Five fabulous veggies that my mom never cooked

lc farmers market 027Vegetables are good for us. Everyone says so:  Mom, the doctor, even the government.

They’re jam-packed with nutrients, such as vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, folic acid, and potassium.

And as if that were not enough, they have generous amounts of fiber (and we all know how important that is). 

There’s only one problem though:  Lots of people hate vegetables. When they see a pile of overcooked green beans on a plate, it brings back horrible memories of dreary lunches served up in the school cafeteria by hefty ladies wearing hair-nets.

Sometimes, the vegetable du jour was peas from giant cans, stored in a government warehouse since the early days of the Reagan administration.

Not that it was any better at home. My mother—God bless her—was an excellent cook, and I’ve written rapturous odes to her pies, her home-made bread, and her coffee cake made with tart-cherries picked from trees in our back yard.

I think it’s fair to say, though, that cooking vegetables was not her strong suit. And my mother was not alone. It’s also fair to say that despite my own considerable culinary skills, cooking vegetables has not been my strong suit either.

But over the past 5 years or so, I’ve had an epiphany, namely, that there are no (well, almost no) bad vegetables, there are only people who cook vegetables badly. 

With decades of cooking experience behind me, I’ve finally learned how to select and cook vegetables so that those at the table don’t eat them out of some grim nutritional duty or simply to qualify for desert. I’ve learned at last that vegetables are not only good for us, they’re just plain good!

Much of my new-found fervor is due to the abundance of colorful and exotic vegetables at my local farmer’s market, open once a week from mid-May to mid-October.

Of all the wonderful veggies sold there by local farmers, these five have become great favorites:

Bok choy with its thick white stalks and rounded green leaves and a slightly peppery, crunchy taste

Kohlrabi—a round greenish bulb with stems and leaves which, according to one knowledgeable source, is best when it’s “no bigger than a baseball.”

Walla Walla onions—sweet onions grown in the Walla Walla Valley of  Washington and Oregon. The best onions ever. 

Lemon cucumbers—round cucumbers the size and shape of lemons

Jicama—a staple of Latin American food, not grown in Washington State (as far as I know) but available in supermarkets. It’s sweet and crunchy and terrific in salads like the Couscous and Black Bean salad which I brought to a neighborhood potluck on Labor Day. 

All of these are delicious either raw in salads or cooked. I love to stir-fry veggies in a wok, using different colors and textures.

For the stir-fry in the photo, I used bok choy, kohlrabi (cut into matchstick shapes), yellow bell pepper, Walla Walla onion, a bit of left-over tomato, and carrots (the roundish slices which are purple outside  and orange inside).

They look good, they taste good, and they’re good for you.

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  • Madeleine Kolb 09/20/2009, 9:24 pm

    Anastasiya, Your stir-fry sounds similar to what I described. I love cooking vegetables that way. They come out so tasty, so simple, and so delicious. I’ll be sad to see the local farmers market close at the end of October.

  • Anastasiya 09/20/2009, 7:16 pm

    I love veggies (though I am not a vegetarian) and I do not understand people who refuse to eat them. Just today for lunch I fixed a very easy stir fry: broccoli, carrots, red bell pepper, zucchini, scallions, mushrooms and, of course, garlic. A little bit of olive oil and a few dashes of spices. It was delicious! These veggies are so simple and affordable but my husband and I enjoyed this simple lunch so much. It was much better than any pizza, chicken or steak. Next time I am going to try a few exotic veggies that you’ve mentioned in your article. I am sure they will taste great too.

  • Madeleine Kolb 09/15/2009, 10:25 am

    Jai, Interesting that you ask about okra. I bought some last week for the first time in my life but haven’t cooked it yet. I thought I’d try it because okra is the stuff of legend at least in the US. The song “Jambalaya,” sung by countless country singers refers to file gumbo–a regional soup made from chicken, shrimp, sausage, okra and other ingedients.

    That sounds like too much work for someone cooking for two people, but I do plan to cook it very soon.

  • Jai Kai - 09/15/2009, 7:53 am

    Awesome…I’m going to try these exotic vegetables. The only meat I really eat is fish – so I think they will compliment a fish dinner every once in a while. Have you ever used Okra?

  • Kye 09/10/2009, 8:23 pm

    Oh Madeleine, the picture of the chunky cafeteria ladies with their hair nets brought a belly laugh. So true!

    Thank heavens those cafeteria veggies are far far behind.

    One comment about vegetable sources: a CSA membership (community supported agriculture) can be a wonderful investment for many reasons (quality and community and sustainability being three common ones). There is one great reason to join a CSA that I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone mention, though: guilt. Every week you get this glorious bag or two or three of vegetables that it would be criminal to neglect. LOTS of them. So… you eat lots of them. And they are very very good. And life is good.

  • Madeleine Kolb 09/10/2009, 10:01 am

    I completely agree. I guess I’m also a semi-vegetarian, since I recently gave up eating beef. It was when I was part-way through Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which I highly recommend.

    By the way, JS, if you don’t already have a wok, you should get one. I use mine mostly for cooking veggies, but sometimes I throw in bits of left-over cooked chicken or turkey ham. Everything I’ve tried so far has turned out well.

  • JS Dixon 09/10/2009, 7:57 am

    As a semi-vegetarian I can definitely appreciate this list. And you are definitely right about veggies just being cooked very very badly in this country. In fact, I would say that veggies have three times as much flavor to offer as meat does.

    Go vegetarian for a month or two and than try a steak. You’ll see exactly what I mean. Even good steak will taste flavorless.