Fall is finally starting to settle in, and with the cool and crisp air comes the desire to get back in the kitchen and light up the oven. Pumpkin, apples and squash may be everywhere this time of year, but other equally delicious fall produce doesn’t get the love it deserves. Omitting these underrated, or even intimidating, fruits and veggies from your diet means missing out on a wide variety of amazing fall flavors and textures.
“Eating seasonally” may sound like a trend, but there are a whole list of reasons to do just that. First, seasonal food is usually sourced locally, so it ripens naturally on the plant, rather than on a truck. That means it retains its nutrients and vibrant flavor. And because seasonal produce spends less time on the truck, it’s better for the environment. An added bonus: In-season produce tends to be easier on your wallet as well. Whether you’re shopping at the farmer’s market or supermarket, make the most of the fall produce by venturing out of your comfort zone with these underrated, yet delicious picks.
If you had to guess what fennel tasted like just by just looking at the celery-like stalks, you probably wouldn’t assume that it has a licorice flavor profile. Derived from the Mediterranean region, fennel is a staple in traditional Italian cooking. The majority of fennel in the American stores grows in California. Interestingly, fennel is part of the parsley family, and all parts of the plant are edible. Not to mention that just one cup of fennel contains 20 percent of your daily vitamin C, plus some fiber, iron and potassium.
If you’ve never tried this tomato look-alike, you’re missing out on big sweet and juicy flavor. Persimmons are an Asian fruit, and there are two major types — hachiya and fuyu. A ripe hachiya is acorn-shaped and extremely soft (almost falling apart), and a fuyu is smaller, flat and is ripe when the texture resembles that of a peach. Both are deliciously sweet and should be stored on the counter. Most persimmon recipes use the raw fruit, but cooking it will bring out the inherent sweetness. Their vibrant orange color means persimmons are packed with tons of vitamin A, plus vitamin C and manganese.
Endive is confusing. With three different varieties that all look rather different, buying endive can be overwhelming. But here’s the simple truth: Endive refers to any bitter-flavored plant in the chicory family. That includes Belgian endive, curly endive (aka frisée or chicory) and flat-leafed endive (aka escarole). All three types of endive have a slightly crunchy texture and mildly bitter taste, and they make a hearty base for any fruit and nut salad. Belgian endive consists of large long leaves, which are often used for dipping or holding other foods. Curly endive or frisée is typically used in salads, and escarole is often added to soups. The three varieties differ slightly in their nutrition profile, but they all contain vitamin C, fiber, folate and vitamin E.
Recipe box: The easiest way to use any type of endive is in a salad. Frisée pairs nicely with fruits, nut and cheese in this simple fall salad.
Leeks look like a giant scallion, and they have a slightly similar but milder taste. The white and pale green sections are the edible part of the leek, and the dark green tips are usually discarded. One of the biggest barriers to cooking with leeks is the amount of dirt found in between the leaves. To clean them, soak the leaves in cold water to release all the dirt. Use leeks in any recipe that calls for onions, except caramelized onions since leeks don’t caramelize well. Leeks are rich in vitamin K, and they also contain fiber, manganese, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and folate.
Butternut squash may be a fan favorite, but delicata squash is soaring in popularity. Here’s the best part about this smaller cucumber-shaped squash? It doesn’t require peeling before cooking. The skin is light and delicate, so it’s perfect for cooking and eating! The flesh is yellow with a slightly sweet flavor, somewhat like a cross between a zucchini and a sweet potato. And because it’s got that gorgeous orangey-yellow color, delicata squash is rich in vitamin A and carotenoids (antioxidants).
If you’re wondering why the carrots at the farmer’s market look so pale, it’s because they are actually parsnips! Sweeter and starchier than carrots, parsnips are a versatile root vegetable that can be roasted, pureed, eaten raw or even turned into chips. They are rich in nutrients, like fiber, potassium and vitamins C and E. This hearty veggie proves that white foods have a healthy place in your diet.
Sure, white button mushrooms are probably a staple for the home cook, but what about maitake, oyster or enoki mushrooms? These lesser-used varieties bring different textures and flavors to a dish. For example, maitake mushrooms look like a flower and have a distinct aroma and woodsy flavor, while oyster mushrooms resemble a giant ear and are more delicate and chewy. Both of these types of mushrooms are great in stir fries or sautéed recipes. Enoki mushrooms grow on a large stem and don’t resemble any other mushroom variety. They are crispy and make a nice addition to raw salads. Regardless of the type of mushroom, they are all a good source of vitamin D, a nutrient that is often hard to come by in the standard American diet.