What in the world? 4 strange but healthy foods

We live in an age when pizza gets to your home before the police.
– Jeff Marder, Californian comedian

Can you believe it?  The most-searched word in Google’s food category is pizza.

Just a hunch – I doubt many of the 55 million people who googled “pizza” were wanting a healthy recipe for home-made pizza.

Just to counter that pizza craze, today I’m featuring 4 unusual fresh foods with sort-of-healthy recipes.

Celebrity fetishes that might surprise you

1.  Tom Hanks can’t get enough of old-fashioned typewriters.

2.  Johnny Depp collects Barbie dolls.

Moving away from celebrities, I get excited about oddball fruit and vegetables.  

I’m at my most cheerful when returning from the Sydney Markets with peculiar produce in tow.

Oddball food #1: Kale

Kale has been touted as a superfood packed with vitamins and minerals – a bit like its relative, broccoli, except with ruffled leaves instead of florets.


If curly parsley is Dr Bruce Banner, then kale is the Incredible Hulk – bigger, firmer, greener and with much more body.

Shop like a pro:
~ I scored a great price of A$3 for the pictured bunch from the Sydney Markets.  It’s usually around $5.
~ Avoid kale that is yellow or flaccid, or that has blackened edges.  Fresh kale is turgid and a vivid green.

Kale’s stiff, ruffled leaves with their expansive surface beg to be crisped up as kale chips.

Healthy eating websites implore you to steam it for maximum goodness.  But chips are more fun to eat, wouldn’t you agree?

Prep like a pro:  Remove the tough stem before cooking.  You can thinly slice the stem and add it to your next stir-fry.

Cook like a pro: 
~ Toss kale in olive oil, sprinkle with salt and bung it in a hot oven (at least 200 deg C).
~ Watch out.  Those ruffled edges brown quickly.
~ Keep a close watch and flip the pieces.  Don’t let your kale end up like Madoff’s Ponzi scheme investors: burnt and bitter.

Below: Uncooked kale tossed in oil and salt.

kale chips

Kale chips are even crunchier than potato crisps, and they’re not even deep-fried!  The edges crumble at the slightest touch.  They taste like grilled Korean seaweed, but with a trace of bitterness that separates the adults from the kids.

Below: Crisp kale chips

kale crisps

Oddball food #2: Shark fin melon

Some foods undergo a marvelous transformation when cooked.  Such as quince: pale when raw, brilliant ruby red when cooked.

quince →   Quince recipe 1

For an equally dramatic transformation in texture instead of colour, get thee a shark fin melon.

A raw shark fin melon looks like any other gourd or melon, with insipid white flesh and seeds.

sharks' fin gourd     sharks fin melon

But cook it, and its strands will emerge like noodles…or like sharks’ fins.

Hardcore carboh-phobics will love this!  It’s like eating soupy noodles, except you’re eating veggies.

sharks fin melon soup

Shop like a pro:  I bought mine for $1.50/kg, but anything around the $2 mark is good value for money.

Prep like a pro:  Remove the skin and hard, black seeds.  Cut the gourd into big pieces so that you get long strands after cooking.

sharks fin melon brothCook like a pro:
~ Shark fin melons are bland, perfect for soaking up flavours from sauces or soups.
~ My favourite recipe is to have it in a clear broth, using chicken stock, garlic, ginger, peppercorns, carrots, and salted duck eggs.
~ Vegetarian alternative:  Use a vegetable stock made by boiling celery leaves, onions, carrots and garlic.
~ The master touch – for a rich nuance, add garlic oil just before serving.  (See the golden bits of garlic in the picture?)

Oddball food #3: Parsnips

In another inconsequential bit of trivia, Aussie celebrity gardener Don Burke abhors parsnips.  But I join Aussie food queen Donna Hay in being a card-carrying fan of parsnips, the ivory cousin of carrots.

I love their sweet, earthy, almost herbaceous flavour and that noodley, long root.  (Here we go again, veggies masquerading as noodles.)

parsnipsBuy like a pro: 
~ Small parsnips are sweeter and less fibrous than large ones.
~ Expect to pay up to $8/kg, but I was lucky enough to nab a bag of perfectly fresh little ones for $4/kg.

baked parsnipsCook like a pro:
~ For a nuttier and higher-fibre accompaniment to roasted meats, boil and mash parsnips like you would mash potatoes.
~ Here’s a kitchen secret: Instead of tossing parsnips in the standard oil/salt/pepper mix, use mayonnaise.
~ Recipe for Very More-ish Grilled Mayonnaise Parsnip Chips:  Mix 2 dessert spoons of mayo with 1 kg of peeled and cut parsnips.  Add freshly ground pepper (no salt needed).  Grill on high until golden, turning once or twice for even caramelisation.  The best bits are the crisped, whiskery roots!

parsnipsOddball food #4: Two citrus fruit with knob tops

Knob-topped Specimen No.1: The tangelo, love child of a grapefruit and a mandarin.

tangeloLusciously juicy with a sharp tang – possibly the reason it was named tangelo.  But the growers may have done some tinkering, because tangelos in recent years are becoming sweeter.

Knob-topped Specimen No.2: The sumo mandarin, Japanese-conceived love child of a mandarin and a California navel orange.

If the tangelo is a smooth-skinned frog, the evocatively named sumo mandarin would be a rough-skinned, warty toad.

Below: The tangelo looks like Cinderella next to the sumo mandarin.

TangeloAndSumoMy local supermarket was selling sumo mandos for A$7/kg.  That’s a bargain if you’re Japanese and used to paying that sum for just one sumo mandarin.

SumoMandarinNo object is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly. – Oscar Wilde

Heh, the sumo mandarin manages to look ugly even without the help of Mr Wilde’s “certain conditions”.  That won’t stop me from eating it; I have nothing against fruit with a bad complexion.  Step right up, durian and rambutan!

durian malaysia singapore fruit produceDuriansrambutan malaysia singapore fruit produce

Marketed as a “taste sensation” that has taken 30 years to develop, the sumo mandarin is meant to possess a host of laudable qualities: sweet as a Vitamin C tablet, seedless, easy to peel.

Yes, I can vouch for all that: I savoured two in quick succession (having spied them in said supermarket’s bargain bin, days after the first sighting).

For more facts about the sumo mandarin, and other weird and wonderful produce like:
superyellow corn,
green cauliflower shaped like a Thai dancer’s crown, and
non-browning apples,
check out this newspaper article.

Other posts on fresh produce

If you liked this post…

…talk to me.  Leave me a comment to tell me about kooky fruit and outlandish veg that you’ve eaten, or share using the buttons below.  Or vote on this one-second poll:

By the light of the silvery moon…


The Mid-Autumn Festival is when the moon is at its fullest and most luminous.  This year, it falls on 19 September 2013.

Did you know that it’s a huge festival for both Chinese and Koreans?  Guess who eats mooncakes and who eats songpyeon rice cakes?  And why Chinese kids associate the moon not with cheese but with a goddess and a bunny?

MooncakeWithBoxLegends, fables and practices abound for this festival that has been celebrated since ancient times.

To hear these, immerse yourself in traditional Korean cuisine and Korean shopping, and sample seasonal mid-autumn treats, beam yourself into the annual FITK Mid-Autumn Korean Adventure on 14 September 2013.  See the 14 Sept listing here for more details, and use the contact form here to book.

Guests’ testimonials from last year’s Mid-Autumn Korean Adventure:

  • “Food I wouldn’t have ordered myself, but it was excellent.”  That’s what I want to hear!  I get a kick out of helping people discover new dishes to love.
  • “I’m lovin’ the stories behind the food and [local] area.  Real good quality food.”
  • “Food was lovely and the trip around the store was really interesting.”
  • “Supermarket [tour] was a highlight.”
  • “Relaxing, informative, generous.”

All food events with Feasting in the Know come with 2 certainties:
1. Nobody leaves hungry.
2. Everyone learns a fascinating new snippet to show off to friends.

Click here to read published reviews and guests’ comments of Feasting in the Know events.

2 thoughts on “What in the world? 4 strange but healthy foods

  1. Hi there my favourite “Food commentator” on line. I find your introduction to the :ODDBALL food…very fascinating…never knew that some of them are actually edible. Thanks for valuable informations. Will now share with my friends.

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