Almost 34 and still learning about vegetables | Columnists | – Beatrice Daily Sun

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Tara Dunker
This is the summer I turn 34.
If you would’ve told me when I was studying dietetics in college that I’d still be learning about vegetables in my mid-30s, I would’ve said: “Get it together, Tara.” But if Extension work has taught me one thing, it’s that the learning never ends–and that’s the fun.
With that, here are some things I’ve learned about vegetables this past year or so, and I don’t feel one bit silly that it took me so long. This vegetable-lover has enjoyed every minute.
1. Nothing grows as annoyingly well as a cucumber plant put in the ground next to a 5-foot-tall chain link fence by a first-time gardener who only bargained for a few cucumbers. That thing vined like it owned the place and made Chris and me the targets of neighborly teasing for an entire summer.
Speaking of cucumbers, one of the many things my strong-willed 5-year-old taught me this past year was this: if you’re feeding a choosy eater fresh vegetables and they refuse to try a single bite, cut them differently the next time. While cucumbers cut into spears are unthinkable, cucumbers sliced into coins are one of her favorite vegetables.
2. Canned and pickled are not the only ways to eat beets. Being a member of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture, a.k.a. a weekly local produce subscription box full of goodies) means lots of fresh beets at the beginning of the season–stems, leaves and all. At first I was intimidated by this vegetable. While I had eaten plenty of beets before, I had never prepared them myself.
Wouldn’t you know fresh beets make for an easy, weeknight, slapped-together side dish. Simply wash the entire thing (stems, leaves and all), cut the stems from the bulb, peel the bulb, chop everything into half-inch pieces (stems, leaves and all), toss into a sauté pan with oil and seasonings of your choice, and cook to your desired doneness. It’s delicious, thanks to my mom and Farmer Katie for the inspiration. Bonus: you can impress the young kids in your life with your purple-stained fingers.
3. While I haven’t had a chance to get very creative with it, kohlrabi has been a fun addition to my adult palate. If you’re unfamiliar with this one, it’s a cruciferous vegetable, like broccoli or cabbage sometimes called a German turnip. I’m told it’s amazing in salads and coleslaws, but I haven’t gone past the point of simply slicing it thin and eating it salted or dipped like a chip in whatever sauce we have on hand.
As a personal aside, I learned from my grandma recently that kohlrabi holds a special place in her heart because her dad grew it in his garden when she was a kid, and they enjoyed it sliced and salted together every summer. Now every time I eat kohlrabi, I’ll be thinking of my grandma and great grandpa–food is so much more than fuel.
4. If you’ve made it well into adulthood without hearing of garlic scapes, join the club. Here’s the best description I could find: they are the wild-looking tangles of thin, curly stalks that come into season in late spring and early summer. These green stalks grow from the bulbs of hardneck garlic plants and taste mild and sweet, like chives or scallions, but with a hint of unmistakable garlicky flavor (thanks to Bon Appétit for the great description).
I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve found these to be a great addition to any baked, grilled, or sautéd side in the same way that scallions add a boost of flavor and color when chopped and mixed right into the dish. If you have a gardener friend or neighbor offering these up to you, take full advantage. You won’t regret it.
When I sat down to write this, I planned to mention more than four vegetables but ran out of space. I guess that means another seasonal produce article will be coming your way sometime soon.
If you have any further questions, please contact Tara Dunker at 402-223-1384,, or visit the Gage County Extension website at

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Tara Dunker
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