Ugly Food, Gorgeous Nutrition

When it comes to the health impact of food,  it’s often what’s on the inside that counts.  Our default is always to select the best looking produce – shiny red apples, crisp green lettuce, and plump, unblemished berries are predicatably the belles of the supermarket ball.  The next time you go shopping, take a deeper look into the parade of beauty to uncover less-striking produce and you’ll discover hidden gems full of flavor and nutrition.

Explore the following nutrient-dense foods this season and make them shine with delicious, simple recipes:

Celery Root: Also known as celeriac, this edible root is valued for its flavor and culinary versatility.  Similar in taste to leaf celery, it’s a terrific addition to soups and salads.  It is low in calories and rich in fiber, and vitamins K and C.  Using a sharp knife, remove rough outer skin and roots to reveal a smooth, white flesh.  Chop it, shred it, or cut it into strips. We love the shredded root alone tossed with a mustard vinaigrette and some fresh parsley.  Simply. Delicious.

Parsnips: The colorless cousin of the carrot and parsley, parsnips have a unique flavor often described as sweet with a hint of astringency.  When cooked, the sweetness develops making it an excellent addition to soups and roasted or mashed root vegetable medleys. This root vegetable is rich in fiber and high in vitamin C.  Support your immune system with this Roasted Carrot and Parsnip Soup with Ginger that can be served year-round, warm or cold.

Sunchokes:  Also known as Jerusalem artichokes, this knobby root vegetable is crisp when eaten raw, like a water chestnut, and has a creamy texture when cooked.  Sunchokes are rich in inulin, a prebiotic that feeds your gut flora and can help maintain a healthy gut microbiome.  They are also rich in vitamins and minerals, most notably iron, copper, and potassium.  Sunchokes can be used in place of potatoes in almost any recipe. For an interesting twist to your next sheet pan dinner, peel and chop the roots and toss with complementary vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips, and celery root.  Drizzle with olive oil and season with herbs, salt, and pepper.  Nestle in your favorite protein and roast until tender.

Shishito Peppers: These small, wrinkly peppers are valued for their ease of preparation and fresh, bright flavor.  The skin of this sweet pepper is thin and once roasted, creates a beautiful blistered appearance.  Its thin skin may make it easier to digest as well – a real plus for those of us who have a hard time with digesting conventional bell peppers.  Shishito peppers are low in calories and rich in vitamins A and C – half a cup cooked provides 170% DV of vitamin C!  To get the most out of these tiny treasures, keep preparation simple.  A drizzle of good olive oil and some kosher salt is all your oven with need to transform them into bites of glory.  Served whole as an appetizer, they make an elegant finger food.

Dried Porcini Mushrooms: You can smell them as you approach the display of dried mushrooms in the grocery store – their smoky, earthy scent is unmistakable.  Introduce these dried, brown bits of fungus to some hot water and experience an aromatic explosion!  Porcini mushrooms are loaded with organic compounds known for their antioxidant and antiviral activities.  They are a delicious, smoky addition to sauces and soups.  Simply reconstitute by covering a handful with hot water.  Let soak for at least 30 minutes or overnight to produce a dense, mushroom broth.  Remove and chop mushrooms and strain broth [some dirt will settle.]  Sauté porcini with other vegetables and add reserved broth as desired.  Our Spaghetti Squash with Mushroom Ragu is a community favorite.

Okra: Don’t be afraid to experiment with this mucilaginous pod – it does get gooey when cooked, but there are ways to enjoy it without creating a slime-fest.  Okra’s slimy texture develops when it is cooked and is amplified when introduced to fluid, which is why it has long been a key ingredient in gumbo recipes.  If you’re looking to control the goo, limit fluid and you’ll be in good shape. Toss with good olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and roast until brown and a bit dry.  Enjoy as “fries” as we do here in our Okra Fries recipe, or chop and add to your favorite vegetable dishes.  You’ll be adding good amounts of fiber, vitamins A and C, magnesium, folic acid and other B-vitamins

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