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Apr 5, 2010 05:15 PM

off-the-beaten-path ingredients.. for a beginner.

I'm starting an 'adventures in cooking' blog for one of my writing classes. Yeah, another food blog. But mine is focused on being a cheapo college student with a tiny kitchen.. and fostering a new exciting sense of adventure with my cooking.

I plan to hit the farmer's market once (maybe twice) a week to buy an ingredient I know nothing about, and cook with it, recording the results. Something I've never tried cooking with. I guess it's like my own Iron Chef. My knowledge of food is still pretty limited, so anything you can come up with to help me out would be more than appreciated (and suggested preparations would be great too). For example, so far, I'm planning on trying out quail eggs, morels, chocolate in a savory dish, calamari, lemongrass, jackfruit, skate wing, et. al., depending on what I can find at the market.

Any suggestions for some off-the-wall ingredients that aren't too terribly pricey?

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  1. Off the wall to some is ordinary fare to others. A number of things on your list are in my fridge right now ; )

    But... Jumping off from your list... I'd put in (much will depend on where you live and what you can get):

    Chicken Feet
    Offal of any kind
    Nopales Cactus
    Dandelion Greens
    Japanese Natto
    Pigs Feet

    3 Replies
    1. re: Jennalynn

      Pigs feet and pigs snout - I've never been able to figure that out!

      1. re: JerryMe

        And don't forget ears!

        I watched Anthony Bourdain in Harbin China eat a fabulous looking ear this week ; )

        And I grew up with nice Jewish Deli Tongue.

        Oh add tongue to my list!

        I think I'd be game to try almost anything. I'm still a little iffy about insects, but after that I'm good. It's all learned behavior!

    2. Fruits & Vegetables - Jicama, rutabaga, fennel (you said lemongrass was different so...), durian,

      Meats - Pig jowls/guanciale, foie gras, sweetbreads, bone marrow, scrapple/liverwurst

      Grains/pastas/etc - couscous, arborio rice for risotto, gnocchi, gnudi, crepes

      1. Somewhat depends on where you are, what kind of markets you can access, your budget and what you have available for equipment.

        Jennalynn's already hit a few interesting ones, and she's right about personal perception (e.g. your current list looks mainstream to me) but you can add:

        the other parts of a pig (e.g. snout, ears, tail, blood)
        balut (try and make one tasty)
        alternative proteins (horse is somewhat common but what about grey squirrel? or seitan?)
        ingredients that is maybe predominant in only one cuisine (e.g. huitalcoche)
        ingredients you've never seen before (e.g. visit an Asian, Latin or African market)

        Since it's supposed to be an adventure in cooking, using someone else's prep sort of takes away from the adventure. Another alternative might be to explore the role of a common ingredient among cultures, to see which of the 600+ ways to cook a potato you like best, your try at foraging, your try at making a wild yeast starter, fun with taro etc etc.

        By the way, the main adventure with eel is at step one - trying to kill one. The hard part afterwards is to not screw up when cooking it.

        9 Replies
        1. re: wattacetti

          Thanks, all. I realize my list so far isn't terribly exciting (well, to me it is)... but then again, I'm literally just now learning to cook. Like, this year. So, while morels may be standard fare for some, it's exciting and new and special (and a splurge) for me. Going to the farmer's market is pretty much like being a kid in a candy store for me, which is what inspired this project (looking at a case of a dozen quail eggs and wondering, what on earth can I make with that?)

          My equipment is quite limited. My cookware is pretty bare-bones. But, as this project is supposed to be directed to my fellow budget-conscious, dishwasher-less college students, I suppose that's kind of the point. Makes it more of a challenge, too.

          Wattacetti, very good suggestions too. I'd love to try foraging. I'm in Atlanta, and I'd have to do a lot of research but I think it'd be a really interesting project. Good point with exploring the zillion different ways to prepare one ingredient, too. Though, as far as alternative proteins go, I used to breed showhorses... so I don't think that would be up my alley :)

          I just love perusing these forums and reading about people cooking with things I've never even heard of before. I'm at that level of cooking amateurity where simply standing in front of the fresh herbs section of the market can totally paralyze me with the possibilities.

          1. re: collegekitchen

            I think it's a fabulous idea!

            Atlanta is a big city... you should find most of the things I listed. Especially pigs feet and offal. Chitlins and pigs feet are in the great southern tradition.

            If you blog about it, please post your URL here. I'd love to follow your adventures.

            1. re: collegekitchen

              I've been cooking for years yet I haven't tried everything so everytime I grocery shop, I pick up something new to "play" with.

              That said, I'll add rabbit, tripe, turtle meat, hogs head, calf fries, and cow feet. It's hard to suggest much more without knowing what you've already tried. I agree with wattacetti in that ordinary ingredients can be used hundreds of ways in different combinations so don't discount other ways to use that potato, banana etc.

              For the past two years, I've found so many ways to use the humble sweet potato that I didn't know I could, and I didn't even really like sweet potatoes that much before except in pie and the once a year candied dish at Thanksgiving. Now I eat them more and always look for ways to use them. Have fun with your experimenting!

              1. re: Cherylptw

                Yes! Rabbit and turtle are both on my list! My family's from New Orleans and turtle soup was a staple of childhood visits to NOLA. I've tried barbequed rabbit once and it was delicious. Never cooked with either, though. Thanks for those, Cherylptw.

                Jennalynn -- thanks so much. I'll definitely post the link once I get the design worked out and maybe my first post up.

                1. re: collegekitchen

                  Atlanta's a great city to be in and you should have access to lots of things. Rabbit constitutes an alternative protein to most, so that's a start (FWIW, el Bulli served an interesting dish from the ears).

                  1. re: collegekitchen

                    If you're looking to experiment with meat, you might join a meat CSA -- that would be an adventure for sure, since you often don't know what you're getting from week to week! :)

                2. re: collegekitchen

                  If you're just starting out, in addition to trying new things, I recommend seeking out a spice vendor. I'm guessing in Atlanta, you should be able to find one pretty easily... maybe even at your farmer's market. I started cooking in earnest last year, and was able to expand my spice collection through a vendor at a MUCH lower cost than buying spices at the grocery store! Instead of $4+ per jar, I paid $1-2 per large scoop. I made my own magnetic spice rack to store them as well.

                  As for things to explore, I would suggest bitter melon and various asian greens... will require some cooking practice, but are moderately adventurous for someone just starting out!

                  I'd also check out Cooks Illustrated for recommendations on various implements of cooking destruction. They have excellent recommendations for affordable items. Their recommended dutch oven has revolutionized my cooking this year!

                  Good luck, and have fun!!!

                  1. re: collegekitchen

                    There are lots of foraging guidebooks on If you like any particular ethnic cuisines, go to a mom&pop type restaurant for a meal (try not to time it during peak hours), explain your prokect, and ask for suggestions.

                    1. re: collegekitchen

                      Are you at Emory? I hope you have a car...having studied there myself, it's slim grocery pickings if you don't and you live close to campus!

                      Add garlic scapes to your list of new ingredients to try! I always see those at the farmer's market in spring/summer.

                  2. play with ingredients and preparations... some of these might not be *way* off the beaten path, but at least definitely off the path for most college students!

                    broccoli rabe
                    zucchini blossoms
                    wild mushrooms
                    fish or oyster sauce
                    scallops -- not so off-the-beaten path, but takes a delicate hand to prepare correctly
                    make an herb-centric menu -- play with tarragon, thyme, chervil, cumin, coriander, turmeric, curry, etc.
                    master hand-made pasta, home-made bread including croissants, sauces like hollandaise, bernaise, etc.

                    1. One ingredient I found at the farmer's market last year and loved was zucchini blossoms. I stuffed the delicate flowers with cheese and herbs (ricotta and goat work well). Then I pan fried them. They're also often deep-fried, but I think this takes away from the taste and the color. I also tried some new varieties of beets and squash.

                      For meat, try some game meats like boar or ostrich. Some farmer's markets may have them. In my area (NJ) Kings supermarkets carry both.

                      I also like experimenting with different types of sausage. D'Artagnan has a great line: Merguez, Andouille, Chorizo and more...

                      Enjoy your adventure. Share your blog link too!