The Odd Ones Out

We’ve compiled a list of delicious, lesser-known ingredients and how to incorporate them into your cooking.

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Just when you think you’ve been exposed to almost every ingredient, a culinary enigma comes along and you realize you still have a long way to… eat! Here is our roundup of hidden gems. 

SALSIFY

Salsify could easily be mistaken for a wooden stick at first glance, however, it’s actually a skinnier relative of parsnip. Although it can be eaten raw if thinly shaved, it tastes best boiled, mashed or even fried like a potato, with butter of course. (everything tastes better with butter!) Just be sure to peel the roots first. 

Salsify was extremely popular with the Victorians and adds texture and a mild sweetness to stews and casseroles. It tastes like a cross between an artichoke and a turnip. It might not be the prettiest looking vegetable but its health benefits include improving bone strength, aiding in better circulation and, with significant amounts of iron and potassium, you may want to give this underdog root vegetable a chance. It can be hard to find, so look for it in speciality grocery stores from October – January. 

Salsify could easily be mistaken for a wooden stick at first glance, however, it’s actually a skinnier relative of parsnip.

PERSIMMON

Produced mainly in Asia, varieties of persimmon also exist in Europe, the U.K, and North America, but are less popular there. These orange, aromatic fruits have a similar flavour profile to dates, with tannins that impart a bitter taste. They are high in minerals such as sodium, calcium and iron. In addition, studies have found that they contain twice as much dietary fibre as apples. Fibre helps keep the body’s digestive system well-regulated. 

There are two main types of persimmons: astringent (hachiya) and non-astringent (fuyu). Fuyus can be eaten while barely ripe, much like you would eat an apple, but hachiyas – rich, sweet, and spicy are overly tart until fully ripe. Let hachiyas ripen at room temperature until the skin appears almost translucent and the fruit feels like jelly, similar to how an overly ripe tomato feels.

While both varieties can be enjoyed as is, fuyus make a wonderful addition to salads and are surprisingly delicious wrapped in prosciutto. Hachiyas, on the other hand, lend themselves well to baked goods, compotes and jams. 

There are two main types of persimmons: astringent (hachiya) and non-astringent (fuyu).

JICAMA

Sometimes referred to as Mexican turnip, jicama adds great texture to dishes and is packed with nutrients. Jicama (pronounced HEE-kah-ma) is an edible root vegetable, native to Mexico. It only grows in warm climates so you may not be able to find it, depending on where you live, but if you are able to get your hands on one, don’t be intimidated by it. 

Jicama is high in fiber and packs a prebiotic called inulin, a big contributor to a healthier gut. It’s also packed with Vitamin A and C and is low in calories. In South America, it’s commonly sold at street food vendors, seasoned with lemon or lime juice and chili powder. Its mild flavor and crunchy texture make it a wonderful addition to salads and slaws. If you’re watching your diet, jicama lends a nice starchy component to stir-frys but, be prepared, it will get crispier when cooked, similar to a water chestnut.

Sometimes referred to as Mexican turnip, jicama adds great texture to dishes and is packed with nutrients.

To prepare jicama you need to peel it with a knife (the skin is too thin for a vegetable peeler). Then you can cube, dice or mandoline it. It has the texture of apple but it won’t oxidize after being cut so you can store it in the fridge in an airtight container for a few days. 

Overall, jicama doesn’t carry much flavor, but it’s a great ingredient for when you want to incorporate texture into a recipe and it’s good for you too. Try adding it to a crudite platter with hummus for dipping. 

FIDDLEHEADS

Fiddleheads are the fronds (AKA large leaves) of certain ferns, that are foraged and harvested, then eaten as a cooked leaf vegetable. They are easily identifiable, as they resemble the curled end of a fiddle, wound like a scroll. 

This unique vegetable contains various vitamins and minerals, as well as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. A source of antioxidants and fiber, they are also very low in sodium, yet rich in potassium, making them suitable for people who require a low-sodium diet.  

Popular in Indian and Korean cuisine, this vegetable is typically steamed, boiled or sautéed before being eaten warm with either hollandaise sauce, butter, lemon, or mayonnaise. Because they can be bitter in taste, boiling them will reduce this quality, making them more enjoyable to eat. Alternatively, they are cooked and chilled, then added to a salad. Fiddleheads are also a traditional dish of Atlantic Canada, considered emblematic of the province of New Brunswick. 

Before cooking fiddleheads, you should first remove their brown papery husks and wash thoroughly. However you choose to prepare them, avoid overcooking them, since they will turn soggy. You are looking to achieve a tender crisp consistency.