Kohlrabi. Turnips. Chard. Beets. Zucchini. Rutabagas. All of these vegetables show up fairly predictably in natural foods markets, farm stands, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes, and even backyard gardens. But you might feel stumped by how to use these late-summer to fall and winter vegetables—and how to get your family to eat them. Except for zucchini, the rest of these venerable plant foods are lesser known and therefore perceived as challenging. (Zucchini has the opposite problem of being perhaps too familiar and plentiful.) Read on for my tips for using and enjoying these versatile, often interchangeable, organic staples.
People often complain about beets, but I’ve come to see that it’s their combined earthiness and sweetness that makes them seem problematic. The trick is to always include a little acid with beets, whether they’re served as a cooked vegetable, or in a salad or soup. A bit of citrus or vinegar unifies those sweet and earthy flavors into an appealing whole.
Serves 6 / Prep tips: This is a versatile salad, so improvise with different ingredients and cheeses, such as nuts and feta. A mixture of beet colors makes a gorgeous dish, but separate reds until the end to avoid staining the others. Whether large or little, beets taste about the same. Large ones just take longer to cook. View recipe.
Come summer’s end, everyone loves to complain about how they have too much zucchini. I can’t get enough. I could eat it every day —steamed, grilled, sautéed slowly with lots of herbs, in soups, mixed with other vegetables. I also love it as a fritter cake garnished with the last of summer’s tomatoes and a spicy yogurt sauce (you could also try a dollop of salsa verde, homemade ranch dressing, or tomato sauce). Because its taste is so neutral, zucchini is highly versatile.
Serves 4 (makes 8) / Prep tips: Start by salting the zucchini to draw out its moisture while you gather everything else together. This dish can be seasoned with dill, cilantro, marjoram, basil, or parsley; if you like you can add a little of your favorite cheese. Serving tip: Because these cakes aren’t terribly dense, this would be a good time to serve some of the potatoes that might also be in your CSA box, roasted or steamed. View recipe.
A space-age-looking vegetable with stems growing out from its spherical bulb, the two parts of its name—kohl and rabi[ital]—refer to the German words for cabbage and turnip. Unlike many members of the cabbage family, however, this vegetable is delicate and sweet. As with many root vegetables, the larger they get, the more fibrous they may be, so choose those that are baseball size or a little smaller. Kohlrabi is delicious uncooked, so you can add it, diced or julienned, to all kinds of vegetable salads. Kohlrabi can also easily be included in a fall vegetable soup or stir-fry.
Serves 4 / Prep tip: Unless the kohlrabi leaves are obviously old, wilted, or ragged, rinse the leaves, remove the stems, and steam or blanch until tender, from just a few minutes to 10 or more. When done, toss with a little olive oil or butter, season with salt and pepper, and serve separately; or pile them on the plate and spoon the finished kohlrabi over them. View recipe.
There are two kinds: superfresh turnips with greens (summer turnips) and larger storage turnips. The latter have been clipped of their greens and are sold loose, not in bunches. Whereas the young turnips you find at the market or in your CSA box are likely to be sweet, mild, and almost juicy (like kohlrabi, they can be delicious raw as well as cooked), storage turnips are stronger, spicier, and a little drier. Both kinds make a terrific turnip soup, which I wouldn’t hesitate to serve as a main dish on a cool, fall night.
Serves 6 / Prep tips: You can make the soup chunky or purée it. If you’ve got turnip greens, chop off the stems, cook the greens separately in salted water until tender, and then chop and add at the end of cooking the soup. If the potatoes are organic, leave the skins on. If not, peel them. View recipe.
A leafy green related to beets, spinach, and a bevy of edible wild greens, chard is an unknown to many but a favorite to others. Both the leaves and stems can be eaten, but they’re treated as separate vegetables. Chard is extremely versatile and in some ways more economical than spinach because it’s more substantial: A pound of leaves yields about 12 cups, which cooks down to about 3 cups, whereas a pound of spinach cooks down to a scant cup.
Serves 8 / This takes about 45 minutes to cook, but the whole process is pretty much unattended. Leftovers are good cold, with a squeeze of lemon. Get recipes for Basic Brown, Black, or Green Lentils and Spicy Yogurt Sauce. View recipe.
The homely rutabaga, which looks so unpromising, is actually quite a mild, well-tempered vegetable, and its flesh is the prettiest soft yellow color. Many people speak of rutabagas in the same breath as turnips, and they are somewhat similar. But rutabagas are seldom seen with leaves attached, and they tend to have a drier flesh than turnips do, which means they need to cook a little longer. They can be substituted for turnips, and they go very well with other root vegetables, apples, and curry spices.
Serving tips: These can be served as an appetizer, a replacement for french fries, or as a vegetable side dish, even with ketchup. View recipe.