Rutabaga, Jicama: 12 Exotic Vegetables From Around The World
Image Credit: Calabaza. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Beyond the usual suspects of carrots, potatoes, and lettuce, there is a world of exotic vegetables waiting to be discovered. These unusual vegetables offer new flavours, textures, and nutritional benefits that can add excitement to your meals. Expanding your palate to include some of these exotic varieties is a great way to spice up your cooking.   

1. Spaghetti squash - This oblong winter squash has flesh that separates into noodle-like strands when cooked. It has a mild, nutty flavour and can be used as a low-carb alternative to pasta. It is typically roasted whole in the oven until tender, then the flesh is scraped out into strands that resemble spaghetti.    

2. Chayote - This pale green, pear-shaped vegetable is also known as a mirliton or christophene. It has a crisp texture and mild flavour similar to zucchini or summer squash. Chayotes can be boiled, steamed, roasted, or fried and used in soups, stews, casseroles, and salads. The seeds are edible and have a nutty taste.

3. Calabaza - This winter squash comes in various shapes and sizes. The flesh is orange and ranges from dry to moist depending on the variety. It has a nutty, earthy flavour and is often used in soups. Calabaza can be baked, boiled, or roasted and mashed like potatoes. It is commonly added to stews, casseroles and Latin American dishes.

4. Rutabaga - This root vegetable looks like a large turnip with a purple crown. It has a sweet, earthy flavour and is often mashed or roasted. Rutabagas can weigh up to 5 pounds and have a yellow flesh with a texture similar to a potato. They are typically boiled, mashed, or roasted and used in soups, stews and casseroles.

5. Cassava - Also called yuca or manioc, cassava is a starchy tuber native to South America. It has a mild flavour and is often ground into flour or fried as chips. Cassava roots are high in carbohydrates, fibre, and vitamins. They must be cooked thoroughly to remove cyanide compounds. Cassava can be boiled, baked, fried, or ground into flour and used in breads, cakes and stews.

6. Mizuna - This Japanese mustard green has feathery leaves with a peppery, tangy flavour. It is often used in salads or stir-fries. Mizuna has deeply serrated leaves that range in colour from light to dark green. When cooked, the leaves wilt down significantly but retain their spicy flavour. Mizuna pairs well with other assertive flavours like ginger, garlic and sesame. It can be used raw in salads or cooked quickly in stir-fries or sautés.   

7. Daikon - This long, white radish has a crisp texture and peppery flavour. It is commonly grated into salads or pickled. Daikon radishes can grow over 2 feet long and weigh up to 10 pounds. They have a mild flavour when young but become more peppery with age. Daikon is often grated raw into salads or kimchi or pickled in vinegar. It can also be julienned, spiralised, roasted, or stir-fried. Daikon is high in vitamin C, fibre and antioxidants.

8. Kohlrabi - This bulbous vegetable has a mild cabbage-like flavour. It is commonly roasted, sautéed or eaten raw. Kohlrabi bulbs grow above ground and resemble turnips or cabbage heads. The flesh is crisp with a mild cabbage or radish flavour. Kohlrabi can be eaten raw - peeled and sliced into salads or relish - or cooked by roasting, sautéing, steaming or boiling. It is high in fibre, vitamins and minerals.

9. Jicama - This turnip-shaped tuber has a crunchy texture and sweet flavour. It is commonly eaten raw or pickled. Jicama has a brown skin and white flesh with a texture similar to an apple. It has a sweet, juicy flavour when raw and becomes starchy when cooked. Jicama is high in fibre, vitamins and minerals. It can be enjoyed raw - peeled and sliced into salads, crudités or snacks. It can also be pickled or roasted.  

10. Jerusalem artichoke - Despite the name, this knobby tuber is actually a type of sunflower. It has an artichoke-like flavour and is high in prebiotic fibre. It is often roasted, boiled, or mashed. Jerusalem artichokes have a nutty, earthy flavour and crisp texture when raw. When cooked, they become soft and creamy. They can be used in soups, stews, casseroles, and salads.

11. Salsify - These long, brown roots have a flavour similar to artichokes. They are commonly roasted, sautéed or mashed. Salsify, also known as oyster plant, looks like thin, brown carrots. The roots have a mild flavour when raw but develop a sweet, nutty taste when cooked. Salsify can be boiled, baked, roasted or mashed like potatoes. The roots are high in fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

12. Burdock - These long, brown roots have a flavour similar to artichokes. They are commonly roasted, sautéed or mashed. Burdock roots resemble thin, brown carrots and have a woody texture. They must be peeled, sliced and boiled or simmered before eating to soften the fibres and release their earthy, slightly sweet flavour. Burdock can be stir-fried, simmered in soups and stews or pickled.

The next time you're at an exotic grocery store or farmers market, keep an eye out for some of these vegetables. Experimenting with unusual ingredients is a fun way to break out of recipe ruts and discover new favourites.