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5 Tricky Vegetables and How to Eat Them

author image Lisa Chiu
Lisa Chiu has been a journalist since 1998, covering everything from congressional lobbying to bee exterminators. She has worked for "The Orange County Register," "The Arizona Republic" and "The Seattle Times." Chiu holds a master's degree in China studies from the University of Washington.

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5 Tricky Vegetables and How to Eat Them
Photo Credit: Kate Van Vleck/Demand Media

Don’t overlook delicious and nutritious vegetables just because they’re a little less common or their shape and texture confounds you. Artichokes may look like leafy flower buds. Leeks can resemble mutant green onions. And you might wonder what you could possibly do with a sunchoke. But despite their appearance, these vegetables are packed with nutrients -- and they taste pretty good too. In the following slides, we’ll share a few tips so you can easily prepare these five seemingly “tricky” vegetables, making them convenient, everyday options to add to salads, enjoy as a side dish or even eat on their own.

Leeks, Part 1: Remove the Top and Bottom
Photo Credit: Kate Van Vleck/Demand Media


“Leeks have a flavor similar to onions or shallots, but offer a bit more subtlety,” says Brooklyn chef and author James Peterson. The vegetable is high in vitamin K, which aids in blood clotting, and it may help maintain strong bones in the elderly. One leek has 31 micrograms of vitamin K, which meets about 34 percent of your daily needs. “To prep the leek, remove the root end and the dark green top with a knife. Cut it lengthwise, then slice crosswise into half-moon shapes,” says chef and author Virginia Willis.

Related: 5 Tricky Fruits and How to Eat Them

Leeks, Part 2: Separate and Simmer
Photo Credit: Kate Van Vleck/Demand Media


Separate the half-moons with your fingers, place them in a sink or a large bowl of cold water and swish the slices to let the dirt fall to the bottom. Scoop them out with your hands or a sieve and discard the sandy water. Repeat the process until the leeks are free of dirt. Chef Virginia Willis recommends simmering the leeks in stock and then allowing them to chill. Once fully chilled, mix the leeks with vinaigrette for a salad. “You can also bake them in a gratin or add them chopped to soups or broths,” says chef James Peterson.

Related: 14 Healthy and Out-of-the-Ordinary Salad Ingredients

Artichokes, Part 1: Prep Work
Photo Credit: Kate Van Vleck/Demand Media


Artichokes are a good source of fiber, vitamins C and K and folate, a B vitamin that aids new cell generation and helps prevent major birth defects, which makes it especially important for moms-to-be. An artichoke contains 107 micrograms of folate, or about 26 percent of the recommended dietary allowance for men and women. It also has 10 grams of filling fiber. “To prepare a fresh artichoke, cut off the stem and the top inch, then snip the top half-inch of each pointy, thorny leaf with scissors,” says chef and contributing writing for the Food Network Virginia Willis.

Related: Artichokes and 14 Other Foods That Help You Peel Off the Pounds

Artichokes, Part 2: Cook and Cut
Photo Credit: Kate Van Vleck/Demand Media


Place the artichoke bottom down into boiling water, lower the heat to a simmer and put a heatproof dish on top so it’s fully submerged. Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. To eat, pick off each leaf and run your teeth along the thicker side, gathering the tasty flesh. “You can also cut off the bottom part of the artichoke, known as the heart,” says Brooklyn-based chef James Peterson. At the center of the heart near the stem is a knot of inedible fibrous strands -- scrape these out with a spoon. Cut the heart into pieces and serve on a salad.

Related: 5 Tricky Fruits and How to Eat Them

Fennel, Part 1: Sliced and Diced
Photo Credit: Kate Van Vleck/Demand Media


“The light licorice flavor of fennel marries very well with fish and shellfish, and it’s delicious raw in salad and slaws,” says cookbook author and chef Virginia Willis. Most recipes call for the bulb of the plant, but you can save the stems and leaves to boil in a stock, or dry them and add to a wood-fire grill to give fish an herbaceous flavor. Fennel bulbs are a good source of potassium. One bulb has 28 milligrams of vitamin C, which meets 37 percent of women’s daily needs and 31 percent of the daily needs of men. “To prepare fennel, cut off the green stems so that you just have the white bulb, then cut the bulb in half vertically and remove the tough core,” advises chef Virginia Willis. It can then be thinly sliced or diced. Willis recommends mixing thinly sliced fennel bulbs with reduced-fat mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, lemon zest and juice, fresh chopped dill and a drizzle of honey.

Related: 20 Foods to Always Buy Organic (Even If You’re on a Budget!)

Fennel, Part 2: A Close Shave
Photo Credit: Kate Van Vleck/Demand Media


Chef James Peterson likes to shave off the outside of the bulb with a vegetable peeler, cut the bulb into wedges and bake it in a pan with a little water or broth and covered loosely with parchment paper or foil. Bake until the liquid has evaporated and the fennel bulb is soft but not mushy.

Related: 14 Foods to Help Keep You Lean

Okra: Cook It Any Way You Like
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“While many consider okra a food of the southern United States, the vegetable is also an important ingredient in African, Asian and Latin-American cuisine,” says Virginia Willis, chef and author of a book on okra. Okra is high in vitamins K and C and can be served grilled, steamed, roasted, boiled, broiled, pickled, raw or fried. “I think the hands-down best ‘gateway’ recipe for okra is broiling or grilling it,” Willis says. Simply drizzle some olive oil over the okra and throw in a few sliced jalapenos if you like some heat. Another option: “Insert skewers into entire okra pods for grilling, or place them on a baking sheet, season and broil until they turn bright green -- about eight minutes,” Willis says. “That’s it! Crispy (not slimy) okra that’s good and good for you,” she adds.

Related: 5 Tricky Fruits and How to Eat Them

Sunchokes: Simple Slice and Bake
Photo Credit: Kate Van Vleck/Demand Media


“Also known as Jerusalem artichokes, sunchokes are delicious raw or lightly sautéed --and they add a crisp flavor to any salad,” says chef and author Virginia Willis. Sunchokes are an excellent source of iron, and they’re also rich in prebiotics that can help maintain your digestive balance. “To prepare them, simply wash and slice sunchokes for a raw preparation or peel off the skin, slice, and lightly sauté them for a delicious side dish,” chef Virginia Willis recommends. “You can also bake sunchokes,” Willis says, which gives them a buttery texture. “Try not to prepare sunchokes in aluminum pots or pans because it will cause the flesh to turn gray,” Willis adds.

Related: Sunchokes and 14 Other Foods That Help You Peel Off the Pounds

What Do YOU Think?
Photo Credit: Kate Van Vleck/Demand Media


Do you enjoy artichokes, leeks, fennel, okra or suchokes? Have you ever tried cooking any of these vegetables? How did you prepare them? What other tricky vegetables have you mastered? Share your best tricks in the comments below.

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