Many of the common fruits and vegetables we eat have their respective colors built right into the names: red tomatoes, green beans, yellow corn, blueberries, and so on. But these colors are not steadfast rules for each of these plants. Not all tomatoes are red, not all beans are green, and not all corn is yellow. It just so happens that the modern, commercially-produced varieties that we see at the grocery stores are these generic colors. But branch out to heirloom varieties, those that have been passed down from generations of farmers and home gardeners, and you’ll find a whole new world of colors. Here are seven outrageously colored heirloom fruits and veggies to add to your must-buy or must-grow list, and how to use them in the kitchen.
RED BRUSSELS SPROUTS
Called “Rubine Red,” this heirloom Brussels sprouts variety looks like mini clusters of tiny red cabbage heads. The red, which is similar to the shade of red (also called purple) cabbage, gets its magenta-like color from a class of antioxidants called anthocyanins—the same stuff that’s in heart-protective blueberries. But just like purple cabbage, red Brussels sprouts will bleed their color into whatever you cook them in and often turn a lackluster shade. Cook them with salt, lemon juice and/or vinegar to preserve their vibrant color, and avoid boiling or steaming them. Try them roasted at a high temperature in ample olive oil, or shredded raw in a newfound garden slaw recipe.
There are several varieties of red-hued corn, and two heirlooms to seek out are “Bloody Butcher” and “Strawberry” (The names don’t give away the color at all, do they?). You’ll often see these in the fall at farmers markets or pumpkin farms labeled as “Indian Corn,” alongside the brown and black-speckled corn varieties. While usually reserved for ornamental uses in the autumn, you can also use red corn as a popping corn.
Just like regular beets but orange instead of dark purple, these heirlooms are wonderful for all sorts of recipes in the kitchen. Unlike regular beets, they don’t bleed their color! Use them in raw salads, roasted or in garden soups. Add them to your morning juice and they’ll give it a stunningly bright color. Look for the “Burpee’s Golden” variety for a great orange beet.
You might mistake one of these for a cucumber at first glance, but green radishes are indeed just radishes. Heirloom varieties “Martian” or “Green Meat Radish” have varying degrees of white and green patterning on their plants, some looking more like cucumbers, others like turnips. Use them in contrast with sliced pink or purple radishes for a colorful raw platter, or pickle them for a tender spring side dish.
Purple cauliflower is actually kind of hot right now at California farmers markets, though you can usually find it nationwide. Common heirloom varieties are “Violet,” “Purple Giant” or “Purple Cape,” and they’re all equally lovely to look at. Like red onions, purple cauliflower has a tendency to turn greenish when you cook it, so reserve it for salads, crudité and other raw recipes.
PURPLE SWEET POTATOES
Most sweet potatoes have an orange to yellow flesh on the inside, but the heirlooms “Burgundy” and “Marguerite” possess a magnificent purple color. When growing on the vine, they make a gorgeous addition to any home garden—long, lush elephant ear-shaped leaves thrive in the summer heat. These sweet potatoes retain their purple color when cooked, so use them in any type of recipe you please. Try a purple sweet potato pie!
White kale is simply stunning to see, though hard to come by. If you’re a home gardener, it’s worth taking a stab at growing your own variety, as kale is a relatively easy home vegetable. Try “Christmas Fringed White Flowering” or “White Frizzy Hybrid” heirloom varieties. As the names suggest, these white kales have a wintry look to them and would make an excellent addition to any harvest or holiday meal.