MARKET 5: SPECIALTY PRODUCE

Q: Are Warrigal Greens an all-Australian speciality?

Having worked on premium food magazines for much of the last decade, I am fully able to appreciate the overwhelming momentum of the ‘foodie culture’ here in Australia. Whether you put it down to the rise of the ‘Celebrity Chef’, industry efforts to make great food more accessible or the influence of stunning food publications (think Gourmet Traveller, Vogue E&T, delicious) there is no doubt that Australian cuisine now boasts a definite gourmet leaning. The average Australian is much more adventurous in the kitchen, preparing dishes at home that demand complicated prep and obscure produce previously only braved by the professionals. So to put you on the front foot with these increasingly discerning foodies, this week we are profiling ‘specialty produce’ items, which being a little off beat, present a fantastic opportunity to create something truly different and special this Spring.  

 

SALTBUSH: aka Old Man Saltbush

Image: Outback Pride

A native plant previously used by indigenous Australians for its seeds (which were ground and roasted for making damper), this hardy shrub has taken on a new dimension in modern cuisine. Through careful selection and production in hothouses the bitter, wild plant used for rejuvenating land and grazing has been replaced by a much more user-friend large leaf variety.

Availability: all year

Use: blanch or use fresh as a salad leaf, stir-fry vegetable or similarly to a banana leaf

Supply: hits markets on Thursdays- production/supply steady and good quality

Health factor: good source of protein, mineral salts, antioxidants and calcium

 

JACKFRUIT:

Image: www.naturespride.eu

Originally from South Western India, the Jackfruit is the national fruit of both Bangladesh and Indonesia. The largest of all cultivated fruits it is renowned for its distinctively sweet aroma and flesh. While also enjoyed as an immature fruit, the jackfruit is at its best when its prickly skin softens and its characteristic sweet aroma comes through.

Availability: Jun – Apr

Use: lovely fresh, but can also be cooked (often used in SE Asian curries). The seeds are edible and when baked taste a little like chestnuts. Immature fruit is a healthy, meat substitute for vegetarians due to its texture.

Supply: quality & supply is currently good, however it’s worth noting that Jackfruit are generally a more expensive item

Health factor: free of cholesterol and saturated fats, jackfruit is a good source of energy, dietary fibre, minerals and vitamins

 

BETEL LEAVES: aka Wild Betel Leaf, Pepper Leaf, Cha Plu

Image: www.marketfresh.com.au

Heralding from the same family as pepper and kava, betel leaves are used widely in South East Asian cuisine. With its bold, peppery aroma and delicate flavour it is a wonderful herb that is both visually appealing and delicious.

Availability: all year, best in warmer months

Use: South East Asian cuisine- raw in salads, cooked in stir-fries, soups, meat dishes (used as a wrap)

Supply: Australian crops are grown in QLD the rest is imported- currently looking good across quality, supply and price

Health factor: good source of protein, potassium, nitrogen and minerals

 

WARRIGAL GREENS: aka Australian Spinach, tetragon

Image: Outback Pride

Another native plant worth a look, the warrigal green is grown along the East Coast of Australia and is a fantastic substitute for your more common greens such as silverbeet or spinach. While it tastes very similar to spinach when blanched, it has a slight salty, bitter edge that gives dishes a new dimension.

Availability: all year round, but as with all leaf lines poor weather may potentially slow supply

Use: blanch (2-3mins) before use due to high oxalate content, thenuse in dishes/sides where you would usually feature spinach, silverbeet or Asian greens

Supply: hits markets on Thursdays- production/supply steady and good quality

Health factor: a nutritional value similar to other leafy greens it also has anti-inflammatory properties and can prevent stomach ulcers

 

CHESTNUTS:

Image: www.marketfresh.com.au

While they may not be mysterious or unknown, their reputation for being difficult to prepare has meant chestnuts haven’t garnered the attention they deserve from home-cooks. The quality of the fresh chestnuts being produced in Australia at the moment is fantastic and with the season predicted to last another 6-8 weeks, why not take full advantage this Spring.

Availability: traditional season Mar – June

Use: soups, stir-fries, cakes, salads, stuffing

Supply: quality & price holding steady with the season ending in 6-8 weeks

Health factor: no cholesterol, low in sodium and fat. Good source of mineral salts, vitamins C, B1, B2 and folate.

 

A: Unfortunately not, Warrigal Greens are also native to New Zealand, Norfolk Island, Japan and some parts of South America. While native to Australia and NZ, it is believed that the Aboriginals and Maori didn’t use Warrigal Greens as a leaf vegetable like we do today, rather this trend was started by Captain Cook and the first settlers who popularised it use due to its ready availability and ability to prevent scurvy.

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