Every fall ushers in a world of produce and culinary possibilities, but somehow pumpkin always seems to dominate. To take full advantage of the harvest season, set aside ubiquitous favorites such as pumpkin or butternut squash and experiment with more unusual and perhaps less appealing vegetables that go on sale each autumn, from kabocha squash to Belgian endive.
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A recipe from the blog Gimme Some Oven begins with a classic autumnal salad of crisp apples, chicken, and sharp gorgonzola cheese. With the addition of Belgian endive, which traditionally has a season in late fall and early winter, it becomes a colorful and creative handheld salad perfect for autumn entertaining.
Not to be confused with Belgian endive, escarole is a broad-leafed green with a less bitter flavor, perhaps best served sautéed and in soup. A recipe from the blog Strawberry Plum puts chopped escarole into a brothy stew made with plum tomatoes and cod. Escarole's flavor is subtle but distinct and makes a welcome addition to this combination of warming broth and simple, buttery white fish.
Brussels sprouts have a bad reputation, particularly among children, but the cold-weather cabbage buds can be quite useful in the kitchen. Buy them on the stalk, if possible, for longer shelf life, then chop them up for use in an unlikely comfort food recipe from the blog Minimalist Baker. The distinct smell and flavor of the roasted sprouts joins those of garlic, shallot, mozzarella, parmesan, and cream cheese, creating a rich dip that will delight even the young.
Celery root, or celeriac, is a bulbous, gnarled root that doesn't look or sound particularly appetizing, but it offers plenty of nutrients and a flavor like -- but much stronger than -- typical celery. A slow-cooked soup such as chicken-and-apple stew from the blog Foodess mellows the flavor into something more palatable, but as distinct. The dish, which contains fresh sage, cream, and green cabbage, makes a good introduction to celery root.
Replace potatoes with celery root to make french fries just as delicious but lower in carbohydrates. The process is mostly the same: Chop the celeriac into shape, boil in water until fork-tender, then fry in hot oil. A recipe from the blog Manu's Kitchen uses paprika, salt, garlic, and fresh rosemary for seasoning.
Come late summer and early fall, look for discounted eggplants, particularly ones with skin that feels springy when squeezed. Beyond the classic eggplant parmesan, try baking a cheesy pasta from the blog Pink Parsley. Once cooked, the chopped eggplant adds a complex, almost meaty taste to garlicky pasta sauce made with roasted red pepper. Top the dish with panko breadcrumbs and mozzarella, and broil for a crisp top crust.
Leeks are a flavorful fall vegetable common in Greek cuisine, perhaps tastiest when roasted or fried before being added to the dish. A recipe from the blog Adventures in Cooking uses caramelized leeks as well as other Greek staples such as feta, spinach, roasted garlic, and sun-dried tomatoes to create a spin on macaroni and cheese that's tastier than anything from a blue Kraft box.
It takes a lot of heat to bring okra to harvest, so it's most commonly available when a warm summer has just passed. For a simple side dish or appetizer, try crispy fried okra fritters from the blog The Brewer & The Baker. They're made with corn and goat cheese to add tangy flavor, as well as some flour and egg to keep the fritters from falling apart in hot oil. Serve with a salad with ranch dressing for a full meal.
Okra isn't the most common of veggies in American cuisine, but the classic Creole dish gumbo just wouldn't be the same without it. Even among Cajun seasoning, cured sausage, bell peppers, and other strong flavors, okra makes a clear difference. A recipe from the blog Local Kitchen isn't exactly easy, but it's worth the effort to prepare the roux and chop the veggies.
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Parsnips look like white carrots topped with parsley leaves but have a complex nutty flavor all their own. Instructions for crispy parsnip chips on the blog I Breathe, I'm Hungry warns not to fry too long to end up with a bowl of salty, crisp kettle chips with a touch of sweetness and only 4 grams of carbohydrates per serving. Start with thinner parsnips to avoid the inedible wooden cores found in thicker ones.
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Taken together, carrots, parsnips, and lentils can make a hearty and healthy vegetarian meal, as warming and filling as any meaty shepherd's pie. With an easy recipe from the blog Noshing With the Nolands, it takes just over two hours to create a casserole topped with dollops of mashed potato and grated parmesan, then broiled to create a tasty browned crust.
Like other chicories, the vibrant purple green called radicchio loses some of its bitter edge with the coming of cold weather. Pick up a head in the coming months to make a pumpkin and butternut squash gnocchi with seared radicchio leaves, a recipe from the blog Eats Well With Others that combines an underused fall green with two of the season's most popular vegetables. The sweet squash and bitter radicchio create an unlikely balance, while fresh parsley and sage leaves add spice to an otherwise refreshingly simple dish.
To make things even simpler, try a recipe for grilled sausages and radicchio from The New York Times that calls for simply halving a head of the vegetable, treating with olive oil and lemon juice, and placing cut side down on a preheated barbecue. The grill adds a charred flavor enjoyable draped across sweet Italian sausages.
Otherwise known as Swedes, rutabagas are a hybrid of cabbage and turnips common in Scandinavian and Scottish cuisines but used primarily for stews in the United States -- to good effect. Rutabaga enhances the flavor of a creamy mushroom soup from the blog Rise and Shine. It's easily adaptable for vegetarians or carnivores, but don't omit the unusual secret ingredient: old-fashioned oats.
Rutabaga is considered a food of last resort in France and certain other European nations, but that doesn't mean it can't elevate a home-cooked classic of French cuisine. The unusual flavor profile of the rutabaga joins other root vegetables such as yams, red potatoes, fresh herbs, and zucchini squash to create a spin on ratatouille from the blog Yes, More Please that tastes as good as it looks.
It's easy to use the sharp but sweet flavor of a turnip when cooking. A "pulled pork" sandwich by Hidden Fruits and Veggies is surprisingly convincing despite being an imitation made up of the far healthier ingredients of turnips, carrots, sweet potato, and zucchini. Shredded and served between hamburger buns, these vegetables work well as a main dish when paired with ketchup, liquid smoke, and bouillon to fill out the flavor. Hint for the main ingredient: Choose turnips that feel heavy for their size.
Recipes don't get more tried-and-true than one for white bean soup from Tori Avey inspired by instructions found in the papers of Thomas Jefferson's family. It uses carrots, turnips, and parsnips for a creamy autumnal soup that can be easily adapted for vegans. Top with toasted squares of rustic artisan bread for tastiest results.
A good way to make use of an acorn squash: Stuff it full of complementary flavors. A chipotle chicken-stuffed squash from the blog Half Baked Harvest calls for slicing a squash in two and roasting with brown sugar and butter for a decadent sweetness that softens the squash's texture and pairs unexpectedly well with the south-of-the-border ingredients coming later, including sharp cheddar, lime juice, and cilantro.
To inject more Eastern cuisine into fall, try a warming ramen by Half Baked Harvest that's especially good in the colder months. The acorn squash is pre-roasted in brown sugar and curry powder, then added to a decadent noodle soup loaded with wild mushrooms, chili paste, pork roast, and fried egg.
Kabocha squash, or Japanese pumpkin, has fluffy orange flesh and a strong, sweet flavor that's a welcome addition to most autumnal dishes. A recipe from the blog Pinch of Yum uses it to make a low-calorie Indian lentil curry. Little more than squash, spices, lentils, and coconut milk, the finished meal has 224 calories per serving.
The green-striped delicata squash takes at least until autumn to mature and possess fully its unique combination of soft texture and creamy flavor. Like other squash, the fiber-rich vegetable is easy to stuff and bake, but a recipe from the blog Prep Green uses the delicata squash in a new spin on the delicious all-purpose dip that is hummus.
This hearty vegetable soup from the blog Sweet Pea's Kitchen makes good use of three autumn vegetables. The onion-esque taste of fresh leeks adds flavor to the homemade broth, while chopped escarole and celery root add texture and taste to the finished soup. Any number of unused vegetables can be incorporated into this recipe to create an immensely comforting yet healthy cold weather dish.