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How to work with five exotic vegetables: yuca, chive flowers, luffa, chayote squash, kohlrabi

When you start asking around in the Asian market about what that tubular green vegetable is or what that package of unlabeled leaves is used for, answers can vary.

"Oh, that's like a type of squash. You slice it up and throw it into a stew."

"Hmm, I think those are both lotus stems, which we use in soup a lot."

It can be a bit of adventure, trying to figure out the exact names of the more exotic veggies often used in Asian or Hispanic cooking. Most of the time, the people familiar with them don't know the precise origin — but they know they taste good in stir fry.

That's really all we needed to know when we set about exploring the selection at stores like MD Oriental Market in Pinellas Park or Dong A in St. Petersburg. These stores usually contain a wider variety of off-the-wall produce, similar to the exotic tropical fruits we discussed in the previous Taste section.

In addition to the five we are highlighting in this story, we came across leafy bean tips, which are used like an herb; sweet leaf, which is cooked and used like spinach; and different parts of the lotus plant, some of which are used in an Asian soup called hot pot.

 

Yuca and boniato

These are two root vegetables used often in Latin cuisine. They are both potato-like, which lends them to familiar treatments and preparations: french fries, mashes. But they're slightly different from Yukon golds.

Yuca is the root of the cassava plant, which is native to South America. It is also powdered and used to make tapioca. It is rather starchy, the hard white flesh covered by a brown skin that should be peeled off. Yuca is commonly boiled and softened before being turned into a puree. Along with rice, it a major source of carbs in much of the world.

Boniato (shown above) is essentially a sweet potato, but this variety has a signature marbled reddish skin. Inside, they are typically white instead of orange. This vegetable has a more nuanced flavor than a sweet potato, residing somewhere between a regular potato and a sweet potato in terms of sweetness. Like yuca, boniato is often boiled and turned into a puree or a mash.

Yuca With Garlic Sauce

6 pounds whole yuca (fresh or frozen), peeled and cut into 3-inch sections (about 5 pounds trimmed weight or 5 pounds frozen chunks)

1 tablespoon salt

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 small Spanish onions, sliced into thin rings

12 cloves garlic, finely minced or mashed to a paste with mortar and pestle

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

⅓ cup bitter orange juice or a mixture of lime juice and orange juice (reduce amount if a less tart taste is desired)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the yuca in a large 6-quart pot. Cover with 5 quarts cold water. Add the salt and bring to boil over high heat. Lower heat to medium and cook covered until it feels tender when pierced with a fork but still keeps its shape, about 30 minutes. Be careful not to overcook because yuca can turn into a gooey paste. Turn the heat to low and leave the yuca in the hot water until ready to serve.

While the yuca cooks, prepare the garlic sauce. Heat the olive oil until fragrant in a medium frying pan over medium-high heat. Saute the onion rings until lightly golden. Add the garlic and the cumin and saute, stirring for a few seconds, until golden.

Pour in the bitter orange juice. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Very quickly, drain the yuca in a large colander and transfer to a decorative serving platter. Cover with the garlic sauce and serve hot.

Serves 6 to 8.

Source: Food Network

Luffa

Yes, this is also spelled loofah and is the origin of the sponge you can use in the shower. But it starts out as a vegetable. Luffa is actually part of the cucumber family, and looks similar to a cuke as it grows. For luffa to be edible, it must be picked young. At this stage, it is similar to a zucchini when cut open, pale and sweating water, and can be used in the same way. When left to mature, the vegetable hardens and drys out, taking on a sponge-like characteristic. Luffa is popular in China and Vietnam, as it grows easily in warm climates.

Luffa and Chicken Stir Fry

½ pound skinless boneless chicken breast, cut across grain into ⅛-inch-thick slices

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 ¼ teaspoons sesame oil

2 tablespoons oyster sauce

1 tablespoon light soy sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

½ cup chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth

½ pound fresh luffa (about 12 inches long)

1 cup peanut oil

3 small fresh shiitakes, stems discarded and caps sliced ⅛ inch thick

5 small (2-inch) fresh red chiles such as Thai, seeded and cut into fine julienne (about 2 teaspoons)

2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic

2 teaspoons finely chopped peeled fresh ginger

2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons water

Cooked white rice, for serving

Stir together chicken, cornstarch and 1 teaspoon sesame oil in a small bowl.

Stir together oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar and stock in another bowl until sugar is dissolved.

Remove ridges from luffa with a vegetable peeler, then scrape skin lightly with a sharp small knife (a little green skin should remain). Cut luffa lengthwise into 2- by ½-inch sticks.

Heat peanut oil in a wok over medium heat until it registers 350 degrees on deep-fat thermometer, then cook chicken, stirring, just until no longer pink, about 1 ½ minutes. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon, then pour oil into a heatproof container and reserve.

Heat wok over high heat until a bead of water dropped onto cooking surface evaporates immediately. Add 3 tablespoons reserved peanut oil, swirling wok to coat evenly, and heat until it just begins to smoke. Stir-fry mushrooms until lightly browned and tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Add chiles, garlic and ginger and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add luffa and toss until well coated.

Add stock mixture and bring to a boil. Add chicken and return sauce to a boil. Stir cornstarch mixture and add to sauce, then boil, stirring, until sauce thickens slightly and becomes translucent.

Serve drizzled with remaining ¼ teaspoon sesame oil and cooked white rice.

Serves 4.

Source: Epicurious

Kohlrabi

This odd-looking vegetable is a squat, knobby bulb related to cabbage. It can be eaten cooked or raw and is versatile for its texture and flavor, which is delicate and almost sweet. In stores, kohlrabi is usually sold as just a bulb, but sometimes there are greens still attached, and those are edible, too. To prepare, peel off the tough outer layer of the bulb first. Then, the vegetable can be shredded and eaten raw in a salad, or steamed and pureed, or cut into chunks and used in a soup or stew. Kohlrabi can grow in Florida during the cooler months, and is relatively easy to plant and maintain. Seeds can be started inside now, and transferred outdoors during the fall.

Kolhrabi Carrot Fritters With Avocado Cream Sauce

2 kohlrabi

1 carrot

1 egg

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon cayenne

½ cup grapeseed or vegetable oil (enough for ¼-inch depth in a large skillet)

½ avocado

¼ cup plain yogurt

½ lemon, juiced

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Scallions (for garnish)

Cut the leaves off the kohlrabi and peel the bulb. Peel 1 carrot. Shred the vegetables in a food processor, or by hand using a grater. Squeeze the shredded vegetables in a tea cloth (or with your hands) to remove moisture, then add to a medium bowl with 1 egg, ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, and ¼ teaspoon cayenne. Mix to combine.

Place ½ cup oil in a large skillet (enough for ¼-inch depth). Heat the oil over medium high heat, then place small patties of the fritter mixture into the oil. Fry on one side until browned, then fry on the other side. Remove and place on a plate lined with a paper towel to drain excess oil.

In a small bowl, mix avocado, yogurt, juice from lemon and kosher salt to make the avocado cream (or blend the ingredients together in a food processor).

Serve fritters with avocado cream and sliced scallions.

Serves 8.

Source: acouplecooks.com

Chive blossoms

When we first encountered these in the store, we thought they were garlic scapes, the long, floppy stalks that grow from garlic plant bulbs. (You've probably seen the beginnings of a scape if you've ever let garlic sit on your counter for too long.) Scapes can bloom flowers if left to grow, and can be picked at any point and used the same way you'd use a green onion: dice and throw into any dish that could use some mild garlic flavor. Think of these blossoms the same way, except they are products of the chive plant: Essentially, they are overgrown chives that have started to sprout. Chive blossoms and scapes are quite fragrant, and should be used soon after they've been picked because they can go bad — and stink up your entire kitchen — quickly.

Baby Green Salad With Chives

1 ½ teaspoons wasabi powder (optional)

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar or 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar mixed with a pinch of sugar

2 tablespoons peanut oil

Salt

½ teaspoon minced fresh chives

Vegetable oil, for frying

½ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup ice water

1 large egg yolk

1 cup chive flowers with 1 inch of stem attached (about 2 ounces)

6 cups baby greens

Freshly ground pepper

In a small bowl, whisk the wasabi powder, if using, with the vinegar and 1 ½ teaspoons of water. Whisk in the peanut oil until emulsified and season with salt. Stir in the minced chives.

Heat ¾ inch of vegetable oil in a small saucepan. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, ice water and egg yolk; the batter will be a little lumpy. Working in batches, dip one-third of the chive flowers in the batter and add them to the oil. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly golden and crisp, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a rack to drain and season with salt. Repeat with the remaining chive flowers.

In a large bowl, toss the greens with the dressing. Season the salad with salt and pepper and mound on 4 plates. Top the salads with the fried chive blossoms and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Source: Food and Wine

Chayote squash

Chayote squash also grows well in the heat, making it popular in Latin cooking and in Florida. Chayote squash stands out for how little it resembles other kinds of squash. It's not long and slender, but instead short and wide; in fact, it almost looks more like a pale green apple. The exterior peel can be tough, but inside, the white flesh is softer, though usually not as soft as a zucchini. (And there is a seed in the center that should be removed.) Chayote can be bland in flavor, but because of its sturdier texture goes well in stews and casseroles or grated into an apple-squash slaw.

Sauteed Chayote With Garlic

2 tablespoons (¼ stick) butter

2 large chayote squash, peeled, halved lengthwise, pitted, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, divided

3 garlic cloves, chopped

2 green onions, thinly sliced

Melt butter in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chayote, 1 tablespoon parsley and garlic.

Saute until chayote is crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in green onions. Transfer to bowl; sprinkle with 1 tablespoon parsley.

Serves 6.

Source: Epicurious

Contact Michelle Stark at mstark@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8829. Follow @mstark17.

How to work with five exotic vegetables: yuca, chive flowers, luffa, chayote squash, kohlrabi 08/01/16 [Last modified: Monday, August 1, 2016 12:21pm]
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