Every grower has a tomato plant or ten, most gardeners reach for carrot seeds, and nearly every gardener nurses their sweet pepper transplants like it’s the royal jewel of the lot. BUT don’t stop there! I have a fancy for many an under-appreciated vegetable, and not just out of sympathy for their less glorious lot – simply because they’re delicious and fun to grow! If you haven’t included these in your seed shopping, you’re missing out! It’s not too late to snag a packet, or look for them at the farmers market this growing season. Experimenting with new varieties is one of my favorite reasons to grow my own food!
This root vegetable is quick-growing so we can get multiple sowings of seeds in during one season. Turnips hail from the brassica family, and like many brassicas, all parts of the plant are edible. The root can be prepared many different ways including roasted, braised, mashed, fried, in soup and even enjoyed raw. It’s hardy in cool weather and stores well. My family often relies on this vegetable as a starch in quick meals. When I’m in a hurry for a meal, I can thin-slice turnips, fry them and have them ready in 15 minutes. We especially enjoy them with eggs, but there are tons of recipes out there for delicious turnips prepared 100 different ways.
The nutty flavor and creamy texture of (cooked) turnips is a hit with kids of all ages. As for the greens, the fuzzy texture disappears when wilted in cooking. They taste great in any sauté. I tend to save green tops in my freezer for winter soups.
Instead of buying those salt-filled jars of horseradish for your next roast, just pull a root from your garden and blend it with a little vinegar and whatever spices you like! If you have time before that tasty meal, try making a lacto-fermented horseradish condiment. The leaf is also useful for fermentation as it contains tannins that help make pickles crispier when added to the fermenting jar. Use the wide leaf on the top of your ferment to keep the cukes fully submerged and protected from any top layer of mold. If you’re not a fan of eating horseradish, these plants at least belong in your flower garden. The gigantic, deep-green leaves make a lovely back-drop all season long, and host gorgeous, tall clusters of tiny white flowers for part of the season.
Also a brasicca, Kohlrabi belongs on your snacking menu! This veggie is extremely versatile. When served raw, it has the texture of an apple, with a subtle nod in flavor to the brassica family. Our favorite preparations include kohlrabi sticks in homemade garlicky mayo dip, grated up on a variety of salads, sliced thin in sandwiches and even made into matchsticks for sushi rolls! Kohlrabi can also be enjoyed cooked, as is popularly the case in Kashmiri cuisine. While it’s a little more fuss than slicing them raw, preparing Dum Monji is such a treat and is reason enough to add it to your seed list! Don’t forget that, again, those green leaves are edible.
This gnarly vegetable cleans up real nicely on your cutting board, don’t worry! And all the fuss in the kitchen is so very worth it when you make this stew. I discovered my love of this vegetable when I experimented with it a couple seasons ago. After that harvest, I added it to my must-have list. It has all the delicious flavor of celery, with a much creamier texture. It’s also far easier to grow than celery is, and stores well for winter use! In my experience, it’s pretty hands-off in the garden – once my transplants were in the ground and mulched, I didn’t touch them until Fall harvest. They do require a long growing season, so start your seeds early, but it’s very, very worth it!
Here’s another that could be grown for its flowers alone. This variety in particular is so very stunning with its tall stem, dark pods and cream-colored, paper-like flowers. It is simply magical to watch this plant stretch for the sky and put out these gorgeous blooms. While we typically think of okra as a food from the south, I had no problem growing okra in my zone 4b garden! Start the seeds indoors and wait until the weather is quite warm day and night. I found that you have to be on top of the harvest to bring in tender pods, but if you do, you’ll be rewarded with some seriously tasty and easy side-dishes, or use a bowlful for a big party-pan of gumbo!
>> What are your favorite things to grow in the garden?