb with one small onion, finely chopped; 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped; the grated zest of half a lemon; and 1 cup of cooked white rice. Season with salt and pepper; add dill or mint, minced, if you like. Use the mixture to stuff blanched mizuna leaves, rolling them as you would a burrito. Steam the stuffed mizuna until the meat is cooked through, about 15 minutes.
Make an unorthodox chicken salad by tossing shredded mizuna with shredded or chopped cooked chicken breast. Toss in finely chopped peanuts if you have some handy. Dress with mayonnaise enlivened with wasabi or horseradish.
"Kohl," or cabbage, and "rabi," or turnip — the German name gives you a hint about this versatile veg. It's crisp and crunchy, good raw or cooked. Though it looks like a root, kohlrabi is actually a swelling on the plant's stem.
If the greens are attached, they can be cooked separately like collards or kale. Aim for specimens smaller than a tennis ball.
You'll want to peel away both layers of skin before putting it to use.
Slice, dice or grate into salads, including slaws. Salt it lightly and let it stand before squeezing out excess water if you grate it.
Toss diced kohlrabi, diced beets and diced carrots with a little olive oil and salt, then roast until everyone is nicely tender for a colorful side dish.
Cut raw kohlrabi into wedges or thickish slices, then dress with lime juice and mild chili powder. Or, of course, add them to crudite plates with various dips.
Large and pungent, these radishes originate in Spain. The French sometimes call them "Parisian horseradish" — which should give you a clue to their sharpness. Once peeled of their inky brown or black skin, black radishes are snowy on the inside. They're popular when eaten raw — salting and letting them stand will tame them some — but can also be cooked like turnips.
Black radishes can be round or elongated. Some say the peel has an unpleasant earthy flavor; others say the peel adds to the radish's appeal. You decide.
Clean and grate the radishes. Combine the radish with segments of grapefruit, chopped walnuts and minced mint. Dress with olive oil and grapefruit juice.
Cut the radishes into chunks. Cook until tender in boiling salted water, then combine with a similar quantity of cooked potato. Toss in some chopped parsley and green onion, then dress with oil and vinegar.
Slice the radishes thinly, then toss with olive oil, smoked mild paprika and salt and pepper. Bake at 400 degrees until crisp.
Some people compare breakfast turnips (aka white salad turnips) to apples or pears — they have a faintly floral scent, with skin so tender they don't even need peeling. They're beautiful, too: purely white, striking with their green tops.
Two popular varieties are Hakurei (hack-YOUR-eye) and Oasis. They're a Japanese creation from the mid-'50s, and like kohlrabi, they're a twofer veg — the greens are also delish, raw or cooked.
Look for golf ball-size turnips. Prepare by trimming and washing well. Then slice, dice or cut into wedges.
Cook diced turnips with their greens in a quick saute or braise. Dress with lemon juice or sherry vinegar.
Cut trimmed turnips into matchsticks, then dress with a Creole remoulade of mayonnaise mixed with coarse Dijon mustard, minced parsley, green onion, minced celery and capers.
Slice turnips thinly, salt them lightly and let rest for 30 minutes. Drain and place in a pint canning jar. Combine 1/2 cup rice vinegar, 1 teaspoon sugar, several thin slices fresh ginger and 1 clove garlic, slivered. Pour over the turnips and refrigerate for up to a week.
Robin Mather is a senior associate editor at Mother Earth News and the author of "The Feast Nearby."
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