Summer’s bounty is so spectacular that it’s easy to rely on the same staple vegetables for the entire season. But branching out and trying some less-familiar produce really pays off by adding interest to your meals and supporting agricultural diversity. Depending where you live, some of these great vegetables may be locally grown, which is another great reason to seek them out.
This juicy, lightly sweet root vegetable should get more press. It’s a bit otherworldly to look at, with a round, light-green bulb sprouting sturdy stalks with collard-like leaves directly from its perimeter, but it’s actually as easy to use as most root vegetables. Kohlrabi is often cooked in soups or braises, where slow heat turns its flesh exceptionally tender and mild. But I find this vegetable is equally appealing raw, especially in the warmer months when its crispness and high water content make it wonderfully refreshing. You can peel it and slice it for a unique crudité similar to jicama in flavor, or add it to salads and slaws. This simple Kohlrabi and Radish Salad is a great introduction to its charms and makes a colorful addition to picnics or cookouts.
Move over, kale! Mustard greens haven’t gotten as much press as some other super-greens, but they have a fabulous bitter-fresh flavor and are also loaded with nutrients. In their raw state you’ll find mustard greens’ flavor similar to arugula, while its peppery, radish-like bite mellows considerably with cooking. These leaves are particularly sturdy, so you can experiment: Try cooking them very briefly, just until they wilt and turn bright green, or braise them in soups or with smoked meats for hours. Two recipes for short cooking are Sauteed Greens with White Beans and Garlic, full of Italian flavor, or Savory Greens Stir-Fry, a recipe that matches the green with Asian ingredients like mirin and tamari.
Peak-season okra is particularly flavorful and has an ideal crisp, crunchy texture without the stringiness or large seeds older pods develop. If I’m in the mood for a fried dish, I love the pods dipped it in tempura or beer batter and deep-fried, then served with nothing more than a bottle of hot sauce. But okra is also ideal for lighter fare, like this Crunchy Okra Picnic Salad that combines baked, cornmeal-coated okra with cucumbers and tomatoes for a fabulous summer salad. Chicken Gumbo with Fresh Okra is a classic dish that takes advantage of okra’s natural thickening quality, a quality that some call “slimy” but I prefer to think of as pleasantly viscous. That same quality adds body to Summer Chicken and Vegetable Soup, a terrific mix of corn, zucchini and more.
Although they look a bit like green tomatoes, tomatillos are actually more closely related to gooseberries, with whom they share a papery covering and a deeply sour flavor. Tomatillos impart tang and brightness to a number of Mexican sauces, including salsa verde and mole sauce. Barbecued Alaskan Salmon with Tomatillo Salsa Verde starts with a fabulously flavorful, versatile salsa verde that you can use in a number of ways: try it simply as a dip for chips and veggies, or use it on everything from grilled tofu to poultry and meats. This delicious recipe for traditional Tomatillo Mole with Chicken and Vegetables makes a generous amount and uses a wealth of summer produce, including green beans, snap peas, zucchini and mint.
Got your own offbeat veggie favorite? Tell us about it!