The sturdy stalks of many plants can be eaten, sometimes raw (as with celery), but more often cooked.
Asparagus has a wonderfully distinctive flavor and a meaty texture. It's often served as a side dish, after being steamed or briefly boiled. Better cooks insist that it be peeled first, but many people skip this step. To remove the tough base, simply snap the asparagus in half with your hands. The stalk should break right about at the point where it starts getting too tough to serve to company. There's a purple variety, but it turns green when it's cooked and so loses its novelty. White asparagus, on the other hand, is more tender than green, and more expensive. Asparagus is often available year-round, but the best time to buy it is in the spring.Learn more
You can buy fresh shoots at some Chinese markets, but you must boil them first to rid them of hydrocyanic acid, a toxin that causes cyanide poisoning. Canned shoots are safer and more widely available. Rinse them well before using. Submerge any unused shoots in fresh water and store them in a sealed container in the refrigerator, changing the water daily.Learn more
Raw celery is flavorful and wonderfully crunchy, and it's a great vehicle for dips or fillings like peanut butter or cream cheese. Celery can also be sautéed and used to flavor soups, stews, and sauces. A bunch or stalk of celery consists of a dozen or so individual ribs, with the tender innermost ribs called the celery heart.Learn more
When a fern first emerges from the ground, its uncoiled frond is called a fiddlehead. Edible varieties of fiddleheads include those from the ostrich fern and the less common wood fern. They're available in the late spring and early summer. Select the smallest, freshest-looking fiddleheads you can find. Warning: Fiddleheads from bracken ferns resemble those from ostrich ferns, but are believed to be carcinogenic. Be very careful if you're gathering fiddleheads from the wild. Undercooked ostrich fern fiddleheads also have been linked to some cases of food poisoning.Learn more
Though a vegetable, rhubarb is treated more like a fruit, and it's typically made into such things as pies, tarts, preserves, and wine. It's very tart, and at its best when combined with berries. Varieties includes cherry rhubarb and the more delicate strawberry rhubarb. Fresh rhubarb shows up in markets in the spring. If you can't find it fresh, frozen rhubarb is a fine substitute. Don't eat rhubarb leaves; they contain high levels of oxalic acid, a toxin.Learn more