Feeling like you want to break out of your vegetable mold? Winter farmers markets offer more variety than ever these days, thanks to innovative farmers and shopper demand, but this end-of-winter season can still start to feel like a sea of winter greens and radishes.
But if you were looking closely, you might have noticed a few less common items on market tables in the past few weeks.
Salsify is a rare market find, but available now from Ten Mile Farm at ASAP Farmers Market. There are both black and white types, but the kind from Ten Mile is white and looks like a hairier version of a parsnip or carrot. Some people find its flavor reminiscent of oysters, giving it its alternate name, oyster plant. Others liken it more to artichoke heart or asparagus. It can be a bit finicky to clean and prep for cooking as it exudes a sticky substance that coats your fingers as you peel it and the white flesh will begin browning immediately. Placing the peeled pieces in water with lemon helps.
You can cook salsify in almost any way you might cook a root vegetable, including oven roasting or boiling until tender and pureeing for a soup or a sauce. We particularly like it sautéed, served with mushrooms and hearty grains like farro or barley. To do this, cut salsify into one or two-inch lengths and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until tender. Drain, then sauté in butter or olive oil until golden. Combine with sautéed mushrooms and cooked grains and top with chopped parsley or other herbs. (Get a variety of mushrooms from Asheville Fungi at ASAP Farmers Market or from Black Trumpet Farm at both the ASAP and River Arts District farmers markets.)
Sunchokes are another not-so-common root vegetable available right now from Wildwood Herbal at ASAP Farmers Market. These knobby tubers look a little like ginger or turmeric, but are part of the sunflower family. Some find their flavor similar to artichokes, and they also go by Jerusalem artichokes. (There is no actual relation to Jerusalem, which is probably an Anglicized version of girasole, Italian for sunflower.) We think they taste like nuttier, sweeter potatoes, especially when roasted.
You need to scrub sunchokes well under running water, because soil hides in their many crevices. You don’t need to peel them. Slice them in half and toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper, or add herbs if you want (rosemary is especially nice). Spread them on a sheet tray in a single layer with the cut side down. Roast in a 375-degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until sunchokes are carmelized on the outside and creamy on the inside.
In addition to greens, lettuces, apples, carrots, turnips, and other produce, winter farmers markets have meat, fish, bread, rice, prepared foods, fermented products, baked treats, and much more. Farmers tailgate markets take place throughout the region, even in the winter. You can find information about farms, tailgate markets, and farm stands, including locations and hours, by visiting ASAP’s online Local Food Guide.
Prepared by Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project.