Fancy a change from pulling carrots, digging spuds or plucking runner beans? Then this quartet of easy to grow veg is well worth investigating.

Huauzontle

huauzontle
Image via Flickr

This magnificent Mexican plant is like a supercharged purple sprouting broccoli (it's also known as Aztec broccoli) with a tall central stem from which shoots and leaves crowd around.

Pick the young shoots for a cut-and-come-again style harvest or wait until the masses of tiny flower buds are about to bloom for a more handsome feast.

They taste similar to their namesake, with added nutrient-rich flavours akin to spinach, and can be cooked in a similar way, keeping their shape and a soft bite for all but the biggest over-cooking culprits. If you're feeling adventurous in the kitchen you can prepare them like a Mexican and fritter them with cheese, otherwise, serve as you would your other favourite floret producing brassicas.

Adding to the huauzontle's culinary benefits is the ease in which they grow. Sow outside in situ—no special treatment required, so your regular veg patch should do the trick, but just make sure you thin out the young seedlings. The slugs may help with this task but owing to their large, bushy size and rapid growth, you only need a few plants to survive.

Remarkably you could be harvesting shoots within two months of sowing, but they do have a tendency to bolt, so for maximum rewards wait until summer's sunny peak has passed (if such a thing happens this year).

Read more: 10 Ways to prepare your vegetable garden for spring

 

Oca

Oca
Image via eCrater

With the potato being such a favourite among Europeans it can be easy to forget that it's an import from the Andes. Our next unusual veg is another that has been plundered from the Andean soil but remains unfamiliar to the majority of folk outside its native habitat (although New Zealanders might be more familiar with it having claimed it as the 'New Zealand yam'.)

Like the potato, tubers are chitted in spring before being planted out when the frosts have passed. They'll grow slower than the spud, but when the first leaves appear you'll soon notice their clover-like appearance, an indicator that this root veg is a member of the oxalis family.

Later in the growing season, the steadily amassed leaves will be joined by dainty yellow flowers, similar again to some of its oxalis kin, that will put the spuds clumsier looking blooms to shame.

Dig your harvest after the first autumn frost, or hang on until November if that comes first. They're knobbly specimens, rather like the confusingly named potato variety 'pink fir Apple', but have a waxy, easy to clean surface and vibrant reddish pink hues.

They can be cooked like a potato (roasted is our favourite) with the added bonus of being edible raw, and have a lemony tang to their flavour.

Read more: How to grow perfect apples

 

Vietnamese fish mint

fish mint
Image via Run Away Rice

If you enjoy the benefits of a well-stocked herb patch but want a change from the standard flavours, seek out a Vietnamese Fish Mint.

This unusually monikered plant has little in common with more familiar mints, being a member of the chameleon family, and tastes unlike anything else in your garden. The leaves can be used raw where they're sparingly sprinkled in Asian salads and soups, or cooked with fish or meat to add a unique, fishy pungency that is reminiscent of rooty Asian spices such as galangal.

Indeed, you can also eat the roots of this plant, which when lifted resemble a ball of spaghetti and can be served cooked or raw.

Like our common rampant growing mints, this is also a perennial that dies back over winter and magically reappears in spring, although it's a little less hardy and will appreciate hibernation in a warmer spot indoors.

It's best grown in a pot and in summer will even reward you with attractive white flowers, demanding to be shuffled towards the front of the herb pack.

Read more: How to choose herbs to grow in your garden

 

Broccoli rabe

Broccoli rabe

For our final recommendation, we're looking at another broc-a-like, and one that many veg growers will declare isn't at all unusual. But there are even more people who have yet to discover its easy growing nature so we're hoping this will convince a few of them to make their first rabe sowing.

Unlike huauzontles, these are small plants but they do grow at a similar speed, giving them the alternative name '60 day broccoli', and are a great garden gap filler. Snip off the main shoot and surrounding leaves, leaving any side shoots in place—if you're lucky these will provide a second picking soon after.

It's also worth allowing a few plants to go to seed as they are likely to self-sow and provide you with one of your earliest veg harvests the following year.

Despite their name, the rabe is a close relative of the turnip family—so use in the kitchen as you would a purple sprouting broccoli (although they cook much quicker) and you'll be rewarded with a healthy green that carries a peppery punch akin to its round-rooted cousin.

 

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Nick and Rich run the website twothirstygardeners.co.uk and their home-grown booze recipe book, Brew it Yourself, is out now

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