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Edible Garden Surprises: Unconventional Produce You Can Eat

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perennial vegetables unconventional produce

When we think about harvesting from our gardens, we often focus on the main produce: tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, and so on. However, many plants have other edible parts that are often overlooked. These hidden gems can add variety and nutrition to your meals. Here are some surprising, unconventional produce and edible parts of common garden plants that you might not have thought to use.

Unconventional Garden Edibles

Squash Blossoms

Squash plants are known for their prolific fruit, but their blossoms are a delicacy in many cuisines. Squash blossoms have a delicate flavor and can be stuffed with cheese, battered, and fried, or roasted. They can be added to salads for a splash of color and a unique taste.

Stuffed Squash Blossom Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 12 blossoms (zucchini, butternut, spaghetti, yellow…any squash you grow) stamen removed.\
  • Neutral oil for frying
  • 1 cup ricotta
  • Optional grated cheese like mozzarella or gruyere, or any favorite
  • 2 Tbs. finely chopped parsley
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced, optional
  • Zest of one lemon
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup flour, or chickpea flour for gluten-free option
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • Salt for seasoning

Directions:

  1. Prepare oil in heavy-bottomed pot
  2. Combine cheese, parsley and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper. Place a tablespoon of filling in each blossom. Seal them by twisting the end of the blossom.
  3. Season the flour with salt and pepper, then dredge the blossoms in the flour, then in the eggs and then in the flour again.
  4. Fry until golden, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove to paper towels to drain. Lightly season to taste.

Alternative Roasting Method:

Skip dredging and drizzle with olive oil. Roast in preheated oven (400 degrees) for about 10 minutes.

Sweet Potato Leaves

While we often focus on the tubers, sweet potato leaves are edible and highly nutritious. These leaves are rich in vitamins A, C, and B2 and minerals like iron, selenium, and calcium. They can be used just like you would use spinach, in stir-fries, soups, or simply sautéed with garlic and olive oil for a delicious side dish.

Harvesting the leaves does not hurt the tubers. When the vines are established and growing well, you can harvest the leaves. Harvest any time during the growing season. Since vines can grow up to 20 feet a season, don’t be shy! Younger leaves are milder and sweeter, while older leaves may be a little bitter.

unconventional produce

Raspberry Leaves

Raspberry leaves can be used to make a soothing and nutritious tea. They are high in vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin C and magnesium. To make raspberry leaf tea, simply dry the leaves, crush them, and steep in hot water.

Raspberry leaves are delicious mixed with chamomile, lavender, peppermint, or ginger. Experiment with your own blends to add depth and nutrition to your tea.

Nasturtium Flowers and Leaves

Nasturtiums are not only beautiful but also entirely edible. Their bright, peppery flowers make a striking addition to salads, while the leaves can be used in pesto or as a garnish. Both the flowers and leaves have a slightly spicy flavor.

Nasturtium leaves and flowers are reported to have natural antibiotic properties and are high in antioxidants. They can be used to make a tincture or a vinegar infusion.

Pea Shoots and Leaves

Peas are commonly grown for their pods, but the shoots and leaves are also edible and packed with nutrients. They have a sweet, fresh flavor similar to the peas themselves. Use them in salads, sandwiches, or as a garnish.

Broccoli Leaves

Broccoli plants produce large leaves that are often discarded, but they are actually edible and tasty. Broccoli leaves can be prepared like kale or collard greens. They are excellent in soups, stir-fries, or simply sautéed with a bit of garlic. Here is Sherva’s delicious stir-fried blend of garlic, onions, bacon and broccoli leaves after her broccoli bolted.

unconventional produce from the garden

Carrot Tops

Carrot greens are often discarded, but they are edible and can be used in various dishes. They have a slightly bitter flavor and can be used to make pesto, added to salads, soups, or used as a garnish.

Pumpkin Seeds

While not as surprising as some other entries on this list, it’s worth mentioning that pumpkin seeds are highly nutritious and can be roasted for a tasty snack. They are rich in protein, healthy fats, and various vitamins and minerals.

In Mexican cooking, pumpkin seeds (pepita) are often used to make sauces and added to soups and stews. They are a key ingredient in mole. Ground pumpkin seeds are used as a thickening agent or to add creaminess to a dish.

Pepita-Mexican Chocolate Cake with Candied Ancho Chile (Rick Bayless Recipe)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups plus 2 Tbs. sugar
  • 2 large ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch squares
  • 8 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, slightly softened, plus 1 Tbs. for greasing the pan
  • 1 3/4 cups toasted salted pumpkin seeds
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tbs. sugar of choice
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour (gluten-free all-purpose flour if desired…I add ½ teaspoon of xanthan gum or guar gum per cup of flour blend. )
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 Tbs. mezcal or tequila
  • 1/2 cup Mexican chocolate chopped into pea-sized pieces
  • Cocoa powder for dusting

Read the rest of the recipe on Rickbaless.com

Radish Leaves

Radish greens are another often-overlooked edible. They are slightly peppery and can be used in salads, soups, or sautéed like spinach. They are rich in vitamin C, calcium, and iron.

Beet Greens

Beet greens are not only edible but also highly nutritious. They can be used in the same way as spinach or chard. Beet greens are rich in vitamins A and K, calcium, and iron.

Dandelion Greens

Often considered a weed, dandelion greens are actually a powerhouse of nutrition. They are rich in vitamins A, C, and K, as well as calcium and iron. Use them in salads, soups, or sautéed.

Edible Flowers

Daylily buds can be a surprising addition to your meals. They are edible and can be sautéed, stir-fried, or used in soups. They have a slightly sweet, vegetable-like flavor. Any lily that is upward-facing is edible. The only caution is to make sure no herbicides or pesticides were used on or near the flowers. Do not use flowers that grow near roadsides or drainage ditches.

unconventional produce from the garden

Floral Jellies: Flowers You Can Turn Into Delicious Preserves

Floral jellies and jams are a delightful way to capture the essence of your garden in a jar. Many edible flowers can be transformed into these sweet preserves, adding unique flavors and aromas to your pantry. Here are some flowers that make excellent jellies and jams.

Rose Petals

Rose petals have a delicate, fragrant flavor that makes a beautiful and aromatic jelly. Use petals from pesticide-free roses to ensure they are safe to eat.

Lavender

Lavender’s floral and slightly sweet flavor makes a wonderful jelly. It pairs well with other fruits and herbs, adding a touch of elegance to your preserves.

Violet

Violets have a mild, sweet flavor and create a stunningly colored jelly. These small flowers are perfect for adding a hint of spring to your pantry.

Dandelion

Often considered a weed, dandelions can be used to make a honey-like jelly with a mild, sweet flavor. This is a great way to use those persistent garden invaders.

Elderflower

Elderflowers produce a fragrant and light jelly with a unique flavor. Make sure to use only the blossoms, as other parts of the plant can be toxic.

Hibiscus

Hibiscus flowers are known for their tart, cranberry-like flavor and vibrant red color. They make a bold and flavorful jelly.

Chamomile

Chamomile flowers can be used to make a calming, slightly sweet jelly. This jelly can be enjoyed on toast or as a soothing addition to tea.

Red Clover

Red clover flowers have a mild, sweet flavor and make a lovely pink jelly. They are also known for their potential health benefits.

Lilac Blossom

Lilac jelly has a delicate floral flavor and a lovely light purple hue, making it a unique and fragrant addition to your pantry.

Calendula

Calendula flowers have a mildly tangy, peppery flavor and can be used to make a unique and colorful jelly. They also have potential medicinal properties.

unconventional produce from the garden

    More Hidden Garden Treasures:

    Expanding on our previous list, here are ten more edible parts of common garden plants that you might not have considered. These hidden treasures can enhance your meals with new flavors and added nutrition.

    Cucumber Leaves

    Cucumber leaves are often overlooked but can be used like other leafy greens. They are tender when young and can be added to salads or stir-fries.

    Corn Silk

    Corn silk is typically discarded, but it can be dried and used to make a mild, slightly sweet tea. Corn silk tea is known for its potential health benefits, including supporting urinary health.

    Fennel Fronds

    The feathery fronds of the fennel plant are often discarded, but they have a delightful, mild anise flavor. Use them as a garnish, in salads, or to flavor soups and stews.

    Cauliflower Leaves

    Cauliflower leaves are edible and can be cooked similarly to kale or collard greens. They are rich in nutrients and can be sautéed, roasted, or added to soups.

    Cilantro Roots

    Cilantro roots have a more intense flavor than the leaves and are commonly used in Thai cuisine. Clean them thoroughly and use them to add a robust flavor to soups, curries, and marinades.

    Brussels Sprout Leaves

    The outer leaves of Brussels sprouts are edible and can be cooked similarly to other leafy greens. They are delicious when roasted, sautéed, or used in soups.

    Sunflower Petals

    Sunflower petals are edible and can add a splash of color to salads and other dishes. They have a slightly bittersweet flavor and can also be used to make tea.

    Kohlrabi Greens

    Kohlrabi is usually grown for its bulb, but the greens are also edible. They are similar in flavor and texture to collard greens and can be used in the same way, such as in soups, sautés, or salads.

    Conclusion

    Exploring the unconventional produce of your garden harvest can open up a new world of flavors and nutrition. By using these often-overlooked parts of plants, you can reduce waste and get more from your garden. Next time you’re out in the garden, take a second look at what you might be missing. Happy gardening and happy cooking!

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