A culinary epiphany!!!!!!
Over the last week or so I have been spending a great deal of time researching the subject of vegetable on the Internet. Of course, I am not just talking bog standard vegetables that can be found in your common or garden supermarket, I am talking Heirloom varieties, or to put it another way Rare, unusual and exotic varieties. My research has led me to uncover a vast wealth of information on the subject, which in itself has been something of an Epiphany!!!! And this has led me to imaging a wealth of possible new culinary creations.
A vegetable that I have always enjoyed working with (from a flavour point of view), is Sweetcorn. In my opinion, it also a very underrated vegetable, maybe not so much in North and Central America but most definitely here in the UK. One thing that I have discovered is that sweetcorn come in many varieties and not all of them are yellow.
Another interesting vegetable that comes in colours other than orange. In fact, carrots were originally white, the orange variety came much later. Anyway, the following are some examples of interesting carrot types.
There are over two thousand potato species in the world but only a sambal proportion of them are known to the general public. In my research into this vast and fascinating subject of fruit and vegetables, I have discovered information on what we, in the UK, refer to as Heritage potatoes.
Looking at all these vegetables and potatoes leads me to believe that using produce such as this would add great interest and excitement to a menu. It would also be a great Unique Selling Point. The major problem with this is that none of this produce is available on a commercial basis and it would mean finding away to grow it yourself. This would create another Unique Selling Point in that you would be offering the ultimate in fresh produce. Growing your ingredients means that you could pick what you need as you need which would hopefully cut sown on wastage. It would also mean that produce is not sitting around in a store room or fridge deteriorating.
Basil has always been one of my favourite herbs but it is one which must be used fresh. To my way of thinking, dried Basil has just lost all its' flavour and is hardly worth the bother. Unlike many chefs, I am not of the believe that herbs should always be used fresh. Yes, the majority should be used fresh but there are some exceptions to this. Number one is tarragon as I personally find the taste of dried tarragon to be far superior to fresh. Two other exceptions to the fresh rule are Oregano and Sage(in some circumstances).
In the time that I have spent looking into the subject of fruit and vegetables ( and lets not forget the all important subject of herbs), I have come across nine varieties of basil and they are as follows:
Cinnamon...........this is a spicy Mexican type.
Dark Purple Opal......As the name suggests, this has dark purple leaves.
Fine Verde......A variety that is ideal for growing in containers and has the typical Basil flavour that is associated with Italian cuisine.
Greek Dwarf..........A compact plant for growing in containers and with a spicy, slightly aniseed flavour
Lemon.....Lemon fragrance and taste and a real culinary delight.
Lettuce Leaf..........This has large leaves that are ideal for salads and is of Japanese origin.
Licorice.......As the name suggests, this one has a strong licorice scent and flavour.
Lime.....A unique lime flavoured basil from Thailand.
Thai Holy......Has purplish – green leaves with a spicy, sweet clove taste.
Another very under used vegetable/ salad ingredient. Sadly, you only ever get to see one variety in the supermarkets and the quality may not always be the best.
This is the Chinese red meat radish ( also known as the water melon radish). It is a winter variety and the young ones can be used raw in salads whilst the more mature ones can be cooked as a vegetable. The stunning pink flesh would look superb in any dish to which this radish is added.
Another interesting variety that I cam across is the Chinese Greenluobo. This radish has a pale/lime green flesh that, again, would look stunning in any dish.
Again, another vegetable that is used very little (sadly). Most varieties of this have white, edible flesh but I came across one at Rareseeds called the RED ROUND TURNIP, which is a variety of turnip that has a pinky – red edible flesh that is speckled with flecks of white. Again, this would look stunning from a colour point of view in any dish in which it is used.
The major point that I am trying to emphasise here is that there is a whole wealth of produce out there, much of which is never seen in the broader spectrum of things. For me as a chef, this offers a whole new world of possibilities in terms of flavour, colour and texture combinations. The thought of growing the produce myself and being able to collect and use that produce when it is at its' peak is a majorly exciting and one that I can hopefully bring to fruition one day.
This whole subject of heritage and heirloom vegetables, fruits and herbs is one that has really captured my imagination and is something that I will be returning to on a regular basis.
Just reading through the list of what is available has seriously stimulated my imagination and I have a thousand and one ideas buzzing around for possible dishes that could be created with this amazing wealth of colourful and flavourful produce.
The images at the top of the page, going clockwise from the top are of;
(A) Snow white carrot
(B) Comic purple carrot
(C) Atomic red carrot
(D) Amarillo, a yellow fleshed carrot variety.