Purple food

Eating healthy has turned into a bit of a scavenger hunt — for purple vegetables.

No, I’m not joking.  Over the last five weeks, I’ve become somewhat consumed with finding — and eating — purple vegies, all courtesy of my neighborhood food markets.

It started innocently enough.  I wandered into a Whole Foods at lunchtime, and discovered purple brussel sprouts from a local farm.  Really purple brussel sprouts.  The outer leaves were a deep, dark, eggplanty black-purple, and it wasn’t until I peeled to the middle section of these mini-cabbages that I found unusually-bright green leaves.  I’d read about purple brussel sprouts — I obsessively read books about kitchen gardening — so I promptly bought a large bagful to try.

Sadly, the beautiful coloring didn’t survive steaming, although, a touch of it did remain — I like my vegies a bit crunchy, so I don’t steam them until they’re soggy.  They tasted sweeter than the usual brussel sprouts, or perhaps it might be more accurate to say that they lacked the sometimes-bitter taste of their green counterparts.  I liked them, and returned to that Whole Foods to get more.

And found purple carrots, another vegetable I’d read about but never seen.  These were very different from my usual carrots — a deep reddy-purple exterior, and a clearly-defined ringed yellow inner core.   Unlike the brussels sprouts, the coloring survived cooking, and the taste was again sweeter to my taste buds.  I also learned that, unlike orange carrots, my purple ones had a thinner skin that cooked up nicely in soups and stews.

Just like that, I started hunting purple vegetables.  Obviously, I’ve eaten a variety of eggplants and turnips and I’ve grown purple cabbage, but what else was out there beside my yummy brussel sprouts and carrots?

Giant supplied me with purple cauliflower (which also turn green when steamed) and hothouse-grown purple peppers (which honestly looked more brown than purple to me, but that was the name, so they count for my tally).    Whole Foods pitched in with purple potatoes.  These are a deep purple outside, and a lighter purple with white specks inside.  However, once you cut them, they bleed a purple juice, and can stain your clothes if you’re not careful.  Whole Foods also provideda lovely bunch of purple asparagus that had a wonderful crispy texture even after being cooked.   Another specialty market provided purple French green beans (again, they turned green when cooked, and honestly tasted just like other ‘string’ beans).

It was the bi-monthly farmer’s market last weekend that provided the ultimate prizes.  Purple kohlrabi and purple sprouting broccoli.  Kohlrabi does not, contrary to rumor, taste like a sour apple, but it does have a wonderful nutty-sweet flavor and blends nicely with other root vegetables in a stir fry.  And the little sprouts of broccoli were perfect served raw in a mixed vegie salad topped with a light pomegranate dressing.

I haven’t yet found purple tomatoes, although several farmers at the market assured me that I’ll find them there, around July.  The pictures online at various garden centers show them as more brown than purple, much like the peppers.  I’ve also seen references to purple popping corn — little ears of corn, with a spectrum of color from eggplant-dark to pale violet, but no one at the market grew any corn except the larger ears for steaming at picnics.

Purple vegetables do, according to some sources, provide a wider spectrum of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients than their paler, mass-produced brethren.  But they have another side-effect that is useful to anyone trying to re-adjust their eating habits to a healthier menu — they distract you from snacks.

I was so interested in what these vegetables would taste like, what recipes I could create around them, that I ate lots of vegetables, and then didn’t feel the need for snacks.  End result?  I lost weight, without even trying, and without going to the gym or working out regularly.

We have many farmer’s markets in the Philadelphia area, and I’ve added to my to-do list a goal of hitting at least one a week.  Who knows what other gems I might find out there?

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