Walking into a Portland Farmers market mid-summer is almost intoxicating. The array of nature’s colorful bounty fills my cells with excitement and the promise of vitality. My favorite local farmer, Lyle from Gee Creek farms, is an orthodox Jewish man transplanted from New York. You can find Lyle passionately pushing samples and lecturing on nutrition to all who will listen
We accepted his offer to join his family for Shabbat dinner last summer and received lessons on local farming politics and even met a few veggies we had not yet befriended. I learned a few things from our dinner with Lyle, most importantly that it’s vital that we support our local organic farmers who work tirelessly to keep chemicals out of our food supply. By purchasing organic goods we are essentially voting to keep detrimental toxins out of our food, air and water. I also learned that I really like Kohlrabi, a veggie I had never even given a glance. Below you can meet some summer veggies that you may not yet have in your repertoire but are worth getting to know.
Kohlrabi (pronounced “coal robbie“)
Kohlrabi is a close cousin to cabbage, brusselssprouts and broccoli. After peeling a bit of the skin of this bulbous veggie, you can enjoy it raw or cooked in a variety of ways.
From a nutritional standpoint, kohlrabi has a lot to brag about. It’s high in vitamin C and antioxidants and is a surprising source of protein (3 grams per cup). Slice and switch it out for chips to carry a favorite dip (nutritious and super low calorie alternative). You can shred it for salads and slaw, steam it, stir-fry, hollow it out to stuff or even grill it. Kohlrabi: Versatile, funny looking, and delicious.
Many people eat their beets but toss the the best part: the greens! Beet greens are one of the most nutrient-dense foods around, meaning that in a small amount of food, you get a lot of good stuff! It’s long list of merits includes being a rich source of iron, calcium and folic acid.
After washing, clip the greens, leaving a couple inches of the awesome red stem attached. The small, younger leaves tend to be softer and perfect to chop for salads, slaws or even smoothies. (We throw beet greens into smoothies all the time– and yes, we are kinda hard-core, but they really don’t make it taste funny.) Cook and use beet greens in everything; as you would with spinach, chard or kale.
With my bit of southern exposure (I went to college in New Orleans), I’m not a total stranger to okra. Because it’s available here in the summer and so darn good for you, I have been learning to enjoy okra in non-creole ways.
Scientists get excited about okra for it’s impressive medical benefit. Using a word like “mucilaginous” to describe a food may be a detractor, but it’s that slimy nature that has been well studied to heal gastric ulcers and even increase joint flexibility. Its also high in folate, B6, and cancer-fighting nutrients.
Eat raw or cook lightly. It’s worthwhile learning a bit on okra cooking techniques to avoid the slime and enjoy this unique southern-born veggie.
Sorrel (common sorrel, garden sorrel)
I once thought sorrel a delicacy, only sold in small herb containers in fancy markets. Now I know it to be a hearty plant that grows huge in my garden, enticing my boys to chew on the lemony leaves throughout the day. (Note: sorrel may love your garden and want to spread out and stay awhile, so plan the space accordingly.)
Fresh young leaves look almost like large spinach leaves. They impart a zesty lemon flavor and can be added to salads, sauces, soups and sandwiches. When cooked, they almost melt. Puree and mix into yogurt or homemade mayo for a fresh citrus taste and nutritional boost. Sorrel imparts lot of minerals and quercitin (allergy buster!) with a tang that makes your eyes sparkle.
Jerusalem Artichokes (sunchokes)
My first experience with Jerusalem artichokes was a disaster. I wrongly assumed these potato-looking tubers would behave exactly like potatoes as a base in a late summer soup. We had been growing sunchokes (also a bit of a disaster as they spread like crazy) and, after a great harvest, cooked a few pounds into a soup. My whole family learned a few hours later that our summer sunchoke stew needed to be renamed FART SOUP.
I hope I haven’t scared you away. These roots that look like a funky marriage of ginger root and potatoes are worth getting to know. Sunchokes are rich in inulin (the fart maker) which feeds healthy bacteria in the belly (acting as a prebiotic). They are loved by the liver, contain vitamin C and are a good source of iron. And so you don’t become a flatulence factory you can try some tricks from Harold McGee, The Curious Cook. He recommends boiling sliced sunchokes for 15 minutes with cream of tarter or lemon juice, or baking them at 200 degrees for 24 hours, to convert the indigestible inulin into fructose. ( Even though baby toots are cute, too many are painful~ so avoid giving to the little ones.)
Enjoy the plethora of produce that summer brings! Next season we will discover some fall veggies not to miss….