Have you ever walked around your supermarket’s fruit and veg section and been left confuzzled by half the stuff on the shelves? There’s the gnarly one that resembles something from the mind of Stephen King more than tomorrow night’s tea while some names seem completely alien too.
Well, it’s time to find out more about these strange foodstuffs from another planet and start experimenting with them in your cooking. After all, you can’t dish up that one meatless recipe you know to your veggie friend forever.
That vegetable that looks like a pale cucumber may well be dudhi. It’s a popular ingredient in India and also known as lauki or bottle gourd, which might give you a clue to its uses. Other types of gourd you might be more familiar with include courgettes and squashes. With its high water content and good nutritional value, it’s a worthy element of any dish.
Spice Up The Curry knows exactly how to make the most of this slightly bitter ingredient with her dudhi chana dal recipe. This medium-spiced curry has no onions or garlic, making it perfect if you know someone with an intolerance who still loves flavour. Serve it with basmati rice or warm flatbreads.
Chances are you’ve seen samphire on fancy restaurant menus as chefs embrace the foraging trend, but you can also get this salty vegetable at your local supermarket. It comes from coastal areas and should be a nice vibrant colour when you buy it. Don’t leave it lying around though, as it doesn’t keep for long.
Try Amuse Your Bouche’s recipe for hot and buttery samphire potato salad, where the saltiness of the vegetable seasons the potatoes. Can be served with meat, fish, quiche or as part of a selection of salads.
Move over pak choi, there’s a new Chinese leafy green in town and it’s called choy sum. This member of the brassica family – think cabbages – is best cooked quickly to keep its delicious crisp texture and can take on other flavours easily.
You could throw it in a stir fry with other veg, although Yup, It’s Vegan has a recipe to make it the star of the show. It involves some classic Chinese ingredients like peanut oil, soy sauce and sesame seeds, as well as kitchen cupboard staples like garlic and ginger for a dish that will draw everyone into the kitchen from the smell alone.
If you love your starchy root vegetables – and let’s admit it, who doesn’t? – then let me introduce cassava, or yucca as it’s sometimes known. It’s native to South America and has a bit of a nutty flavour. Cassava must be cooked before it’s eaten and can be prepared in loads of different ways.
The Spruce Eats recommends creamed cassava as an alternative to mashed potato. Flavoured with garlic and nutmeg, it’s comfort food done the Caribbean way and it won’t disappoint. Cassava may look like a log, but it does taste better than chewing on firewood.
That thing that looks like a parsnip but isn’t is actually mooli: a giant white radish. Its size means it has a milder flavour than those little red firecrackers, so has loads of uses. Some people like to pickle it and eat it as a condiment or grate it to scatter it in a salad.
Cook With Manali likes to make mooli paratha to give the flatbreads more flavour. You could make these to go with the dudhi chana dal recipe above and have an unusual veg dinner party to impress your guests.
So, plantain is technically a fruit – that’s why it looks like a banana – but since it’s used in savoury dishes it counts, right?! Ripe and unripe plantains are cooked differently, with the ripened fruit being sweeter and can be eaten raw.
If you’re on the lookout for an alternative lasagne recipe then Immaculate Bites has the answer. Her pastelon – or plantain lasagne – is a Puerto Rico-style classic, where the pasta is replaced by the plantain. Great if you’re trying to cut down on the carbs.