Edgy edibles

Jean-Ann gets all sultry over vegetables.

Words & Pictures: Jean-Ann Van Krevelen

Vegetables are sexy.  There, I’ve said it. I don’t mean from a “vegetables are good for you and make you look sexy” standpoint.  I’m talking about sexy, sassy, edgy, rock and roll edibles…the kind that would make your mother nervous.

I came to this particular bit of enlightenment while gardening during one desperately hot summer in Oklahoma.  It was the first year I had grown an assortment of peppers.  In addition to my standard green bell and jalapenos, I added a broad variety of spicy, sweet and frying peppers to the mix.  I tried Thai Bird’s Eye, sweet red pimento, Cubanelle, and purple bell.  When I started harvesting, the green peppers just looked so boring in comparison to the riot of color and flavor present in their siblings.

Since then, I’ve gone out of my way to really push the envelope when it comes to selecting varieties.  I want something that will make me feel like an adoring fan at a rock concert, all big-eyed and drooling.  My thirst for excitement led me to grow cornichon, Dragon’s Tongue beans, ‘Hot and Spicy’ oregano, patchouli, and Walking Stick Kale.  The latter is a variety of kale that grows to eight feet and has a stalk hard enough to serve as, well, a walking stick.

If you are ready to throw caution to the wind and explore the broad palette of vegetables, here are a few of the favorites I’ve grown:

Peacock broccoli:  This broccoli/kale hybrid is my all-time favorite.  The leaves bear a similarity to the rough-and-tumble shape and purpley-green coloring of Red Russian kale. As the plant matures, it sends up small broccoli florets of the same color.  It is milder than broccoli…and oh, so yummy.

Dinosaur (Lacinato) kale:  And while we are on the subject of sexy, is there anything that could possibly compare to Dinosaur kale?  The pebbled, leathery looking leaves and the dusty, deep green color give the impression this plant doesn’t have to try to look good.  It just comes naturally.  And it tastes as good as it looks.

Red orach (Atriplex hortensis):  This lesser known, cool season, leafy vegetable is often grown because it is slower to bolt than other greens like spinach.  The leaves are a vibrant red with a mildly fuzzy texture.  Red Orach can grow to be 6 feet tall…a real attention-getter that will have all the girls swooning.

Purple tomatillos:  Be still my heart!  These lovely fruits are a deep, dark purple on the outside and luscious dark lavender on the inside.  The plants require far less care than tomatoes, and need less heat to fruit.  The flavor is fresh and crisp, making them a perfect ingredient for salsa.

Multi-colored carrots:  Why stare at a plain old orange carrot when you can be mesmerized by a kaleidoscope of colours?  This relative of Queen Anne’s Lace is harvested for its edible taproot, which can be pink, white, purple, red or yellow.  But if you are looking for a unique show of colour in the garden, let the colored varieties bloom.  The blossoms range from bright, fluffy white snowballs to maroon-infused flat-topped umbels.

Chillis come in so many shapes and sizes that it could be easier to find something strange and intriguing.  And there’s a thriving world of connoisseurs and obsessives already out there.  Definitely a good place to start your journey.

The world is full of easy-to-grow and easy-on-the-eyes edibles.  If you are already growing veggies, all it requires is a switch of varieties.  It’s just as easy to grow red celery and purple Brussels sprouts as it is to grow green.  Plus, your neighbors will think you are cool.