Gelatin — Powdered or Leaf?

I recently held a class featuring Italian Desserts. One of the dishes we made was Panna Cotta. This is a wonderful light and silky egg-less custard that relies on gelatin to set up. I like to use something called Leaf Gelatin rather than powdered gelatin. Since many of us have never seen or used leaf gelatin, I thought I would discuss it in this Cooking Tip.

Let’s start with what is gelatin. It is a thickening agent that causes food items to form a jelly-like substance. It is odorless, tasteless and colorless. It is pure protein derived from the connective tissues of animals. I will discuss vegetarian alternatives in a subsequent Cooking Tip.

There are two forms – powdered (aka granulated) and leaf (aka sheet). Although all powdered gelatin is the same, there are different strengths of leaf gelatin. There are four grades. From weakest to strongest, they are bronze, silver, gold and platinum. The sheet size is adjusted with the different strengths. The stronger gelatin has a smaller sheet size. This means that sheet-for-sheet, they will have similar setting properties. One sheet of gelatin will generally set around 100 ml (3.4 ounces) of liquid to a soft set. The most common in professional kitchens is the silver grade. It is also what I use and would be a good choice if you wish to try it.

Professional chefs like leaf gelatin because they think it results in a clearer and cleaner result. I find it gives the final product a smoother and silkier texture.

All gelatin needs to be rehydrated before using it. This is called “blooming” the gelatin. In the case of powdered gelatin, it is normally sprinkled over a bit of cold water or other liquid. If your recipe doesn’t specify how much liquid, use about ¼ cup liquid for every 2 teaspoons of powdered gelatin. After it sits for 5-10 minutes, the granules absorb the liquid and swell up. After that step, the gelatin is melted by stirring it into the hot liquid of your dish.

Another method that some recommend is to whisk the gelatin together with the sugar (or other dry ingredient) in your recipe before mixing it into the liquid. The supposed advantage of this is that mixing it with a dry ingredient separates the granules so they can rehydrate more evenly.

Leaf gelatin is hydrated by putting in a bowl and covering with cold water. Once the sheets are soft, they are squeezed to remove excess water and then added to your hot liquid.

Many ask how to substitute powered gelatin for leaf. There is much debate on this issue with recommendations varying between 3½ sheets to one envelope of powdered gelatin to as much as 5 leaves for one envelope. Since one envelope of Knox gelatin (the one we most commonly have in our pantries) contains about 2½ teaspoons of gelatin, you will often read to use 1 tablespoon of powdered gelatin for every four sheets of leaf gelatin as it is sort of an average. If you use a different brand of gelatin, you will need to measure to make sure you are using the proper amount.

Gelatin is a great ingredient but it does not work in all situations. It does not hold up well in an acidic environment. For setting gelatin, the ideal pH is between 4 and 10. Because of this, gelatin is not the best choice for a citrus dish as the pH will be less than 4 and it will not set.

Temperature is also another concern. If the temperature of your liquid is too high when you add the hydrated gelatin, it can interfere with the gelling ability. You do need to heat the liquid to about 120°F to ensure the gelatin is fully dissolved but you do not want to go over 140°F. So, let your hot liquid cool a bit before adding the gelatin.

For gelatin to set, it needs to cool to about 59°F and needs to be kept there for 6-10 hours. That is why many of these dishes recommend that you make them the day before or at least the morning of the day you are going to serve it.

Another temperature-related concern is that gelatin starts to melt at about 77°F and it will soften at temperatures below that. Keep this in mind when serving a gelatin-based dish so the texture is not compromised by too high of an ambient temperature.

Other inhibitors to proper gelation include salt, high alcohol content (above 40%) and proteolytic enzymes such as are found in fresh kiwi, papaya, pineapple, mango, peach, guava and fig. These enzymes, though, are inactivated by simmering. This means you can set a fruit-based dessert with gelatin but only if you first bring it to a simmer, not if you are trying to use fresh fruit juice.

If you are not someone who is on friendly terms with math, you may want to ignore the remainder of this Cooking Tip. For those of you who might want to create your own gelled dish without a recipe, there is some math that you need to know. You will also need a food scale as this is all based on weight, not volume.

You need to be aware of something called “Use Percentage”. This tells you how much gelatin you need to add to a certain amount of liquid to get a proper gel. For gelatin, the use percentage is 0.6% to 1.7% of the liquid’s weight. For example, if your liquid weighs 1000 grams, the amount of gelatin required would be between 6 (0.6%) and 17 (1.7%) grams. For ease of use, just take a number in the middle – 1% – and that will give you 10 grams of gelatin is required to gel 1000 grams of liquid.

Have you ever tried leaf gelatin? Let me know what you think of it. If you haven’t tried it and want to, you will most likely need to get it online. I use the product from ModernistPantry.com but there are others out there. Stay tuned for a discussion of vegetarian alternatives.

Berries – a Delight of Summer!

In today’s world, we can get fresh berries year-round in our supermarkets but isn’t there something special about enjoying them when they are in season – or even picked from your very own bushes? They just taste so much better. In this Cooking Tip, I would like to discuss some of these wonderful berries, including some less common ones, although the list will be far from complete.

Genus Rubus
These are berries that are composite fruits. Each single flower has from 50-150 ovaries and each ovary makes a separate small “fruitlet”. The most common of these are raspberries (black, golden, red) and blackberries although there are others, including hybrids. Some of these are dewberry, boysenberry, loganberry, marionberry, olallieberry, youngberry, cloudberry, salmonberry, tayberry and artic bramble. Because these berries have very thin skins and have one of the highest respiration rates of any fruit, they are very fragile and perishable.

Genus Vaccinium
Within this category are blueberries and cranberries. Others are huckleberry, bilberry and lingonberry.

Genus Ribes
Here we find currants (white, red, black) and gooseberries.

Genus Morus
Mulberries (black, red, white), another composite fruit, are in this category. I still remember picking and eating mulberries from a tree that grew near our home as a child. Messy but delicious.

Genus Fragaria
The ever-favorite strawberry is from this genus.

Genus Sambucus
This is where Elderberry and Barberries are found. The Elder plant is what produces elderberry. Before the berries, though, there are elderflowers. These are often preferred to the tart berry. They can be picked and made into elderflower cordial, a delightful summer beverage. The barberry is normally used as a landscaping shrub. The berries are very sour and require cooking with a sweetener to make them palatable.

Genus Melicoccus
Related to the honeysuckle, this fruit is known as honeyberry or mamoncillo.

Berries do not really ripen after picking. If you are growing your own, you can pick them at the height of ripeness. If you have a good farmer’s market, they may let you taste them before buying. If you are buying them in the store, it can be difficult to tell if they are ripe. Try to pick ones that are bright and deeply colored without soft spots. Once you get them home, look them over for any berries that are soft, mushy or going bad. Remove and discard them and keep the others covered in the refrigerator. To discourage spoilage, do not wash them until just before eating.

Apart from just eating out of hand, there are many other ways to use berries.

  • Baked items such as pies, tarts, cobblers, muffins or scones.
  • Jams & preserves – if you do not want to do all that is involved with preserving jam, try freezer jam. It tastes much fresher and more berry-like. It must, though, be kept in the freezer and not in your pantry.
  • Coulis – a wonderful fruit puree that is often made by cooking berries with sugar, water and a touch of lemon juice. Once cooked down and the taste is to your satisfaction, it can be stored as is. Or, it can be pureed and strained for a more sophisticated sauce. It can also be made without cooking by just pureeing the berries with sugar and lemon juice. This will give you a fresher taste.
  • Salads – sprinkle them fresh on your green salad with a bit of nuts and a cheese such as feta or goat and your salad is taken to a new level.
  • Salsas – fresh fruit salsas make a great accompaniment to seafood.
  • Ice cream/sherbets/sorbet – just sprinkle them on top of your bowl of ice cream or see this Cooking Tip for recommendations for adding berries to homemade ice cream.
  • Sauces – berries can be made into wonderful sauces for meat, especially pork or chicken.
  • Beverages – we all know about beverages such as raspberry lemonade but berries can be used in many other beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.
  • Soups – think of how impressed your guests would be if you served them a delightful, chilled berry soup.
  • Smoothies – a classic use for fresh berries.
  • Tiramisu – in the summer, why not ditch the coffee and chocolate and make a summer berry tiramisu instead.
  • Ice cubes – adding berries to ice cubes makes for a very attractive addition to your summer drinks.
  • Freeze for a future use – prepare the fruit by removing any leaves/stems. Rinse in a colander and lay on a kitchen towel to dry. Then, lay flat on a baking sheet covered in parchment or wax paper. Freeze the berries and pour the frozen berries into a freezer container to store.

    There is a school of thought that says not to rinse blueberries before freezing. Because rinsing will remove the natural waxy coating on their skins, they can spoil faster. They recommend rinsing only when you are going to use them.

Fresh berries are just one of the great delights of summer. Don’t miss them. Most of the places around here only sell blackberries, blueberries, strawberries and raspberries. That is why I am so thrilled my husband is also growing honeyberries, gooseberries, sea berries, aronia berries, elderberries and buffaloberries. If you live near me and want to try any of them, let me know!

Think out of the box when it comes to using berries. If you want recipes for anything particular that I mentioned, please let me know.

Tapioca — not just for pudding!

I was making some Cherry Almond sweet rolls and one of the ingredients listed was “tapioca flour”. I’m sure most of you have heard of “tapioca” and may even have some in your pantry. However, this recipe made me think that some of you possibly have not heard of the different forms and their uses. That is the subject of this Cooking Tip.

Tapioca is a pure starch extracted from the root of the cassava (yuca, manioc) plant. (Note that yucca is a different plant.) It comes in several forms – granules, flakes, pearls and flour (or starch). Because these products undergo dehydration in the production process, they must be soaked or boiled before consumption.

Let’s start with the tapioca flour form. Although probably not in most of our pantries, this can be found in many of our supermarkets. It is just the pure starch that has been extracted from the root of the cassava tuber. Tapioca flour is a very fine, white powder. It is different from “cassava flour” as that is made from the entire tuber that has been dried and ground. So, although it is in a flour form, it has different nutritional and cooking properties from tapioca flour.

This pure starch, tapioca flour, is a powerful thickener but it can become stringy if overcooked. To counter this, manufacturers process it into small balls or pearls.

Pearl tapioca is a product prepared by soaking tapioca flour and cooking and then shaping and drying into pearls. Pearl tapioca is used mainly to thicken puddings and pie fillings but is also what is used to make bubble or boba tea. Pearl tapioca comes in different sizes from small to very large. Pearls must be soaked before cooking. Pearls are probably going to be much harder to find in your stores although there are many online sources.

Minute tapioca is processed further. Other names include instant tapioca, quick tapioca, instant pearl tapioca, tapioca granules or granulated tapioca. The pearls are cracked or flaked and cooked again followed by drying. This results in a starch that is almost completely cooked. I liked the explanation that says comparing regular pearl tapioca to instant tapioca is like comparing regular rice to instant rice. Although not everyone agrees, you can process quick cooking tapioca in a blender until powdery to substitute for tapioca flour. If you want to use tapioca flour in place of instant tapioca, you should use 1½ tablespoons tapioca flour for each 1 tablespoon quick cooking pearls. Instant tapioca granules do not completely dissolve; they may linger in pie fillings as soft, clear beads. If you do not want this, be sure to grind them first or use the flour form.

What are the uses for tapioca?

It is often used in making desserts, especially the classic tapioca pudding. I have seen recipes that use regular, small tapioca pearls and others that use the instant variety.

The flour is used as a thickening agent for pies, gravies and sauces. It thickens at a lower temperature than most starches so it is ideal for delicate ingredients that don’t stand up to boiling. Also, it is useful as a last-minute fix for a sauce that is not thickening properly. It is said to stand up better to freezing and thawing than other thickeners. To thicken 1 cup of liquid, use 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon tapioca flour.

If you want to use tapioca instead of other starchy thickeners such as flour or cornstarch, realize that there are differences. Some of the advantages are that, as opposed to wheat flour, tapioca is neutral in taste and creates a clear sauce (not opaque). On the flip side, it quickly loses its thickening power under prolonged cooking. So, it is most often used in applications where it will be chilled, such as desserts. It reaches its full thickening power at 150°F rather than flour’s 185°F. That makes it great for fresh fruit fillings and sauces that will have minimal cooking.

If you wish to try it, use these substitution guidelines.

  • For cornstarch – Use 2 tablespoons tapioca flour for each 1 tablespoon cornstarch.
  • For AP flour in thickening – replace in a 1:1 ratio.

Many people who wish to stay away from gluten find tapioca flour a nice gluten-free alternative although it is often used in combination with other gluten-free flours. It helps in creating a crisp crust and chewy texture in gluten free baked goods.

One final word of caution – Raw cassava root and peel contain naturally occurring cyanogenic glucosides, which can be harmful when ingested. It must be processed to make it edible.

Do you have tapioca in your pantry? If so, which variety do you have? How do you use it? Let me know! Whereas it is not one of those ingredients I find essential in your kitchen, there are certainly some nice uses for it.

Homemade Ice Cream is so Special!

The weather has really warmed up here – with highs nearing 90°F. That is perfect weather for Ice Cream. Sure, there are a myriad of choices at the stores but why not make your own? Advice to help you make great homemade ice cream is the subject of this Cooking Tip.

The basic ingredients for ice cream are simple.

  • Cream
  • Milk
  • Sugar
  • Eggs (usually)
  • Flavorings (vanilla, chocolate, fruit, etc.)
  • Ice cream pro Andrew Hingston says his secret to great ice cream is skim milk powder. He claims the protein in the milk powder helps stabilize the ice cream emulsion without adding extra fat. It absorbs most of the extra water in the mixture. Your ice cream remains creamy in your freezer rather than icy and lasts for a few weeks rather than a few days.

There are many different styles of ice cream but we will just discuss a few. There are so many other styles such as gelato, semifreddo, sorbet, sherbet, etc. Due to space limitations, I will not include those in this Tip.

The Custard Style

This is also called “European” or “French” style ice cream and is the classic cooked ice cream. It is made just like any custard with dairy and eggs. The dairy is heated, it is tempered into the eggs/sugar and the mixture is cooked until it is thickened. If using a thermometer, heat it until it is between 165° and 180°F. Carefully watching the temperature, keep it in this range for about 10-15 minutes.

The Philadelphia-Style

This is also known as “New York” or “American” style ice cream and is made without eggs. It is made with just cream, sugar, and flavorings. Many recipes just have you mix the ingredients and proceed to churning. Others recommend heating the ingredients. Heating helps the sugar more fully dissolve, it helps with infusing flavor (if desired) as well as causing protein denaturing, leading to a better quality ice cream. This style of ice cream is delicate and smooth and allows the flavor of the cream to shine. It does, though, have less richness due to the absence of the eggs.

The Egg-Free Style

This base was made popular by Jeni Britton Bauer’s Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home. Like the name implies, this base skips the eggs (similar to Philadelphia-style), but relies on cornstarch as a thickener, along with a small amount of cream cheese for richness and smooth body.

The No-Churn Style

Unlike the other three bases, this one doesn’t require any cooking, nor does it require an ice cream maker. Sweetened condensed milk acts as the base. Then, cream is whipped and folded in to give you that light, airy texture.

There is a version that uses eggs rather than the canned milk that is recommended by Serious Eats. It does require a bit of cooking in that the eggs must be heated to make them safe to eat. It relies on whipping of this base as well as the cream but no churning.

The technique for making great ice cream is almost more important than the ingredients. At its most basic, ice cream is composed of ice crystals, concentrated sweetened cream and air cells that are trapped in the ice cream when it is churned. The ice crystals form when the water in the mixture freezes. The size of the crystals determines the texture of the ice cream. The smaller the crystals, the creamier the ice cream. Much of what you should be doing when making the ice cream is to minimize the development and size of ice crystals.

There are three necessary steps and two optional but recommended steps.

Preparing the base

  • The base is made up of at a minimum milk, cream and sugar. Sometimes there are also egg yolks, condensed milk, milk powders and/or other sweeteners.
  • A higher fat concentration results in more richness to a point. Too much fat will mean it will taste fatty, coat your mouth and not freeze well.
  • Milk is mostly water and thus can make your ice cream icier and harder. Milk is necessary to get the right balance of fat/dairy but don’t use too much.
  • Sugar improves the flavor and softens the ice cream. Too much and it won’t freeze at all and will taste too sweet.
  • Eggs – although it is possible to make ice cream without eggs, the eggs do play an important role. They make the ice cream denser, smoother and more custardy as well as decreasing the iciness. Eggs also improve the stability of the ice cream so it doesn’t melt as quickly. They also prolong the shelf life.

Prechilling

  • Once the base is finished, it should be refrigerated until it drops to 40°F. This means that the churning/freezing will be faster resulting in less ice crystals.

Aging (optional but recommended)

  • This will improve the body, texture and flavor. It helps trap air bubbles and results in a softer ice cream.
  • Allow it to rest in the refrigerator before churning for 4-12 hours with 6 hours being optimal.

Freezing

  • You want to freeze your chilled (and aged) base quickly while it is being churned to reduce the size of ice crystals. There is only so much you can do to control this with home ice cream freezers. That is why keeping everything as cold as possible is so important. As you churn, ice crystals form very quickly on the edge of the churning mixture. The agitation from the machine helps to distribute this. The fat coats the ice crystals. You want to keep churning and moving the mixture around so the air is worked in before putting the mixture in the freezer. As the air is incorporated, the mixture increases in volume – called overflow. This helps you to know when your ice cream is ready – it should have increased significantly in volume and should be the consistency of soft serve ice cream.

Hardening (optional)

  • After the churning is finished, it may be hard to resist not eating it right then but it is best to scoop it into a resealable container and freeze it for a few hours.

Fruit Swirls

Adding a fruit swirl to your ice cream is not as simple as just folding in fresh fruit. Because fruit is so full of water, if you add it plain to your ice cream, it will freeze solid. To prevent this, use either fruit jams or make a fresh fruit puree.

Making a fresh fruit puree by adding sugar and cooking the mixture is easy. The sugar lowers the freezing point and cooking reduces the water content. After prepping the fruit, put the fruit along with sugar and a splash of an acidic ingredient (such as lemon juice) in a pot and place over heat. A good ratio to start with is 8 ozs fruit, 1 oz lemon juice and 6 ozs sugar. Depending on how thick you want it, cook until about 4-5 ounces of water evaporates (a food scale will help you here) or until it reaches 220°-224°F. You may strain the syrup after cooking if desired.

To get a ripple effect, you want to layer. This also works for adding caramel or fudge. Start with a chilled long, wide container such as a loaf pan. Place a layer of ice cream on the bottom. Dollop your desired filling on top of that layer. Add another layer of ice cream and filling. Gently and quickly swirl the topping in and place in freezer as soon as you can.

Chunky add-ins

If you like ice cream that has chunks of nuts, chocolate, etc. in it, you may do this with your homemade ice cream. Go for between 2 & 4 ozs for one recipe. Chop them into the desired size and then put them in a sieve to shake out the dust that results from chopping. That will just taste gritty in your ice cream. Because ice cream is so temperature-sensitive, chill those add-ins in the freezer while the ice cream churns.

Chocolate

For a chocolate ice cream, use a combination of cocoa powder with very good quality chocolate. Cocoa powder helps to absorb the excess water although it doesn’t pack the flavor punch that good chocolate does. So, using both will give you the best result.

What if you want chocolate chips? You may certainly use purchased chocolate chips. However, they contain a stabilizer to help them maintain their shape. This means you will just end up with a waxy, frozen chip that doesn’t melt well in your mouth. You could chop up good quality chocolate and add it but as chocolate cools, it turns brittle and somewhat chalky.

A nice option is to shave small pieces of chocolate with a vegetable peeler. This will give you lighter flakes that will melt in your mouth.

You could also make what the Italians call straciatella, which means “shreds”. To obtain this, add a tiny bit of a neutral-flavored oil to your chocolate while it is melting – no more than one teaspoon for every two ounces of chocolate. In the last minute or two of churning, drizzle in this warm chocolate. This creates little threads and shards of chocolate that are delightful.

Homemade ice cream is such a wonderful treat during the summer. Do you have a favorite style or a favorite flavor? My husband loves Rocky Road and so, that is next on my To Do list!

Yogurt — Not just for Snacking

You might think yogurt is just for snacking but in this Cooking Tip, I want to show you how to use it in baking and/or cooking. My husband used to make his own yogurt and I loved it as I always had some nice & thick unflavored yogurt on hand to use whenever I wanted it. Sadly, he has moved on to other things and his yogurt maker now sits lonely on the shelf.

Yogurt is produced by inoculating milk with a bacterial strain that starts fermentation. This thickens the milk and gives it a sour flavor. The milk can be anywhere between skim and whole. Yogurt has become so popular that plain, unflavored yogurt is just a small minority of the yogurt offered in the store. Flavored yogurts are the mainstay in the dairy aisle. You will also find Greek and non-Greek yogurt as well as non-dairy options.

When it comes to using it as an ingredient, stick to plain, unflavored yogurt. Unless your recipe calls for something different, opt for full-fat yogurt. If you can’t find it, try 2%. If possible, stay away from non-fat as you won’t get the same creaminess. This is especially true if you are trying to substitute yogurt for a different dairy product. For example, if you are making a sauce that calls for heavy cream and you try to replace it with a low- or non-fat yogurt, it might result in a mess of a sauce. The fat content is necessary to coat the proteins in the cream. If you have less fat, there is less coating of the proteins and when heated, the proteins will join together and coagulate – not a pretty sight!

Similarly, if you are trying to thicken your sauce by the reduction method, low fat products are not recommended. Once again, there is not enough fat to coat the proteins and prevent coagulation. One work-around that is recommended is to add a bit of starch to replace some of the fat. For example, adding a bit of cornstarch to your low-fat dairy and the rest of the ingredients for your sauce. Or, just use a higher fat yogurt.

How can you use yogurt in your cooking? Here are a few ideas.

  • Sauces – adding a touch of yogurt to your pan sauce can add richness.
  • Toppings – top your bowl of chili or soup with a dollop. Do this just before serving.
  • Marinades – the enzymes in yogurt help break down proteins, which tenderizes meat and fish.
  • Mayonnaise – use yogurt instead of mayo in your chicken salad or creamy dressings.
  • Buttermilk – yogurt can be used in place of buttermilk. For every cup of buttermilk, mix 2/3 cup of yogurt with 1/3 cup of milk.
  • Sour cream – yogurt, especially Greek, can be substituted for sour cream. Cooks Illustrated cautions that with high heat preparations, the yogurt might break due to the lower fat content as compared to sour cream.

Here are a few tips for using yogurt in your recipes:

  • If adding to a hot mixture, temper it. Add a few tablespoons of the hot mixture into the yogurt first. This warms the yogurt and helps to prevent separation. Then you can stir that back into your hot mixture.
  • Stir/fold the yogurt in gently to help maintain a nice texture.
  • Add the yogurt in the final stages of cooking to maintain its thickness.
  • If your yogurt-based salad dressing or dip is not thick enough, a rest in the refrigerator for an hour should help.

If a recipe calls for Greek-style yogurt and all you have is regular yogurt, don’t despair. Put your regular yogurt into a fine-mesh strainer lined with a paper towel or coffee filter and place over a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to drain as long as you can, preferably overnight. You will be left with delightfully thick yogurt but you will also be left with the liquid that is drained off – the whey. Don’t throw that away as you can use it in your baking.

According to King Arthur Flour, whey can be used in place of water in yeast bread recipes as the yeast likes the acidity of the whey. It can also be used as a substitute for buttermilk. Since whey is thinner, they recommend to reduce the amount by about 20% to 25%, compared to the buttermilk. If the amount of buttermilk is less than ½ cup, don’t bother with the reduction. Use the same amount of whey as buttermilk.

If you want to use yogurt in your recipes for baked goods, realize that Greek yogurt is going to have less moisture than regular yogurt. Therefore, to ensure your baked goods such as muffins do not come out dry, you need to add a bit of water. If your recipe calls for 1 cup liquid, use 2/3 cup Greek yogurt and 1/3 cup water.

For a more complete chart for how to substitute yogurt for different dairy ingredients, see this chart produced by 100DaysofRealFood.com in conjunction with Stonyfield yogurts.

Do you like to use yogurt in your cooking and baking? Let me know how you use it and any advice you have for others. The next time you walk by the yogurt aisle, not only grab some for snacking but grab some also for cooking/baking. Have fun!

Chili Peppers — Heat or Flavor?

Have you noticed how everything today seems to be flavored with hot peppers? Each producer wants to outdo the other with how hot they can make their product. I must admit that I have a fondness for flavored potato chips. (Don’t tell anyone!) It used to be that you could get all sorts of interesting flavors. Today (sadly to me) it is all about being flavored with chilis and other ingredients that add hotness. This has certainly brought certain chili peppers into the everyday language of consumers and is the subject of this Cooking Tip.

The first thing to address is the word itself. Is it Chile, Chili or Chilli? It is often a matter of location. In American English, the preferred spelling is “chili” and it refers not only to the peppers but also to the delightful stew-like dish we all make. “Chilli” is the preferred spelling in British English whereas “chile” is the predominant spelling in Spanish-speaking countries.

Another interesting distinction is when you are referring to the ground powder. “Chili powder” generally means it is a mix of dried, ground chile peppers along with other spices. “Chile powder” should be solely dried chili peppers.

I do not know about you but I’m sure I vary how I spell the word without thinking about which is proper. In fact, I may alternate spellings within this Cooking Tip. If it is important to you, though, you now have the somewhat authoritative word on this subject.

I am much more interested in the different types of chili peppers, their heat level and their culinary uses.

The active ingredient in chili peppers is capsaicin. That amount that a plant contains depends on the genetic makeup of that plant but also on growing conditions and its ripeness. Higher temperatures and drought increase production of capsaicin. The amount of capsaicin increases until it begins to ripen when it starts to decline. It is maximum about the time that green fruit begins to change color.

Since those are items that you cannot control, what can you do to modulate the heat level in the dish you are making? Here are four factors that you can control.

  1. The variety of chili you use – if you want less heat, you can choose a chili that is known to have less capsaicin.
  2. The amount of chili you use – this is obvious but the more chili you use, the more capsaicin you will have in your dish.
  3. The presence or absence of the parts of the chili that contain the capsaicin – if you carefully remove the seeds and the membranes, you can decrease the amount of capsaicin you are left with.
  4. The length of time that the chili is in contact with the other ingredients – the longer the time, the hotter the dish.

Is there anything you can do to reduce the burn once you have ingested the capsaicin? Everyone has their own remedies but these are recommended although they are temporary measures.

  1. Ingest some dairy (not plant based). Dairy contains a protein that helps to break the bonds between the receptors in our mouths and the capsaicin and washes it away, like a detergent.
  2. Put something rough/solid into your mouth, such as a cracker or rice. The roughness distracts the nerves with a different type of signal.
  3. Take a spoonful of sugar. The sugar molecules bond well with the capsaicin.
  4. Wait it out. The pain caused by the capsaicin generally dissipates within 15 minutes.

Choosing which chilis are hotter depends on knowing a bit about the Scoville scale, which is a rating of pungency/heat level. The higher the pepper is on the scale, the hotter the pepper. The scale goes from zero for bell peppers to 15 million for pure capsaicin. A chili known as the Carolina Reaper was certified as the world’s hottest chili pepper by the Guinness World Records in 2017 at 2.2 million units. However, other peppers known as Dragon’s Breath (2.48 million units) and Pepper X (3.18 million units) claim they are hotter although their claims have not been certified. There are many charts you can find that list the ratings for different peppers but I like this compact one for easy use.

Which are the best peppers to have for your cooking? The following is far from a complete list of peppers but they are the ones that you are most likely to see in the supermarket. They are listed in order of heat level from lowest to highest.

Bell Peppers

These are zero on the Scoville chart, making them a great choice if you just want flavor without heat. These are part of the Cajun trinity (similar to mirepoix in French cooking) and are the base for Creole cooking. They add flavor, crunch and color (green, yellow, red, purple) when served raw on a salad or as part of a veggie tray. They are a great shape/size for making stuffed peppers. Roasting them adds some smokiness. One of my favorite pizza sauces is just puréed roasted red bell peppers.

Anaheim Pepper

This long pepper is also known as a California green chile or a New Mexican chile. The peppers originated in New Mexico, where they are still grown in different versions. They arrived in the city of Anaheim in southern California in 1894 and began to be grown commercially and thereby gaining its name. If grown in the Hatch region of New Mexico, it is known as a Hatch Chili Pepper. This pepper starts out green and turns red when mature. The Scoville rating is from 500-2500. They are very popular in salsas and southwestern dishes.

Poblano Peppers

This pepper is low on the Scoville scale (1000-2000 units) and is used greatly in southwestern cuisines. In dried form, they are called Ancho Chilis. They are fairly large in size and dark green in color until they fully ripen when they turn red. At that point, their hotness level increases. Green poblanos are very flavorful without burning. Think of chili relleno.

One caution about looking for poblano peppers in the store. Many stores mislabel them as Pasilla. In reality, pasilla peppers are the dried form of the Chilaca chile. I am really not sure as they look nothing alike although some say it is because the pasilla pepper looks similar to the dried poblano, the ancho chili.

Jalapeño Peppers

Other than bell peppers, this must be the most known and commonly used chili pepper in the US. It carries a Scoville rating of 3,500 to 8,000 units. We normally see it in its green form but it will turn red when it takes on a slightly fruity flavor. When dried, a jalapeño is called a chipotle. Jalapeños are used in many dishes but are most commonly used in salsas and sauces.

Fresno Pepper

Similar in appearance to a jalapeno, it is higher on the Scoville scale at 2500-10,000 units. In addition to the increased heat level, it also has more fruitiness than the jalapeno. Also like the jalapeno, they are great in salsas and hot sauces.

Serrano Pepper

Serranos are only a couple of inches long, with a tapered end. They are usually found in our stores in a green state but when ripe, they are red or yellowish-orange. It is a very spicy pepper rating between 6,000 and 23,000 on the Scoville scale. It is also said that the smaller the pepper, the hotter it is. These are used where you want a bit more heat, especially in Mexican and Thai cooking.

Cayenne Pepper

This little chili is slender and tapered. In our stores, you are more likely to find it in its dried, ground form—known as ground red pepper or just cayenne pepper. It is often also found in spice mixtures such as some chili powders. It is spicy with a rating of between 30,000 and 50,000 units. Use sparingly in any dish you want a bit of heat.

Thai Pepper

Thai peppers are spicy chili peppers with a wide range of heat – from 50,000 – 100,000. Although in our stores we will probably just see something called “Thai chili peppers”, there are many different varieties. What they all have in common is that they are small in size but high in heat.

Habañero Pepper

Having become popular in recent years, this pepper is now easier to find in the stores. It should be used with care, though, as it rates between 150,000 to 350,000. It is small and bulbous and has a fruity flavor underneath the heat. They are often used to make hot sauces.

As I mentioned, there are so many different chili peppers that it impossible to mention all of them in this Cooking Tip. Being able to recognize the above, where they fit on the heat level and how to use them will help you to harness the power and flavor of Chili Peppers!

Cooking Ratios

I hope you enjoyed my series of Cook Without a Recipe and that you have used some of the information in your own kitchen. In this Cooking Tip, I want to tell you about something else that might help you to be confident in your cooking/baking without pulling out a recipe. That is the concept of Cooking with Ratios.
 
Ratios help you know the proportion of different ingredients you need to achieve a particular result. For example, in culinary school, I was taught that a great pie crust had a 3-2-1 ratio: three parts flour, two parts fat and one part water. Not every pie crust recipe you see will have the same ratio but I suspect they will be close. Plus, if you have a need to make a pie crust, this ratio (along with good technique) will enable you to turn out a great crust without resorting to a recipe.
 
Let’s discuss some other different ratios that you may find helpful. One caveat – most ratios are described in terms of “parts”. These are generally described as a weight. For example, with pie crust, one part is 4 ounces, 2 parts is 8 oz and 3 parts is 12 oz. Note that they are not described in cups. I have said this before but I want to once again encourage you to invest in a good food scale. It is just as quick (if not quicker) than using measuring cups and it is much more accurate.
 
Following are a few other ratios to commit to memory. If you are baking, I wouldn’t stray too far from the recommended ratio. However, with non-baked items, use the ratio as a starting point and then personalize it from there. I will just discuss ratios for some common items. For much more detail and more ratios, see the excellent book Ratio by Michael Ruhlman. The cover of this book has a compilation of the ratios in a circular pattern that you might find helpful. You can even print it from this link. If you would like this info in more of a typical chart form, email me and I will send you two different formats.
 
Different sources list their ratios differently. I will use the format used by Michael Ruhlman. That is that the ratios are listed in the order that the ingredients are combined. So, in the 3:2:1 pie dough, you start with the 3 parts flour, add in the 2 parts fat and then the 1 part water.
 
Vinaigrettes – 1:3 (1 part acid to 3 parts oil)
I discussed vinaigrettes in more detail in Part 3 of my Cook Without a Recipe series. If you are just starting out making your own vinaigrettes, start with this ratio of 3 parts oil to 1 part acid. From there, make it your own by varying the acid you use and adding other ingredients such as shallots, mustard, herbs, and/or spices. After you master that, feel free to alter the oil:acid ratio.
 
Stock – 3:2 (3 parts water to 2 parts bone)
Have you ventured into the world of homemade stock, yet? Although it takes time, it is not difficult at all. Just use the ratio of 3 parts water to 2 parts bone. You will also need to think about aromatics and spices along with the fact that different stocks have a different simmering time but 3:2 water to bone will get you started.
 
Bread – 5:3 (5 parts flour to 3 parts water)
There are an unbelievable number of bread recipes out there along with numerous cookbooks dedicated to making bread. However, you can make great bread by following the ratio of 5 parts flour to 3 parts liquid, with the addition of a pinch of salt and some leavening. This is a perfect example where doing this ratio by weight is so much better than volume.
 
I have a recipe from King Arthur Flour for their Classic White Sandwich Bread. In volume measurements, it calls for 4 cups flour and 1½ cups water. This is far different than the 5:3 recommended ratio. However, if done by weight, the 4 cups of flour weighs about 480 grams and the water weights about 340 grams. If you do the math, this is very close to the 5:3 ratio.
 
Pancakes – 2:2:1:½ (2 parts flour to 2 parts liquid to 1 part egg to ½ part butter)
Start with this ratio and then make it your own by altering the type of flour, liquid and fat as well as additional add-ins.
 
Pound or Sponge Cake – 1:1:1:1
How easy is that ratio? How you handle these ingredients and in what order will make a difference in the outcome. For example, for pound cake, it is 1 part butter to 1 part sugar to 1 part egg to one part flour. For a sponge cake, the order is 1 part egg to 1 part sugar to 1 part flour to 1 part butter.
 
Cookies – 1:2:3 (1 part sugar to 2 parts fat to 3 parts flour)
The ratio of 1 part sugar to 2 parts fat to 3 parts flour will give you a nice sugar cookie. However, many recipes for other types of cookies vary from this significantly.
 
Biscuits – 3:1:2 (3 parts flour to 1 part fat to 2 parts liquid)
This ratio looks similar to the pie dough one but the difference is that the parts of fat & liquid are reversed.
 
Custard – 2:1 (2 parts liquid to 1 part egg)
For many people, making a custard sounds difficult but it couldn’t be simpler, especially when you remember the ratio of 2 parts dairy and 1 part egg. This will make a classic quiche filling but you can make it your own by other ingredients you may choose to add.
 
Muffins – 2:2:1:1 (2 parts flour to 2 parts liquid to 1 part egg to 1 part butter)
You can make any muffin by using the ratio of 2 parts flour to 2 parts liquid to 1 part eggs to 1 part fat. Let your imagination take over after that to create your one-of-a-kind muffin.
 
Pasta – 3:2 (3 parts flour to 2 parts egg)
Making your own pasta dough is as simple as combining 3 parts flour to 2 parts egg. In culinary school, I was taught to use 1 egg to 1 cup flour. You might be saying, “Isn’t that a 1:1 ratio?” No, it isn’t when you once again realize that ratios are based on weight, not volume. That culinary school ratio is actually about 2:1 by weight, closer to the recommended 3:2. Then, I realized that in culinary school, we never used all of that 1 cup of flour. It was just a starting point and we ended up using somewhat less to get the desired dough. That made it much closer to the 3:2 ratio.
 
It is great to know these ratios but, they tell you very little about technique, other than the order to add ingredients. However, once you get the technique down and memorize the ratios, this can not only be freeing but a lot of fun. Let me know if you try it!

Fresh Herbs – A Cook’s Best Friend

It’s that time of the year when many of us cooks get excited because we can have all sorts of fresh herbs growing in our garden that we can snip and use in so many ways. Nowadays, you can buy fresh herbs of many varieties year round but it is so nice to have a personal garden with beautiful and flavorful herbs growing. Right now, our herb garden is growing tarragon, chives, sage, rosemary, basil, thyme, oregano, chamomile, mint, borage & parsley. In this Cooking Tip, I would like to talk about how to get the best out of these fresh herbs. I did write a prior Cooking Tip on storing fresh herbs. If you would like to receive that Tip, just let me know. I will also be teaching a Cooking with Herbs class for Hudson Gardens on Saturday, June 13. My class will be preceded by a Growing Herbs session taught by a member of the Hudson Gardens staff. Join us there as we will be making and tasting many different dishes where herbs are the main star.

Why use fresh herbs? They can take a plain dish to an extraordinary dish. They can add flavor, color & even just a tiny bit of texture. There are no absolute rules for using fresh herbs but there are some recommendations that will help you use them to their best potential.

If you do grow your own, cut them in the morning after the dew has dried. It is at that time that they are the most aromatic and flavorful. Prepare them as your recipe indicates. It is good to use either a sharp knife or kitchen scissors to cut the herbs to prevent excessive cell wall breakage.

For more robust herbs such as rosemary, oregano & thyme, you can add them at any point in the cooking. They do well in longer cooking dishes such as stews. For the more delicate herbs such as basil, parsley and chives, add them at the very end of the cooking process to preserve their color, flavor & aroma.

For most herbs, you are just going to use the leaves. However, for some herbs such as cilantro and parsley, the stems contain quite a bit of flavor and are tender enough that they can be chopped up with the leaves.

Here are some recommendations for using specific herbs. For a fairly complete chart of when/how to use various herbs, see this link.

Basil

  • Varieties – the most common in our herb gardens is Italian basil, which is used in making Genovese Pesto. Other varieties are Thai basil, cinnamon basil, lemon basil and purple basil.
  • Flavor – sweet, floral & slightly peppery.
  • Typical uses — Tomato dishes/sauces, light pasta dishes, summer veggies.

Chives

  • This herb is in the onion family.
  • Flavor – an herbal, green taste with onion overtones.
  • Typical uses – egg dishes, potato dishes or as a pretty garnish on many savory plates.

Cilantro

  • This herb is also known as coriander leaf. There are some people who claim it tastes “soapy”, something that is related to that person’s genetic makeup.
  • Flavor – it adds a bright and citrusy zing to dishes.
  • Typical uses – Latin American and Asian cooking.

Dill

  • Flavor – this is a tangy & grassy herb.
  • Typical uses – it is ideal for poultry or seafood & pairs great with lemon & yogurt.

Marjoram

  • Flavor – has a grassy but slightly sweet flavor.
  • Typical uses – it works well in soups, risottos and dressings & pairs well with chicken, fish and tofu.

Mint

  • Varieties – most common are spearmint and peppermint but you might also want to check out chocolate, pineapple, apple and mojito mint. One of my favorites sold by my local nursery is Candy Peppermint. It tastes just like its name.
  • Flavor – adds a refreshing & cooling flavor.
  • Typical uses – most commonly used in sweet dishes but, can also be used in savory dishes. It is wonderful with fresh fruit or in summer beverages.

Oregano

  • Varieties – there is a Greek and Mexican oregano.
  • Flavor – the Greek variety is pungent and peppery. The Mexican variety has a stronger, more earthy flavor with a citrus note.
  • Typical uses – the Green variety is classically used in Italian sauces and dressings. The Mexican oregano pairs well with southwestern dishes.

Parsley

  • Varieties – along with basil, this is one of the most used and enjoyed herb. In stores, you often find only curly parsley but you should try to find (or grow) Italian flat-leaf parsley as it is more flavorful.
  • Flavor – is mild and subtle while adding freshness.
  • Typical uses – often used as a garnish on many dishes, especially poultry and seafood but is also used in making stock. Try it with pasta, eggs, potatoes or lemony dishes. It is also a very prominent ingredient in tabbouleh.

Rosemary

  • Flavor – this is a robust and sturdy herb that has an almost pungent flavor.
  • Typical uses – great with heartier dishes such as lamb, pork or roasted vegetables.

Sage

  • Flavor – this is a woodsy –flavored herb that is fairly distinctive.
  • Typical uses – does great in stuffings, soups, risottos and really shines in a brown butter sauce. It also pairs well with game meats, poultry & root vegetables.

Tarragon

  • Flavor – this is a very aromatic herb with a peppery and licorice-like flavor.
  • Typical uses – often used in egg dishes, salad dressings and as a garnish.

Thyme

  • Varieties – this is a classic herb in French cooking with leaves that are very aromatic. There is both a common thyme as well as lemon thyme.
  • Flavor – spicy with notes of cloves & mint. The lemon variety adds a citrus note.
  • Typical uses – it can be used in so many ways including meat dishes, soups, stews & sauces. It can also be added to breads and desserts.

Although I am mostly talking about fresh herbs in this Tip, I have just a bit to say about dried herbs. Fresh herbs give just that – freshness – to a dish. When an herb is dried, it loses that freshness and has a more concentrated flavor that can be very different than its fresh counterpart. When substituting one for the other, use only ⅓ to ½ as much of the dried form as the fresh herb.

Those delicate herbs such as basil, parsley and chives tend to taste better fresh Tougher herbs such as rosemary, oregano and thyme can do very well in either fresh or dried forms.

Fresh herbs are a cook’s best friend and can add so much to a dish. Whether you grow your own or not, they should be a part of your culinary arsenal!

Can you wash away pesticides?

We all know we should be eating more fresh produce because of the nutrient and fiber content. We do, though, want to make sure that the produce is thoroughly cleaned. In a prior Cooking Tip, I discussed how to clean produce to ensure that dirt & pathogens are removed. If you didn’t receive it and wish to read it, email me and I will send it to you. I also wrote a separate Cooking Tip on the pros/cons of buying organic. Here is a link to that Tip. In this Cooking Tip, I wish to discuss removing pesticides from produce.

The normal cleaning of our produce when we bring it home from the store is to eliminate dirt and pathogens, not pesticides. Removing the latter requires a different approach. A recent study from researchers at University of Massachusetts recommends soaking produce in a solution of baking soda and water. That study involved apples and, after treating the apples with pesticides, they then tried three methods of cleaning them. One method was soaking the apples in a baking soda solution for two minutes. The second was a two minute soak in a bleach solution that is used in commercial operations. The third was using just plain water.

The two minute soak in a baking soda solution removed more pesticide than the other two methods. However, to completely remove the pesticides took a soak of 12-15 minutes. The researchers also cautioned that they only looked at two different pesticides and results may vary with other pesticides and methods of application.

Cooks Illustrated decided to put this method to the test. They used pesticide-detection cards and tested grapes. They again tested different methods: a 15 minute soak in a baking soda solution, a 30-second swish in the baking soda solution, rinsing under running cold water and soaking in a vinegar solution. They found that the only two methods that worked to reduce pesticides were a quick swirl and a longer soak in the baking soda solution. Their conclusion was to make a solution of 2 teaspoons baking soda per 1 quart of water and swirl your produce in that for 30 seconds followed by a rinse under cold running water. They also caution that this will only work for certain classes of pesticides. They note that spray pesticides or those applied to the roots cannot be removed with this method.

I encourage all of you to eat as much fresh produce as you can. We have a mixed green salad with chopped veggies on it almost every night. We also put fresh greens on sandwiches as well as using fresh produce in many different recipes. Just do what it takes to ensure the produce is clean and safe to eat. Between this Cooking Tip and the prior ones I wrote, you should have all the information you need to do just that!

Unusual Vegetables

I have written a fair amount about fresh produce in prior Cooking Tips. Now, I would like to talk to you about what some people might call “Unusual” vegetables. They are only unusual in that many people either do not know what they are or have never tasted them before. In this Cooking Tip, I hope to encourage you to seek them out and give them a try.

Fennel

This is a crunchy veggie with a refreshing and complex flavor. Because it is often mislabeled “sweet anise”, many people shy away expecting it to taste like licorice. However, the flavor is sweeter and more delicate than anise and when cooked, becomes even lighter. Fennel is not anise. They are unrelated plants. One large difference is that the entire fennel plant is edible but only the seeds of the anise plant are edible.

There are two types of fennel. The one I am discussing is called “Florence Fennel” or “Finocchio”. It is cultivated in the Mediterranean, and has a broad, bulbous base with wispy fronds. (Fennel pollen is the golden powder taken from blooming fennel flowers.)

The other kind of fennel is common fennel. This is where we get fennel seeds. The plant does not have a bulb. Rather, the stems and greenery are used just as with the Florence variety and is considered more of an herb rather than a veggie.

To prepare it, cut off the stalks and trim a thin slice from the base of the bulb. Halve it from top to bottom, through the root end. Cut out and discard the triangular piece of core in each half. Peel off and discard any outer, wilted layers. Now, you may cut each half in half again and then slice crosswise. You may also use a mandoline to get very thin, shaved slices. The fronds may be chopped and sprinkled as a garnish. It may be eaten raw or cooked.

Fennel is freshest from late fall to early spring. Look for firm, tightly packed bulbs with fresh, unwilted fronds. Avoid any with bruises or brown spots. After purchasing, it can be refrigerated in a plastic bag for up to 5 days

Kohlrabi

This is a version of the basic cabbage plant in which the main stem swells to several inches in diameter. It is a member of the turnip family. In fact, the name comes from the German for “cabbage turnip”.

There are two varieties: Green & Purple. The green version has a pale green bulb and green leaves with light green veining whereas the purple has a purple root, stems and purple veining on green leaves. Both varieties have a creamy white flesh. One source says its flavor is reminiscent of a “sassy-sweet blend of mild broccoli and celery root”.

Both the bulb-like stem and the greens are edible. Young kohlrabi are tender enough to eat raw or cooked briefly. The leaves or stems are also edible and can be used in sautés and stir-fries. The leaves are said to have a flavor similar to collard greens. Kohlrabi is most often sold without leaves. If the leaves are still attached, separate the bulb from the leaves. The bulb should be peeled and sliced prior to being consumed. The smaller bulbs won’t need to be peeled, while the larger bulbs tend to have less flavor, with a thicker, chewy peel.

It can be sliced or shredded and tossed in your salad in its raw form, where it will add a fresh, crisp texture with a sweet yet mild peppery bite similar to a radish. It can also be roasted, stir fried or added to a soup or stew. The greens may be cooked just as you would kale, turnip, or beet greens with just a quick sauté.

To prepare it, cut off the stems and any leaves. Cut it in half down through its center and slice into quarters. Use the tip of your knife to cut at an angle through the core and discard it. Using a sharp vegetable peeler, peel off any tough skin. At this point, slice off the top and then slice the quarters into your desired size. For thinner slices, a mandoline may be used.

Choose a kohlrabi that is heavy for its size but no wider than 3 inches. The green leaves should be firm and deeply colored. Avoid soft spots with yellowing leaves. When stored properly in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator, kohlrabi can last for weeks. The leaves can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.

Rutabaga

Rutabagas are also known as Swedes and they are a root vegetable that’s related to both the cabbage and the turnip. Some people confuse rutabagas with turnips. They are related, but rutabagas are generally larger, have a more yellowish flesh and are more mild tasting. They are also denser than turnips and will require a longer cooking time.

Due to being related to both turnips and cabbage, they share flavor characteristics. They can have the peppery, bitter bite of turnips but can also be creamy and sweet if roasted.

Cooking them is easy. They can be cooked until tender and then added to mashed potatoes. They may also be roasted or pureed into a soup.

It is recommended to choose smaller roots (under 5 inches in diameter) to ensure they’re tender. Avoid cracks, bruises, soft spots, or wrinkles. Rutabagas are freshest in the late fall and winter. They may be white or yellow.

As many rutabagas are sold waxed, be sure to scrub the outside before peeling it. Then, just cut into your desired shape.

Pick out rutabagas that are firm, smooth and heavy for their size. They can be refrigerated in a plastic bag for 2 weeks.

Parsnip

Although parsnips look like carrots and are related to them, they are a different root vegetable. They can be eaten raw although they are usually cooked.

Some chefs recommend only giving them a thorough scrubbing rather than peeling as they say most of the flavor is right below the skin. The larger ones have a woody core. I like to cut this out although Cooks Illustrated finds this to be unnecessary if you are going to puree them rather than another application such as roasting. Popular ways of using parsnips include mashing, baking, broiling or pureeing them into a soup.

They are at their peak from fall through early spring. They accumulate more starch than carrots but then they convert it to sugar when exposed to cold temps. This results in the winter roots being sweeter than autumn roots.

Look for ones that are small to medium in size with an ivory color and a firm texture. Avoid any that are soft, shriveled or blemished.

Experts say you can store them in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks although I find they don’t last quite that long.

Celery root

Also known as celeriac, this is another root vegetable that has a crisp & firm texture. Its roots project from a knobby surface that requires deep peeling.

It tastes somewhat like celery because it has similar aromatic compounds as celery but the flavor sweetens with cooking. It can be grated or cut into fine matchsticks and added to a salad but it really shines when made into a mash (either on its own or in combination with other veggies), baked or roasted.

Choose small, firm ones with a minimum of knobs. They are not the easiest to peel and you may find that a knife works better than a veggie peeler.

It can be refrigerated in a plastic bag for 7-10 days

There are other even more unusual vegetables. These, though, are ones that you can probably find in your grocery store. If you haven’t tried them, I encourage you to do so. You may just find a new favorite veggie!