Are you in a veggie rut like many Australians? Each shopping trip, it is the same vegetables week in, week out that constitute the bulk of purchases? Indeed, the top ten vegetables have not changed in nearly a decade: carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, broccoli, mushrooms, lettuce, capsicum, pumpkin, and zucchini. Sure, other vegetables make a mention – beans, peas, corn and cucumbers – but of all these, only carrots and potatoes are purchased at least weekly by a majority of households.
While there’s nothing at all wrong with the produce listed above, there are so very many other vegetables worth eating regularly.
So, maybe it’s time to branch out a bit. With the help of our brand ambassador Fast Ed, we have come up with a list of the top five veggies that every Australian ought to try.
They look like large white carrots but taste nothing like them, being closer in texture to potatoes. Parsnips are very soft when cooked and have an extremely sweet flavour that can be accentuated with the addition of some kind of oil, usually butter. The parsnips need to be peeled and if very large, may need to have their woody core prised out as well, although this isn’t necessary with smaller ones. Toss in melted butter, salt, rosemary leaves and some capers, then bake at 180°C for 40-45 minutes, until golden – a perfect substitute for chips.
Brought to Australia by Italian migrants in the late 19th century, fennel never really found its place until a decade ago. The plant presents as a medium-sized white above-ground bulb, with dill-like green frond on top. It has a flavour very much like aniseed, and can be used fresh or cooked. Popular as an ingredient in soups in Mediterranean cookery and braises, its starring role comes when used finely shaved in salads, as this is when its full perfume can be appreciated. Shave or slice the bulb, then toss with basil leaves, pine nuts, red onion and some fig segments, with a sweet balsamic dressing.
More than 5,000 years ago, communities in the Rift Valley of Ethiopia were harvesting okra, as archaeological evidence convincing describes. After making its way through Egypt and then West Africa, the plant would eventually arrive in North America in the 1700s as a passenger in the slave trade. Today, it is used worldwide in various cooking styles, both for its flavour (deep, earthy and rich) and its unusual texture. We eat the seed pods (the edible part of the plant), and those seeds, as well as the white internal ribs, contain a natural gum that is used to thicken dishes like gumbo, curry and jambalaya. Yet okra is best eaten simply – flash fried in extra virgin olive oil, with plenty of garlic, pepper and a squeeze of lemon, allowing its natural taste to shine.
Often referred to as ‘celery root’, this name is partially accurate but misleading. Despite its visual similarities, the plant is related to regular celery, but not closely. The stalks can be eaten but are noticeably bitter. Instead, it is the brown-skinned, white-fleshed root that is prized. It feels like a potato with a delicate texture, herbaceous aroma, and firm structure but tastes very different. Celeriac has to be cooked before eating to avoid an upset stomach (again like potatoes), but once tender, it can be grated and mixed through mayonnaise, a dish called remoulade, or mashed and served with seafood.
Witlof gets its name from the Belgian farmers who made it famous, meaning ‘white leaf’ in honour of its striking colour. The plant is a member of the endive family, and if you grow it outdoors, it becomes dark green with a very bitter flavour. Originally the young shoots would be covered in the field to prevent darkening (a process called blanching, although today witlof is grown hydroponically in vast indoor sheds. The tight heads of leaves can be easily separated and are sweet and tender, with just a hint of bitterness in the aftertaste. It’s an elegant salad for any occasion mixed with walnuts, chives, soft cheese, sprouts, and a ranch dressing.
Now that you have some inspiration, it’s time to get out there, give some of these veggies a try, and maybe even find some new favourites.