Just because it’s cold out doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of foodie treats in the 21st Century veg garden. Behold the dazzling world of exotic root veg that absolutely anyone can grow, even on our chilly little island.
MY HARVEST ON 21st DECEMBER
As the frosts start to bite, fruit and leafy greens are making way for a bumper harvest of root veg. With this year being almost apocalyptic for potato growers, it’s great to see so many of the more exotic tubers – from New Zealand yams to Dahlia roots – fairing so well, as if completely unaware of the scourge of blight that has devastated spud growers. Plus a couple of other exciting bits and pieces – let me walk you through them….
NEW ZEALAND YAMS Oxalis tuberosa
No photoshop I promise! These highlighter-pink, mini-spuds are the tart Bramley apple-flavoured tubers of New Zealand Yams. Second only in importance to the potato to the Incas, these natives of the Peruvian highlands (ignore their rather misleading common name) are by far my favourite spud substitute.
Coming in a range of dazzling colours from ivory white to deep purple, they are as versatile to eat as they are to look at. Raw they have a fresh acidic crunch, more like a fruit than a root veg, but once cooked this all but disappears, leaving a much more conventional Jersey royal-type flavour. Look out for my upcoming blog post on these (including recipes) very soon.
DAHLIA ‘YAMS’ Dahlia sp.
The pointy, white ‘sweet potatoes’ in this snap are the roots of the common garden Dahlia, originally introduced to our shores from Mexico not as an ornamental but a promising root veg much loved by the Aztecs.
Their sweet, waxy tubers are a delicious blight-resistant veg at this time of year after a summer of showy flowers. Just make sure not to scoff ‘am all or you won’t have any plants next year.
Skeptical? I’ll be blogging about these guys in greater depth (including a recipe) in a week or two, so watch this space!
INCA BERRRIES Physalis peruviana
The plants might have been well and truly blasted by a couple of hard frosts in the middle of the month, but the fruit in their little lantern-like cases have remained well and truly intact. Cutting the frosted stems down, I picked off dozens of these little fellas to chuck into winter fruit salads for that last taste of summer sunshine in the depths of a rather soggy winter.
TASMANIAN MOUNTAIN PEPPER Tasmannia lanceolata
A tough and reliable evergreen, the glossy dark green foliage and burgundy stems of the Tasmanian Mountain Pepper make it an increasingly popular garden plant all over the UK. What most people don’t know however is that its fragrant leaves – that taste like a cross between fiery wasabi & fragrant bay leaves – are an uber trendy spice Down Under, found in all sorts of bush tucker herb blends (even McCormick make one). Amazing dried, crushed and seared onto steaks, steeped into Bolognese sauce or soaked in the marinate for a truly stunning BBQ chicken. Yum!
MASHUA Tropaeloum tuberosum
A close relative of the common garden nasturtium, these stunning mini radishes are the tubers of another Andean root veg known as mashua. Vigourous and virtually indestructable, these vines are resistant to drought, pests, poor soils and virtually anything else that can be thrown at them.
They even come with pretty flowers to boot, in fact they are already grown in gardens all over the UK as a garden ornamental. Now here comes the catch, while I love their flavour – somewhere between chestnuts and vanilla – they are often described as the marmite of the veg kingdom – either love ‘em or hate ‘em. Intrigued? Well there is only one way to find out.
For full instructions on how to grow, cook and eat everything in this post check out my new book Homegrown Revolution!