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Lifestyle

May 25, 2014

Summer brings another chance to try new vegetables

Spring is back and so are farmers markets. And that means a whole new chance to make friends with strange and unusual vegetables. Or to rehabilitate some old familiars.

The number of farmers markets has more than doubled during the past decade, topping more than 8,000 in 2013. Matching that proliferation is equally wild growth in the variety of produce sold at them. Heirloom tomatoes and carrots in funky colors? That’s just the start. Think rainbow-spectrum radishes, unusual peas, beans and legumes; gooseberries and quince.

But trying something new — whether it’s an unfamiliar vegetable or an exotic preparation — can be intimidating. The best advice is to start slow.

If you like arugula, branch out to watercress. In baby form, it’s a perfect salad green, a sturdier, even more peppery alternative to the more ubiquitous arugula. It also makes a stellar pesto, says Diana Henry, author most recently of the cookbook “A Change of Appetite” (Octopus Publishing, 2014). “I actually like it better than basil pesto,” Henry says. “Basil can be quite perfumed. This is a bit more earthy, more peppery.”

If you like cabbage, try kohlrabi. A stout bulb with a thick skin, the flesh is crisp like a radish, and as brightly flavored as cabbage. “I predict that kohlrabi’s going to be the next big thing,” says Martha Rose Shulman, author most recently of “The Simple Art of Vegetarian Cooking” (Rodale, 2014), noting that some companies are beginning to package kohlrabi for lunch boxes.

“Shred it to make a slaw or a stir-fry with kohlrabi and some greens,” she says. “I recently had a really great salad — feta, olives, a little diced kohlrabi. It really absorbs the dressing.”

Shulman also is a big fan of pea shoots, slender tendrils from the same plant. They taste like peas, but can be treated like greens. “Those are just beautiful,” she says. “I like to use those in stir-fries and just cook them up and serve them up as a side. They’re very good with grains.”

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