Down & Dirty Articles

Down & Dirty: Potatoes

By • January 11, 2013 • 7 Comments

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The last time we talked about potatoes, Marian Bull helped us figure out how to match recipes to the potatoes that suit them best -- starchy Russets for mashing, waxy red potatoes for salads, and more. Today we're digging underground to learn even more about the potato: we'll talk about how they're actually the stems of the plant, what exactly a potato fruit looks like, and what it really means when their skin turns green after storage.

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Down & Dirty: Cranberries

By • January 4, 2013 • 1 Comment

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Today we're learning all about the jewel-like cranberry as it goes from puckeringly sour in the raw to richly sweet when cooked. Native to this continent and a close cousin to blueberries, lingonberries, and huckleberries, the cranberry is so much more than just a Thanksgiving one-off. As American as apple pie? Try as American as cranberry sauce!

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Down & Dirty: Brussels Sprouts

By • December 28, 2012 • 11 Comments

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There's a lingering stereotype about brussels sprouts that says they're mushy, funky, and to be avoided. Not so! Brussels sprouts, which originated in Northern Europe in the 13th century or so, are actually the greatest of all brassicas: they have cabbage's vegetal sweetness, kale's versatility, cauliflower's nuttiness, and more surface area (which equals more potential crispiness) than just about any other vegetable.

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Down & Dirty: Sweet Potatoes and Yams

By • December 21, 2012 • 4 Comments

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What's in a name? Well, for starters, sweet potatoes aren't really potatoes -- they're actually in the morning glory family. And yams are in a genus all their own, more closely related to lilies than spuds. The naming confusion can be traced to the American South in the 18th and 19th centuries, when African slaves encountered the sweet potato and naturally linked it in their minds with their native yam. But they're both delicious no matter they're called -- nomenclature aside, today we take a close look at sweet potatoes and yams.

 

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Down & Dirty: Kohlrabi

By • December 14, 2012 • 6 Comments

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We might as well just say it: kohlrabi is a little weird. The name literally means "cabbage turnip" in German (makes sense, right?), and they're as common as cabbages and turnips themselves in Eastern Europe, where they've been around for centuries. Stateside, though, they're a little more unusual -- "you'd think it had just landed on earth," Elizabeth Scneider says in Uncommon Fruits & Vegetables: A Commonsense Guide -- so farmers' markets and CSA boxes are your best bet for the hardy, prolific stems.

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Down & Dirty: Dark Leafy Greens

By • December 7, 2012 • 6 Comments

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Today we're taking a nose dive into the salad bowl with a half-dozen varieties of dark leafy greens. These plants come from a few different plant families -- arugula, kale, and collards are Brassicas, spinach and chard are in the Amaranth family, and dandelion is from the family Asteraceae -- but they share certain essential characteristics in the kitchen: all can be enjoyed raw or cooked, and they're all hardier than the fragile salad greens of spring.

 

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Down & Dirty: Pears

By • November 30, 2012 • 8 Comments

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Pears are so distinct that the only word we have to describe their shape is "pyriform," which means, literally, "pear-shaped"! They've been cultivated for millennia -- there were pear tree groves in China 3000 years ago -- and there are thousands of varieties, many of them decorative or inedible. In the US, you'll find about 10 common varieties, among them Comice, Anjou, Bartlett, Seckel, and Bosc.

 

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Down & Dirty: Celeriac

By • November 23, 2012 • 10 Comments

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Celeriac -- also just called celery root -- has got to be the craggiest, least lovable plant there is. Covered in hairy roots and clods of dirt, it's like the hobbit of the vegetable world. Give it some time, though, and it'll pay you back: celeriac has all the mellow, vegetal flavor of celery and none of the stringy wateriness.

 

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Down & Dirty: Apples

By • November 16, 2012 • 6 Comments

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Apples are arguably the world's most popular fruit -- "the apple of my eye," "as American as apple pie," "an apple a day keeps the doctor away." In many languages, other fruits and vegetables are defined in terms of apples, like pommes de terre in French and sib zamini in Farsi for potatoes, and the Medieval name "love apples" for tomatoes. And let's just say you won't find watermelons in the origin stories of multiple religions.


 

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