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Exotic Vegetables 101

by Heidi Hoff on in General, Nutrition, and Recipes

Exotic Vegetables 101

With barbeque season upon us, what better way to ramp up the flavour and nutritional content of your favourite summertime meals than to introduce some exotic vegetables? Not only will these odd-looking but tasty imports add a new dimension to your everyday family dinners, they will have guests guessing the mysterious side dishes you’re serving alongside the burgers!

edible green calabash isolated on white backgroundOpo Squash

Appearance – Opos and common zucchini are similar in texture and size so be extra vigilant in the produce section. This Southeast Asian vegetable is typically used in Oriental cuisines and is sometimes classified as a melon.

Health Benefits – The opo squash is fat-free and boasts a zero count of sodium and cholesterol. It is a good source of vitamin C.

Taste – The opo’s mild taste makes it a versatile vegetable that instantly boosts the nutritional content of any dish. It hails from the cucumber family so expect similar taste and texture.

Preparation Tips – Pick smaller sized Opos for a lighter taste, larger sized for stronger. Chop into cubes and add to stir frys, soups, stews, curries or slice it thin and add to salads.

Fresh Chinese taro rootsColocasia or Taro Root

Appearance – Colocasia is the true Taro and is native to the South Pacific Islands. The tuber is light brown with uneven ridges, weighing one to two pounds and measuring up to 12 inches long. The leaves and stalks of the plant are also edible.

Health Benefits – Colocasia is high in complex carbohydrates and fibre, low in fat and is a good source of vitamin C. It’s the main ingredient in Hawaiian Poi for its easily digested starch properties.

Taste – Colocasia is a little bland on its own and is best used as a side dish to other foods. Baked, boiled, roasted or fried, colocasia is one adaptable vegetable! Go ahead and add it to your favourite meal for an added hit of fibre.

Preparation Tips – Beware that eating raw Colocasia can cause uncomfortable itching in the mouth due to the presence of calcium oxalate crystals. Cook thoroughly before eating.

bitter melons on whiteBitter Gourd

Appearance – Don’t let the bitter gourd’s warty exterior scare you! Believe it or not the skin is edible despite it’s rough appearance. Bitter gourds or bitter melons as they’re sometimes called, typically measure ten to twelve inches in length and are light green in colour when ripe, turning yellow when mature. Inside, the flesh is similar to a cucumber.

Health Benefits – Some hail bitter gourd as a natural treatment for type 2 diabetes though conclusive testing on humans has yet to support the claims. Also, early studies show a protein found in bitter melon may have an ability to kill viruses and slow the growth of some cancer cells though further testing is necessary to verify the claims.

Taste – Is bitter gourd really bitter? Well, yes. The bitterness comes from the seeds and pit inside the gourd and must be removed before eating or cooking. The greener the gourd, the more bitter the taste.

Preparation Tips – Slice bitter gourd in half and scrape out the seeds and pith. If you want to reduce the bitterness, blanch it in lightly salted boiling water. Since bitter balances spicy, use bitter gourd in recipes that call for spiced meat, rich sauces and fermented beans. It’s even great chopped and added to an omelet.

Daikon radishes isolated on white backgroundDaikon Radish

Appearance – This long and thin white vegetable could easily be mistaken for a giant carrot, if it was orange! Average size is 10 to 12 inches long. Choose daikons with smooth, shiny skin and fresh roots. As with carrots, avoid daikons that are cracked or dried.

Health Benefits – Daikon is low in calories and is a source of vitamin C. It contains natural, active enzymes that are believed to aid in digestion of starchy foods.

Taste – This mild vegetable is traditionally used in Asian cuisine either raw or marinated in vinegar. Its crunchiness and versatility lends itself well when chopped or grated into salads, or stews when boiled. Cooked daikon is a common ingredient in Miso soup.

Preparation Tips – Shred Daikon and use in a slaw, cube and add to your usual roasted pan vegetables, slice and add to your favourite smoothie recipe for added vitamin C. Switch things up and use daikon as a substitute for carrot or radish in any recipe.

Two halves of chayote squashChayote or Mexican Squash

Appearance – Pear shaped and varies in colour from pale green to a creamy white. The skin is usually bumpy and ridged but this is normal, it doesn’t indicate any rot or dryness. Chayote contains a single seed about 1 to 2 inches long. Mature fruit is 3 to 8 inches long and varies in weight from 8 ounces to 1 pound.

Health Benefits – Low in sodium and a good source of fibre, this nutritious vegetable is only 40 calories per cup

Taste – Inside is a crisp, pale flesh with a unique flavour somewhere between an apple and a cucumber.

Preparation Tips – Fried, baked, pickled or stuffed, take your pick! Traditional Mexican recipes use Chayote in soups, stews, salads and even pies.

purple sweet potatoOkinawan Sweet Potato

You can definitely have some fun with this bright violet vegetable, which is used in a variety of Japanese and Hawaiian dishes. On the outside, it looks like any other tuber, but cut it open and you’ll marvel at the vibrant colour inside.

Health Benefits

Sweet potatoes have a reputation for being nature’s perfect food and the Okinawan is no exception. High in vitamins A and B6, and minerals such as manganese and potassium, this particular tuber is also rich in anthocyanin, an antioxidant that gives it its purple colour.

Taste

Okinawans are on the sweeter side, without the usual carrot like taste of other sweet potato varieties.

Preparation Tips

Simply peel it and use as you would any other sweet potato. Be creative! The nutrient-packed flesh adds an unusual colour to any mashed or baked dish.

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