Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 20, 2017
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A taste of the exotic

Seven unusual fruits and vegetables that you should try this spring

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Exotic flavours

Canadians are notoriously narrow in their choice of fruit and vegetables. Of the thousands of varieties that grow on earth, we limit ourselves to a pathetic few. Potatoes, carrots, corn, peas, beans, broccoli, a few greens and perhaps some squash or asparagus for the daring or extravagant.

Here are several delicious fruit and veggies you may well have never considered. Go on, live large!

Dragon fruit (Pitaya)

What: This spectacular looking pink tropical fruit is about the size of an elongated mango and is a variety of cactus. The flesh is white embedded with what look like poppy seeds.

Where: Grown in Mexico, Central America and in most temperate parts of Asia. Look for it in better grocery, many now stock it but you may have to ask. Chinese and Indonesian specialty shops often have it.

When: Throughout the year.

Why: Mild flavour somewhat like a watermelon or prickly pear. Use as a desert sliced in halves or quarters or as a spectacular looking addition to fruit and cheese plates.

Jerusalem artichoke

What: A tuber that resembles ginger root and is about the same size and consistency. Usually pale brown or white and reddish. Also called sunchoke, sunroot and earth apple. It grows a metre to two metres with jagged leaves and a yellow flower.

Where: Are cultivated and also grow wild in eastern North America, considered a pest by some farmers. A perennial, they thrive in any garden but care must be taken to see they don't take over.

When: Available all year, especially in health food stores, and are stored like potatoes.

Why: They have a bland taste similar to, but sweeter than, a potato. Raw, they can be peeled, sliced and added to salads. They can also be boiled and served as a potato substitute. When boiled, they stay very firm for a long while and then suddenly soften.

Tomatillo

What: Small green tomato-like vegetable covered with a papery shell.

Where: Grows throughout the northern hemisphere. Try a Mexican grocery store if you're having trouble finding them. Growing your own? Two or more plants are required for pollination.

When: July through October. Widely available in grocery stores and markets during the summer and early fall or canned at any time.

Why: Tart flavour widely used in salsa and Mexican dishes. Add them raw and finely chopped to salsa. Use them sliced in salads in moderation. Include in any Mexican dish that also calls for tomatoes for a boost of authentic flavour.

Salsifi

What: Also called oyster plant and goatsbeard. Looks like a long thin, dark brown parsnip or carrot.

When: Salsifi has a long growing season — 150 days — but winters over and so it can be left in the ground.

Where: Originates in the Mediterranean but grows all over North America, even as a weed in vacant lots. Can be found year-round but it's never become terribly popular. Ask in the produce department and they can likely order it for you. Some specialty shops also carry it in cans.

Why: Many say it has a mild oyster taste, others suggest an artichoke flavour. Cook like carrots, slice and add to soups. Wonderful when heated in three tablespoons of water and a tablespoon of butter — use high heat until the water boils off and flip gently until the salsifi is butter coated. Cannot be eaten raw.

Ramps

What: Ramps look similar to scallions with a longer twisted top.

Where: Native to North America, grows all over Canada. You'll find them in better grocery stores and farmers' markets.

When: June, early July. The season is short; consider freezing ramps for future use.

Why: The flavour is a mild combination of onion and garlic, with the accent on the garlic. Add to any dish that calls for onions or garlic. Great in soups, omelets and casseroles, or chopped and served raw in salads.

Okinawan sweet potato

What: A sweet potato that looks like an ordinary potato on the outside but is bright purple inside.

Where: Native to North America, they have been adopted by the Japanese and Hawaiians and are widely used there. They are a different genus from yams, which come from Africa.

When: Available all year, they are easiest to find in Japanese specialty shops.

Why: Tastes similar to a bland sweet potato. Cook them the same way you would conventional potatoes. They add visual appeal to any dish and are especially good baked, served with butter and sour cream.

Lemon cucumber

What: Round, yellowy-green about the size and shape of a baseball.

Where: Grow wherever cucumbers grow. Increasingly easy to find in outdoor markets and better grocery stores. Excellent addition of a home garden.

When: August through September.

Why: Tastes much like a cucumber with a delightful lemon tang. A real treat. To know them is to love them. Use as you would an ordinary cucumber.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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