A nutritional anthropology study conducted by the University of Florida in 1988 suggested that North Americans had better access to a bigger variety of healthy, fresh foods than most of the rest of the world and yet the average consumer limited themselves to approximately eight to twelve different plant-based foods. In the quarter century (give or take a few months) that have gone by since then, Americans have begun to put more thought into where their food comes from and how it is produced.
The effort to localize production and consumption has led to rethinking heritage and indigenous food crops that had fallen out of favor. Our culinary vocabulary is starting to expand and with it comes a more extensive repertoire of dishes and techniques that sometimes start out as experiments and eventually become familiar household favorites.
There are plenty of reasons people don’t eat specific varieties or whole categories of fruits and vegetables. Sometimes it can be a question of rediscovering a favorite that a grandparent might have grown in the summer. Sometimes it means trying a food you’ve heard of but never tasted. Sometimes its simply a matter of access. Whatever the reason, local growers are eliminating those excuses. Which reminds me of one last excuse: you tried it and you didn’t like it.
If your parents were like mine, they probably asked you to try at least a bite or two before deciding it was off the menu for you. Okay. I’m going to make that same suggestion. If you see something in your CSA share or it’s sitting there in your sample box, and you know this food makes you sad to even think that someone somewhere considers it edible, just stop. Don’t ask to swap it out. Don’t try to palm it off on the nearest child who looks like he’s dying to carry something fresh to Mommy. In short, quit being a baby.
Here is a list of six foods to look for that you may or may not have tried.
Kale – curly or luxuriantly leafy, this green is packed with nutrients and flavor. Try it sauteed, in soups, chopped and raw in salads. One of the classic dishes for this veggie is a stew made with cannellini beans, kale, and chicken.
Collards – They are a food of the gods. You can usually find them bundled together in bunches of four to six large leaves. If you want to try something beyond the usual greens-n-pork preparation, take a look at this recipe from an earlier ENFM post: Collard Greens w/ Poblano Chiles and Chorizo.
Arugula – Steve Martin’s character in “My Blue Heaven” couldn’t live without it. This peppery green makes a great addition to any salad or stir fry. Great on a fresh tomato sandwich or served as a finger food a la cress.
Basil – This sweet-smelling herb is the primary taste profile in pesto and margherita pizza. It also makes a great aromatic garnish for cold ades and a soothing addition to an herbal bath. Try a few leaves on a toasted sandwich with fresh tomato and provolone.
Beets – Most people have tasted them pickled or as crispy veggie chips. The roots are great roasted. The greens? They perk up a tossed salad and fit right in with any kind of greens mix, cooked or raw. For a change of pace, go for the tried and true.
Sweet Potatoes – Many of us were scared away from this nutritious root vegetable by the glutenous casserole that seemed to appear at every big family dinner. Topped with burned marshmallows, each mouthful was a minefield of mush and the odd stealth pecan half that might or might not have been properly shelled. Ah, the holidays! The good news is that sweet potatoes don’t have to be such gut bombs. They’re delicious baked with a little butter or olive oil and a pinch of red pepper.
That should get you started. Okay, Indiana Jones, get out there and try something new to you. There won’t be a test, but there will be another list with some more familiar-but-not-to-you vegetables. Until then, bon appetit!
Honestly, it’s just a vegetable!
By Jas Faulkner