I find it difficult to believe I have only been growing my own vegetable seedlings for a year. I have taken to it quickly, have had success with it and it’s become one of my passions. Assisting and watching the seedlings grow into fresh, useful produce is paricularly satisfying. I plan meals around my backyard harvests and always have loads of fresh vegies in the fridge just waiting to be used and enjoyed.
Over the last couple of months I’ve discovered a new reason to enjoy growing my own vegetable seedlings. The variety. If you look around, you will find so many more types of vegetables and different varieties of common vegetables than you can buy as seedlings from nurseries. Searching for or just coming across weird and wacky looking crops has added a whole new dimension to my backyard vegie patches. This brings me to several varieties I am currently harvesting for the first time – cucamelons, tomatillo, purple kohlrabi and tromboncino.
Learning by trying and doing, I have identified particular quirks with some of the crops. Cucamelons just grow like crazy things and have even taken over a tree. Before I cut the vine back, it had also taken over most of a garden bed. Currently one plant is battling for space in a tree with the tromboncinos. Those guys look so cool just hanging from the branches, their crazy snake-like shapes twisting all over the place.
Discovering and adapting recipes for these vegetables has added a new element to the exploration of these varieties.
I was so excited by the concept of growing cucamelons. I had never heard of them before and was drawn to the photo of these weird, cool looking little things on the seed packet. My plants have been so successful that, after picking them, I see hanging cucamelons when I close my eyes. Cucamelons, also known as Mexican Sour Gherkin or Sandiita, are about the size of grapes, look like little watermelons and taste a lot like cucumbers. They are very cute! Because I have grown so many of them, I have started pickling them.
But my favourite way to eat them is Cucamelon Bruscetta, based on the recipe on the World Kitchen seed packet – cucamelons cut in half, chopped onion (or shallots), 1 chilli, mint, a splash of cider vinegar, lime juice, olive oil, a spoonful of honey and salt and pepper. I was lucky enough to have other ingredients in the garden, such as mint, chillis and lime. The result is a fresh, zesty and just yummy bruschetta.
I was curious about tomatillos, Mexican husk tomatoes, and when I saw the seed packets, I just had to have a go at growing them. They took a long time to grow and to ripen. The plants had hundreds of flowers but nothing else was happening. I placed flowers around the garden bed to encourage bees to the plants. I had almost given up on them when, almost overnight, tomatillos started appearing!
My only plan for using them (somewhat naively, I am sure) was in a salsa. I made it last night and was quite impressed. The texture and taste of the tomatillo is different to a tomato, but similar. When roasting, the smell reminded me of fried green tomatoes. My version of the common tomatillo salsa recipe is based around vegetables I had in the garden (the tomatillos, capsicums, chillis, coriander and lime were all from my garden). Add more or less coriander and chilli to suit your tastes.
Roasted Tomatillos, Green Capsicum and Lime Salsa
1 kg of tomatillo
juice of 1 lime
1 green capsicum (I used 3 small ones)
Handful of coriander
2 – 3 chillis
1 large onion
Roast the tomatillos, capsicums and chillis under the grill, turning after about 5 – 6 minutes (when skin is starting to blacken) to roast both sides.
While the vegetables are roasting, blend the chopped onion, lime juice and coriander in a food processor. Add the cooked tomatillos, capsicums and chillis and blend. Add salt to taste.
Serve with corn chips as a dip or as a side with your favourite Mexican dish.
Tromboncino, a type of zucchini, would win any the prize for the funniest, craziest looking vegetable. The vines run like pumpkins and mine have decided to climb a tree. The site of tromboncinos hanging from branches always makes me chuckle.
Best picked small and young, these guys are perfect substitutes for zucchinis. They are delicious roasted and used in zucchini fritters.
As I had so many tromboncinos, I pickled them using the recipe I used in summer when I had an abundance of zucchinis. Try using tromboncino in this delicious zucchini pickle recipe http://www.notquitenigella.com/2014/02/07/zucchini-pickle-recipe/
These guys just look so cool. When I was given a seed packet of purple kohlrabi, I had never even heard of it. I have grown a couple of them now and mostly used them grated, as an addition to coleslaw. For something different, I tried pickling them with salty water, dill from the garden and mustard seeds. They are fermenting on the kitchen bench right now and I am looking forward to seeing how they turn out. A few more are growing in my garden at the moment and I would like to try something different and roast them when they are ready.
The next stage of trying to grow distinctive Autumn/Winter vegetables, including diverse varieties of coloured broccolis and cauliflowers, is under way.
What weird and wacky vegetables have you grown or bought just because you were intrigued or thought they looked cool?