Did you know scientists estimate there are over 20,000 species of edible plants in the world? Yet many of us stick to eating the same standard supermarket selection week after week.
While we’ve got nothing against traditional carrots and broccoli (in fact, they’re pretty delicious and super good for you), nature has given us lots of weird and wonderful veggies to get creative with in the kitchen – and many of them are packed with health-boosting benefits.
As National Vegetarian Week begins, here’s a few less typical vegetables to keep in mind on your next trip to the greengrocer…
Popular in India, the green kohlrabi is a cruciferous vegetable that’s part of the cabbage family. Fans describe its taste as somewhere between a turnip and a water chestnut, and its texture is similar to that of a broccoli stalk.
Studies suggest kohlrabi is packed with anti-inflammatory qualities and antioxidants, disease-fighting molecules that protect the body from damage caused by free radicals. They’re also high in vitamin C, B6 and gut-friendly fibre.
This versatile veg can either be eaten raw – it has a crunchy profile when tossed into salads or grated in coleslaw – or you can add it to a number of hot dishes. Throw it in a stir-fry, bung it in the oven with other chopped veg, or chop it up, brush with egg and cook on a moderate heat to create a batch of healthy kohlrabi fritters.
2. Purple cauliflower
Purple cauliflower gets its rich, unusual colour because it’s packed with anthocyanin, the same antioxidant found in red wine. This Instagrammable veg is not just pretty to look at though, it has a whole host of health benefits too.
Cauliflowers are packed with lots of important dietary fibre, folate and vitamin C. Research has also found the anthocyanins unique to the purple varieties may also help to keep your heart healthy.
A study that looked at over 34,000 postmenopausal women over a 16-year period found those who ate fruit sources of anthocyanin on a regular basis were less likely to die from coronary heart disease.
Purple cauliflower can be cooked in the same way as the regular green varieties, and they make a great addition to vegetable soups, stir-fry and Sunday roasts.
Known in some parts of the world as ‘lady’s fingers’, the slender but nutrient-dense ocra belongs to the same plant family as hibiscus and cotton, and is often used in Caribbean, Creole, Cajun and Indian cooking.
This unusual vegetable is fantastic for those who are watching their weight, as it’s packed with vitamins and nutrients but has a low calorie profile. In particular, okra is a good source of potassium, vitamin C, vitamin B, folic acid and calcium.
When cooked properly, okra has a mild flavor comparable to aubergine, although if prepared incorrectly, it can have a somewhat slimy texture. To get the most out of your okra, cook it whole or cut into larger chunks to prevent the edible seeds inside from releasing their viscous liquid. It’s often cooked on a high heat with warm spices and chillies, as part of a curry dish.
Knobbly celeriac, with its gnarly growths, can be intimidating to approach in the kitchen, but it’s secretly one of the tastiest vegetables going. Celeriac has a nutty, celery-like flavour that pairs fantastically with a variety of meat and fish dishes.
To cook it, you’ll need to top and tail the celeriac, and then slice off the rest of its skin (use a good knife and mind your fingers). It can either be enjoyed raw, or cooked like any potato or root vegetable. It’s particularly delicious when roasted and mashed with butter, or blitzed into creamy soups.
This root veg has lots of health benefits going for it too. It’s noted for its fibre and vitamins B6 content, an essential vitamin which helps the body turn food into energy. It’s also a good source of antioxidants, as well as vitamins C and K.
Daikon is a mild-flavoured winter radish that looks a bit like a white carrot, thanks to its weeping green leaves. Native to east Asia, it’s popular as a pickled accompaniment to Korean fried chicken and is used in various dishes in Japan.
Compared to other radishes, its flavour is sweeter and less peppery, with a crisp bite to its texture. Daikon is a great source of immune supporting vitamin C and folate, used by the body to maintain and repair blood vessels. It also contains calcium, magnesium and potassium, among other things.
Try shredding it into coleslaw, slow cooking it into a stew, or steaming it to enjoy with a sprinkle of salt. In Japan, they even use daikon to create daikon mochi – a type of savoury cake that’s made by frying together a mixture of shredded daikon with rice flour, other mixed veg and dried prawns.