Before going on vacation, my neighbor recently brought a bag of mysterious fruits and vegetables to my home so they wouldn't go to waste. There were some vibrant pink pitaya or dragon fruits, ruby-fleshed Cara cara oranges, prehistoric-looking Romanesco broccoli, and a pear-shaped piece of produce with shiny, lumpy pale green rind.
I'd never seen this variety before, and wasn't even sure if it was a fruit or a vegetable. Determined to identify this edible odd ball, I went online, but wasn't able to put a name to its face. A few days later while strolling through the produce aisle of a natural food market, I serendipitously ran into my unnamed gourd. Yes — a chayote squash of Mesoamerican origins and cucumber relative, I couldn't wait to get my hands on this favorite fruit of Caribbean and Cajun cuisines so I could shred it into a slaw or bake this Vitamin C powerhouse with a pile of savory herbs and onions for a delicious side for wild-caught fish or chicken dishes.
Mystery solved, here's a line-up of both exotic and mainstream fruits and vegetables with their bios and nutritional profiles for you to guess their identities. Good luck!
1. This shriveled, scary-looking citron resembles a Halloween prop of gnarled fingers. It has neither juice, pulp nor seeds, but its Vitamin C-rich rind makes a wonderful zest for flavoring up everything from seafood, chicken, pastas, vinaigrette dressings and compound butters to spirits, simple sugars, scones, pancakes and biscotti. In Eastern cultures it's not used for culinary purposes, rather to give a refreshing scent to homes, linens and clothing, as well as a lucky charm.
Because of my shape I am appropriately named ... ?
2. These delicacies of Eastern Canada and Maine, used by northern French, Native American, Indonesian and Nepalese cooks for centuries as a lively side dish are actually furled fronds of an immature fern. Although harvested in the wild during spring, they can be found frozen year round. This foraged vegetable with a crunchy chew and burst of fresh grassy flavors is packed with a store of nutrients, including heart-healthy omega fatty acids, fiber, body-balancing potassium, and blood boosting iron.
The exquisite and intricate shape reminiscent of the ornamental piece at the head of a stringed instrument, earned this vegetable its name ... ?
3. This ambrosia is nicknamed "the ice cream fruit" for its creamy, perfumed pulp. It is typically sliced lengthwise and scooped from its beautiful green rind indented with a reptile-skin-like pattern. A prized tropical treat of Ecuadorian origins, and descendent of the evergreen tree this delectable fruit is packed with anti-oxidants, especially Vitamin C, along with stress-relieving B-6's, a good sodium to potassium ratio to control blood pressure and maintain a steady heart rate, and a load of essential minerals, including copper, magnesium and iron.
Also divine as a topping for ice cream, an add-in to smoothies, oatmeal, green or fruit salads, you're sure to fall in love with ... ?
4. A licorice doppelganger, this Mediterranean vegetable rife with essential oils has been used throughout history for a variety of culinary and medicinal purposes. Shaved raw in salads, tossed in pastas, cioppinos, soups, stews, risottos, or braised or baked au gratin with a zesty Parmesan-lemon crust, this bulbous plant also relieves assorted digestive and respiratory ails and anemia, along with protecting the eyes from inflammation and age-related disorders.
Used in teas and flavoring mints, toothpastes and a green-tinted spirit called absinthe, cheers to ... ?
5. On the culinary radar of top chefs coast-to-coast this gnarly tuber and member of the sunflower family is commonly known by two names — one with an old Israeli city in its nomenclature. The presence of an inert carb called inulin has also earned it the moniker, "potato for diabetics." Enjoy these North American beauties year round for their delicate nutty flavor and silky texture.
Ideal baked into crispy chips, roasted, mashed, pickled or pureed for soups or sauces, or sliced raw in slaws, bean salads or crudités, my name is ... ?
Using one of the exciting mystery foods above, here's a simple and elegant recipe to chase away the winter blues. For answers to the quiz, check out next week's column.
•••• Recipe: Buttery Fiddleheads
• 2 dozen fiddleheads, trimmed, cleaned (fresh or frozen)
• Zest and juice from half lemon
• 3 tablespoons ghee (clarified) butter
• 2 tablespoons white wine
• 1 garlic clove, minced
Method: In a small saucepan, steam fiddleheads until tender (about 4 minutes). Drain. In a skillet on low, sauté garlic in the butter until soft. Blend wine and lemon, add fiddleheads, coating with the butter mixture. Season to taste.
— To share any mysterious fruits and vegetables, e-mail Catharine Kaufam at email@example.com