You know them; you’ve glanced quizzically while walking through the aisles of the grocery store. You think, “well, that’s an interesting looking vegetable – no idea what to with that.”

They usually have weird spikes, a rough exterior, or generally look like they shouldn’t be eaten in the first place, making you wonder who exactly saw it’s potential as an edible plant, and decided, “yes, probably tasty”.

“I’ll stick with cauliflower, thank you very much,” you muse, “after all, it looks weird, but it’s familiar.” But then one day, you are feeling brave, you say to yourself, “I’m going to buy an artichoke, see what it’s all about.” Then you cook it, and it’s flavourless and mushy. “Well, that’s it for my foray into exotic vegetable land,” you conclude, and you retreat back to the safe confines of the familiar. But, as it tends to do, the familiar gets boring, and you once again yearn to stretch your adventurous cooking muscles, determined not to repeat your artichoke catastrophe.

So, with that in mind, we present to you this handy guide…no need to get all vegged out, stick with us, and soon enough, your trepidation-filled side glance in the grocery store, will become a convivial greeting, “why hello, spiky old friend…”

Fiddleheads

FiddleheadsThese are the furled fronds of an ostrich fern, and if they are left on the plant, they would unravel into a new leaf. They are available seasonably, and it is important that you store them properly. They must be cleaned, cooked and frozen correctly. When you buy them, you’ll want to seek out the tightly coiled, bright green ones. They are foraged in the wild, and should never be consumed raw. They are usually harvested in April or May. 

You should prep them by putting them in a large bowl of cold water, and rub away the brown husks. Trim off the stem, and continue to rinse and drain them until the water runs clear.

They can be boiled (for 15 minutes) or steamed (for 10 to 12 minutes), until they are fork tender. Once they have been cooked, you can eat them, as is, or bake, sauté or puree into a soup.

Artichokes

ArtichokesThese are a variety of thistle that can be used for food. The edible portions of the plant are the flower buds before the flower blooms. When you look at one, it’s not immediately obvious how they should be cooked. When buying them, you want to choose one that has closed petals, not open; these are more fresh and tender.

The first step is to cut off the little spikes at the tip of the petals. Any small leaves that are close to the base should also be pulled off. If there is a stem, cut that off. Rinse the vegetable in cold water, pulling back the petals a bit so the water reaches inside.

Get a large pot, fill it with a couple inches of water and put in a clove of garlic, a slice of lemon and a bay leaf. Add a steaming basket. Put in the artichokes and cover. Bring the water to a boil, and then reduce the heat to simmer. You then cook it for 25 to 45 minutes until the exterior leaves can be pulled off easily.

You can eat them hot or cold, and then can be served with a dip (melted butter, mayo, balsamic vinegar). You pull off the petals one by one, dip it in the sauce, then pull the leaf through your teeth to remove the soft, pulpy part and discard the rest of the petal. You continue to eat it like this until all the petals are gone.

Use a spoon to scrape out the fuzzy part that shows after you’ve eaten all the leaves, and you will reveal the artichoke heart. You can then cut this up to eat.

Once you master this way of cooking artichokes, you can try making it into soup, a salad or a dip.

Fennel

FennelThis is part of the carrot species; it has a base that is used for consumption. The bulb can be sautéed, stewed, grilled, or it can be eaten raw. Fennel tastes very different depending on if it is eaten raw or cooked, so there are a ton of different things you can do with it.

When raw, it makes for a great salad, with some salt, lemon juice and olive oil sprinkled on top. Make sure you don’t cut it too far in advance, or it will lose it’s crispness. It also tastes great when mixed with other ingredients; it adds a great flavour. It is crunchy and slightly sweet. Fennel can also be grilled or braised, boiled or roasted. It is tasty when combined with garlic, tomatoes and onions or asparagus, apples and blue cheese.

Zucchini BlossomsZucchini Blossoms

These are the edible (and delicious) flower of the zucchini plant, and can be eaten raw or cooked. When you are purchasing them, chose the freshest looking flowers, the ones that are brightly coloured. You should use them within a day or two of purchasing them. You are most likely to find them at a local farmer’s market or a specialty store.

They can be eaten fried (lightly battered then stuffed with cheese). They can also be stuffed, and then baked.

Romanesco

RomanescoThis vegetable is kind of a cross between cauliflower and broccoli, and is extremely odd looking. It tastes similar to cauliflower, but with a more nutty, earthy, flavour. It can be cooked in many of the same ways as cauliflower: it can be steamed or boiled, topped with some lemon juice and olive oil. It makes for a great vegetable to pair with pasta. It can be baked (after being drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with salt, pepper and maybe a sprinkle of paprika).

Kohlrabi

KohlrabiThis is a version of cabbage and it can be eaten cooked or raw. It has a texture kind of like a radish, with a bit of sweetness. When preparing it, you’ll want to peel off the tough exterior with a veggie peeler. It can be consumed raw; in a salad, or on it’s own drizzled in olive oil and sea salt.

It can be added to vegetable soup or in a creamed soup. It can be shredded, mixed with egg and a few tablespoons of flour or breadcrumbs and made into a fritter and fried.

By: Megan Pasche