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Volume II
August 31, 2004

Vegetable Variety
Desiri Wightman, RD

          Talk about crazy! With the extensive variety of international, ethnic, regional, and local produce available, why do so many of us just eat the same fruits and vegetables we grew up with?

          In other words, guess which five vegetables of the hundreds available made up 52% of American vegetable consumption in 1999 (according to the Economic Research Service's study in 2000): iceberg lettuce, frozen potatoes, fresh potatoes, potato chips, and canned tomatoes. Since when do potato chips count as a vegetable? Take note that economists looking at potato purchases rather than nutritionists looking at potato processing conducted this study.

          Additionally, only 13% of American families meet the current recommendation to stave off disease by enjoying 5 or more daily servings from the produce aisle (according to research from the Produce for Better Health Foundation in 2002). To put it right out there, Americans aren't doing so hot when it comes to eating these fiber-filled, disease-kicking, nutrient-packed, mega-vitamin and mineral wonders we call fruit and vegetables.

          Now that is just plain crazy! In a time when refrigerated cargo planes, ocean cruisers, train cars, and trucks deliver fruits and vegetables from the world's farms to our local supermarkets days from harvest; in a time when produce is available year-round due to storage and processing capabilities; in a time when vegetables can be tender and to the table in a matter of microwave-minutes, why aren't we out there inhaling them?

          It's definitely time to shake things up a bit. This article will explore five of the many crazy crops available in the market today in hopes of piquing your interest, tingling your taste buds, and helping you serve up a variety of interesting daily servings of fruits and vegetables beyond iceberg lettuce, potatoes, and tomatoes. Check out the recipes, all using unique produce, and then treat yourself to something fantastic and healthful tonight!

Time to serve your kids a vegetable they'll really go "yucca" over. This tuberous root grows throughout Africa, Asia, South America, and the Caribbean. Like a potato its white flesh needs paring from its thick, bark-like peel before steaming or boiling. Cube it up and toss it into your next stew, in place of potatoes. High in starch, this root (also known as manioc or cassava) is also made into a flour used to thicken foods and added to pastas, cakes, and pastries.

Store in a cool, dark place for up to one week. Once pared, keep it in the refrigerator submerged in water or freeze it for several months (can't do that with a potato). You'll enjoy a healthy dose of vitamin C and fiber when you give this a try.

Yucca Bibingka

4 cups fresh grated yucca
2 cups coconut milk
2 tablespoons melted butter
3 eggs
2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup coconut cream
Grated cheese

Peel and grate yucca. Beat eggs, add sugar, butter and salt. Add the grated yucca and coconut milk. Mix well and place in baking dish. Bake until almost done (light brown), about 1 hour, at 350 degrees. Then brush with coconut cream, sprinkle with grated cheese and brown under broiler.

I hope everyone who's reading this has savored a rhubarb pie at least once in his or her life! Rhubarb pie, syrup, jam, chutney, sauce, crisp, and cobbler! You haven't lived until you've tingled your tongue with its tartness. Long and slender, the red or green stalks of this vegetable grow beneath and support huge, poisonous leaves (only the stalks are edible). While some brave folks opt to gnaw on raw rhubarb, most of the sane ones care to eat it only after it has stewed in sugar to take away its bite.

Look for flat, not curled or limp, stalks, and store in the refrigerator wrapped in plastic wrap to keep it from drying out. Cooked or raw rhubarb freezes beautifully. I cut my plants, dice them up, and sprinkle them with 1 cup sugar to 6-8 cups rhubarb before freezing in resealable bags. With a good store of rhubarb in my freezer, a taste of summer is at my fingertips even in the dead of winter.

Rhubarb-Streusel Muffins

1 ½ Cup chopped rhubarb
1/3 Cup water
1 T. lemon juice
½ Cup sugar
1 ½ T. cornstarch

Muffin Batter:
2 Cup flour
1 T. baking powder
½ t. salt
½ Cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 Cup buttermilk
1/3 Cup melted shortening

Streusel topping:
½ Cup sugar
1/3 Cup flour
¼ Cup butter

Combine the filling ingredients in sauce pan. Cook over low heat stirring until thickened. Set the above aside. Mix muffin dry ingredients and muffin wet ingredients separately, then combine. Fill muffin tins one half full with batter. Dot with rhubarb filling, then fill with remaining batter. Sprinkle with topping. Bake at 400 degrees F. for 20 minutes.
Like rhubarb, quince is seldom eaten raw. Though related to the apple and pear, quince's astringent and acidic taste isn't as palatable as its relatives. Thankfully, the quince's tough outer skin softens (but still holds its shape) and sweetens once cooked making it perfect for those baked fruit desserts that usually call for apples or pears. Additionally, quince wins in jam or jelly making as it boasts a high pectin content.

Look for firm, large, and lemon-yellow quinces, avoiding ones streaked or splotched with green (underripe). Quince bruise easily, so be careful as you prepare them for storage by wrapping in plastic and storing in your refrigerator for up to 2 months. Quince provides a nice dose of vitamin C and some iron. You'll start seeing it in the supermarket between September through January.

Quince Honey
2 cups grated quince
2 cups grated Granny Smith apples
1 pint water
8 level cups (or 4 pounds) granulated sugar

Wash and pare quince & apples. Core and cut into quarters. Grate or grind both fruits and mix together. Add the measured water to fruit and bring to a boil. Add sugar gradually and stir until all has been dissolved. Cook slowly, stirring frequently, until fruit is clear and mixture is thick,* approximately 20 minutes. Pour into sterilized jars and seal in a water-bath canner according to recommended procedures and timing in your area. You may also store the honey in the freezer. Makes 5-pints.

*The honey is the consistency of jam, heavy with fruit. Delicious on warm biscuits or toast, and even waffles!

At some point in time, desert-dwellers must have been pretty hungry to risk prickers for a bite of the leaves of the edible cactus. Today we don't have to take such risks as nopales (another name for the cactus paddles) end up on the grocer's shelf despined for us. What's the advantage of such a vegetable? Vitamin A, iron, B-vitamins, Vitamin C, and even calcium. Then don't forget the pure novelty of it: "What's for dinner, honey?" "Cacti!"

You'll find cactus leaves in the grocery store almost year round. Choose ones that are unwrinkled, firm, and pale green. Avoid the large, dry or very limp paddles. Wrap tightly in plastic and store in the refrigerator for up to a week. When ready to use, remove any remaining prickly eyes, as necessary, cut off dry areas, and rinse away any sticky fluid. Then enjoy raw or steamed (just for a few minutes to keep it crunchy), tossed into salads, sautéed for an omelet, or rolled up in a burrito. Serve steamed, topped with salsa, chunked up in the salsa, or as a crunchy dipper to dunk into salsa. Think southwestern by mixing it with bean and corn recipes and you'll get it right1

Cactus Salad

Serves 4
1 cactus pad, despined, diced, fresh new growth water
½ teaspoon salt
½ red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ red onion, thinly sliced
1 green onion, sliced
4 tomatoes, diced
1 jalepeno pepper, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, chopped, to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Boil cleaned and diced pad in salted water with chopped onion and garlic for up to and no longer than 15 minutes; drain, rinse, and set aside. Toss thin slices of red onions and/or green onions, diced tomatoes, diced jalepeno pepper, and chopped cilantro (to taste) into a salad bowl. Toss in cactus. Season with salt and pepper to and toss well to mix.

Want an alternative to fat-laden potato chips? Choose fat-free, vitamin C packed, crunchy jicama sticks or slices. Just peel the brown skin and the white fibrous layer from this turnip-shaped vegetable with a paring knife. Then cut it into fry-shaped sticks or thin chip-shaped slices. Sprinkle with the juice from one lime and then sprinkle with 1 teaspoon chili powder (or more if you'd like it spicier). These are best chilled, but will make a delightful, readily-available snack for all the munchers in your house.

When shopping for jicama, which is available year round, choose one that is heavy for its size with unbruised and unblemished skin. Store in a plastic bag in your refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. If the flesh is no longer white when cut open, the jicama is too old.

Jicama retains its crunchy texture even when sautéed and absorbs the flavors of the food it is cooked with. You can substitute it for water chestnuts in your stir-fry recipes, toss it into many salads (potato, green, fruit) for great crunch, or sauté it in oil for a simple side dish. Because it is slow to turn brown when exposed to air, it makes a great addition to fresh vegetable platters.

Jicama on the Side

Vegetable Cooking Spray
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
3/4 pound Jicama, peeled and julienned
2 tablespoons chopped red bell pepper
1/8 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Coat a medium skillet with cooking spray; add oil and heat over medium heat. Sauté garlic, jicama, and red pepper for 5 minutes, adding seasonings and stirring frequently. Serve with a meat entrée as desired.

         * DVO welcomes your kitchen hints and cooking or nutrition questions! Email us and we'll post your hints and Q/A's in upcoming newsletters! *

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Cooked Veggie Color Keeper
Pet of the Week
Road Rally
LIVE VOTE: How many servings of fruit and vegetables do you serve per day?
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