From Penelope's kitchen: Discovering unusual winter vegetables

PENELOPE MOORE PHOTO | Winter melon soup, featuring delicata squash.

This autumn, through my CSA subscription, I have had a variety of unusual vegetables that I have never eaten, much less even heard of. When I lived in Manhattan, I used to see massive daikon radishes at local vegetable stands and wondered what on earth one does with those. Winter melons I assumed were for dessert. After experimenting with them, I fashioned two dinners that are easy to prepare, can be made in advance and are healthy.

The daikon cakes are not only sweet with a spicy kick but also filling. The patties can be scaled down to appetizer size and served with dipping sauces. The winter melon soup is versatile — great for vegetarians sans chicken — hearty, low fat and satisfying on a chilly evening.

Daikon Sweet Potato Cakes
Serves 4
2 cups grated daikon
2 cups grated sweet potato
1 teaspoon salt
1 clove chopped garlic
3/4 cup chopped scallions
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup panko (or bread crumbs or dried mashed potato)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon Sriracha or Tabasco sauce (For a less spicy flavor, use 1/2 teaspoon.)
2 cups peanut oil or canola oil

Grate daikon, add salt and let it sit overnight. Squeeze water from grated daikon before using.

Grate sweet potato and mix into daikon. Stir in garlic, scallions, eggs, panko, pepper, cayenne, cumin and Sriracha, mixing well.

Form 8 round patties. Heat oil in large frying pan over medium flame. Gently place patties in hot oil and cook until firm, approximately 2 minutes per side.

Remove and let drain on paper towels.

Serve with your choice of sauces. Honey mustard, soy sauce, mirin with mustard and yogurt dill are delicious.

Winter Melon Soup
Serves 4
3 tablespoons canola or olive oil
1 clove garlic
2 shallots, chopped
1 delicata squash, seeds and membrane cleaned, cut into bite-sized pieces, leaving skin on
1 carrot, sliced
1 cup broccoli (remove skin with potato peeler, cut into bite-sized pieces) or other winter vegetable, such as Napa cabbage, bok choy or beet greens
1/2 cup cooked chicken pieces
32 ounces low-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger
1 1/2 cups winter melon, with rind removed, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1/4 cup Italian parsley, roughly chopped
4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese cut into cubes

Put oil into heated sauté pan. Add garlic, allow to brown and then remove garlic clove.

Add shallots, stir until translucent. Then add squash, carrots and broccoli, continuing to stir-fry for 3 minutes.

Add chicken and stir. Add broth and bring to a simmer.

Add ginger and winter melon. When melon is translucent, the soup is done

Stir in parsley and serve in soup bowls with cheese on top

For those wanting a more filling soup, ramen, rice or farro can also be added.

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