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Ingredient Mon Jul 01 2013
Farmers markets aren't just opportunities to support local farmers and buy fresh produce; they're also great ways to expand one's culinary repertoire. Whenever I see shoppers reaching for those beets (which will inevitably go into some beet and goat cheese salad) or spinach, I mentally beckon them to try some of those more esoteric veggies and herbs, sitting sadly in their small wooden crates. Although it can be daunting, I encourage you to diversify your palette by considering the following substitutions:
Purslane instead of Lettuce
Native to India and parts of the Middle East, purslane is one of those sprawling weeds people usually yank out of their garden. But did you know that purslane provides six times more vitamin E than spinach and seven times more beta carotene than carrots? It also contains alpha-linolenic acid, an essential omega-3 fatty acid usually found in animal products such as eggs and fish. Crunchy and lemony, it tastes much like a fusion between spinach and watercress, and can be utilized in everything ranging from salads to soups. I enjoy my purslane with tomatoes and onions, garnished with a bit of EVOO, salt, and pepper.
Purple Amaranth instead of Spinach
Exotically colored and wildly leafy, purple amaranth may intimate even the most adventurous of cooks. Actually classified as an herb, amaranth is commonly eaten in South and East Asian countries as a vegetable dish. With a rich taste similar to spinach, amaranth greens fare well in stir-fries and simple sautes, especially with onions and garlic. Although amaranth leaves come in green and purple, I personally like the latter variety, mostly because the leaves release beautiful red juices when cooked.
Currants instead of Strawberries and Blueberries
Currants are the ugly stepsisters of blueberries and strawberries, usually reserved for pies and jams. Native to northern Europe and Siberia, these tart little fruits are loaded with fiber, anthocyanins, and vitamin C (four times more than oranges). The sweeter pink and white varieties can be eaten raw, but they also taste great in dessert and savory entrees. If you're a serious DIYer, you can also ferment them for homemade wine.
Daikon instead of Carrots
Daikons are more than just your average bánh mì relish--they're a delicious, low-calorie radish with serious culinary potential. Mildly flavored and shaped like albino carrots, daikons are often utilized in East Asian cuisines as pickles, salads, or stir fries. Although I grew up eating daikon in dim-sum turnip cakes, my favorite recipe is a simple daikon saute with Chinese vinegar, star anise, and Sichuan peppercorns.