Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The weird, the Ignored, and the Ugli.

Each time I browse the produce section of my local grocer, I see them sitting there, the wallflowers of the vegetable world. They are the food world’s nerds, outcasts, ignored by the popular shoppers. I rarely see them chosen and sitting in carts at the checkout, but I know someone must be buying them, or they would just fade away, be discontinued, end up in the manager’s specials. 

Who are they, what hidden gifts do they offer? Plenty it seems, let’s look at a few.

The Kohlrabi is a strange looking vegetable, to be sure, it's name is German, and means "cabbage-turnip" It's a bit of work to cut through the tough skin and through a second fibrous layer to get to the crisp flesh inside, but it is worth the effort. It is part of the cabbage family, and contains the same antioxidant properties and phytochemicals as it's better known relatives. Raw, it tastes similar to broccoli stems, but sweeter,  and some use it that way in salads, but it can also be used as a delicious mashed side dish.

Swiss chard is one of the vegetables best picked in autumn or winter. Hot weather can turn it bitter. Chard has been shown in recent research to contain at least 13 different polyphenol antioxidants. The leaves of the chard contain a flavnoid called syringic acid, which is known for its blood sugar regulating properties. Like beets, chard is also high in batalain, a phytonutrient known for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and detoxification support. This one one of the few vegetables that we can recommend for boiling, it helps reduce its concentration ofoxalic acid. Slice the stems 1/2 inch wide, and the leaves 1 inch wide and boil for about three minutes.

Celeriac, or celery root, is a good source of vitamins C, K, and B6, phosphorus, potassium, and manganese. It may lower blood pressure and lessen the risk of stroke. It is best sliced and added to salads, or soup.

We all know about beets and borscht, but what else can it do? Beets are a source of ptytonutrients called betalains. They have been shown to provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and detoxification support. This is also found in chard, but the skin of the beet contains unusually high levels. Beets should be steamed for a brief time, perhaps 15 minutes to preserve the nutrients. Long cooking decreases the beneficial properties of the beet. This root vegetable contains powerful nutritional compounds that help protect against heart disease, and certain cancers, especially colon cancer.

This last one is a fruit, but I had to include it. It is called the Ugli fruit, and is a cross between a grapefruit, a Seville orange and a tangerine. They are sweeter than a grapefruit, and very easy to peel and segment. They contain no fat, sodium or cholesterol, a serving is about 45 calories, 2 grams of fiber, and 70% of the daily requirement for vitamin C. It is available from November until April, and is a blessing for those who take statins and blood pressure medications. Unlike the grapefruit, the Ugli fruit contains no furanocoumarins, and is safe to eat.

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