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Mendo Lake Family Life

Plant Power

Jan 10, 2016 12:00AM

When it comes to produce, is your family stuck in a lettuce-tomato-onion rut? Head off to your farmers market or grocery store and take a walk! You’ll find an incredible array of inexpensive, inviting vegetables and fruit with textures and flavors that are just waiting to be discovered. Here are a few items to start your culinary walkabout. (Hint: Kids are more likely to try a new food when it’s in raw, bite-sized portions. You can also try sneaking a new veggie into a hearty stew.)

Jicama. is a big, heavy brown fruit that looks like a weird potato. The excellent thing about jicama is that it is very crisp and crunchy, but has a mild flavor like a cucumber. Jicama can be sliced and used with dips as an alternative to chips, eaten in sticks like any other crunchy veggie, or added to salads for a snappy texture. Served with a spritz of lime juice and a dusting of chili powder, it makes a snazzy side dish.

Bok choy. In Asian cuisine, bok choy is a staple. But most of us wouldn’t think of integrating it into a daily meal, and that’s too bad, given how versatile and healthy this veggie is. Chop it up and add it to a salad, or eat it by the stalk (like you would celery), dressed up with a little hummus or nut butter. You can also add it to soups or stir fries, or braise and grill it with a little seasoning for a brilliant side dish.

Pluots. This incredible, juicy little snack comes from mixing a plum with an apricot. Plums are pretty common, but not a lot of people are familiar with pluots. It’s a shame because they’re so yummy! They’re not too sweet and make an easy, inexpensive addition to a packed lunch. Look for a fruit that’s a little smaller and more yellow than a plum in the fruit section of your grocery store.

Rutabaga. Though popular in some countries around the world, this awesome root vegetable is frequently forgotten in the US. It has a bit of a punch, like a radish, so if you’re in the mood for some zing, try it raw. You can also combine it with potatoes, parsnips, and squash to make a hearty, cold-weather stew.

Nopal/cactus. If the idea of eating a cactus seems strange to you, give prickly pear cactus (also known as nopal) a whirl. It’s really good and, with positive effects on blood sugar and cholesterol, so good for you. It hits the palate like a green bean, but with an added dash of lemony tartness. Newbie nopal eaters may find the spine difficult to deal with, so I suggest buying it already cleaned. Many average grocery stores, and especially Mexican or Hispanic markets, carry cleaned nopal ready to cook. Similar in texture to a green pepper, nopal is great in dishes like scrambled tofu or really anything sautéed. Its mellow taste also makes it a nice complement to spicy dishes.

Dandelion greens. These bitter green leaves are wonderful in salads and slaws, but they can also be boiled like spinach, or sautéed and seasoned.


Vanessa Chamberlin is a certified holistic health practitioner, lifestyle coach, and author of The Fire-Driven Life: How to Ignite the Fire of Self-Worth, Health, and Happiness with a Plant-Based Diet (Plantfire Publishing, 2015). See vanessachamberlin.com.