In the garden of veggie delights, reds are the new greens. I knew something was going on in the produce department when the red artichokes showed up. They weren’t just a little reddish around the edges, like red-leaf spinach or red kale, they were a deep burgundy red.
They were about the size of a large grapefruit or a small cantaloupe—an emphatic, distinctive vegetable that looked like it had been harvested on Mars and shipped here via space shuttle.
To tell you the truth, red artichokes were kind of intimidating.
Turns out when you cook them, they end up the same light olive green as ordinary artichokes.
Somehow I find that a little disappointing.
It used to be a market’s produce section was kind of monochrome. Everything was some shade of green with the occasional orange carrot or red tomato or shiny purple eggplant to break up the color palette. (Remember, “grocery stores” were originally called “greengrocers,” a word that dates back to the early 18th century when arugula was still known as “colewort’ or “salad rocket” and a lot of people thought tomatoes were poisonous.)
But that was then. And this is now.
And nowadays, there’s a rainbow revolution going on in supermarket aisles.
And the change has gone way beyond the colorful varieties of Bell peppers, which now come in yellow, orange, purple, white, and yes, red.
There are now varieties of cauliflower that come in both orange and purple. The orange variety was bred from a mutant cauliflower in Canada and contains more beta carotene than its creamy-white counterpart. Purple cauliflower owes its color to the same antioxidant found in red cabbage and red wine. Both variations are mild tasting, though slightly sweeter and nuttier than the ordinary variety. Unlike some brightly colored vegetable variations (like carrots that come in reds and purples), orange and purple cauliflower maintain their unusual color after cooking.
Possibly the most striking of the new “red” salad greens, though, is red spinach.
Your local Fairway or Trader Joe’s may not carry red spinach, but early spring is prime time to find the colorful vegetable at farmer’s markets; and with the growing demand for baby salad leaves and specialty produce, you could get lucky at a chain store with a large organic produce section.
And if you do, toss the tender scarlet leaves with a light vinaigrette and serve as a bold side salad. No one will even notice what else is on the menu.