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Goodness uncommon fruits & vegetables

From a distance they look like green melons and ripe pears.

A step closer reveals they're something else entirely.

The green melon is actually a calabaza panama, or Mexican pumpkin, while the ripe-looking pear is a chayote squash. They are some of the more uncommon fruits and vegetables stacked alongside mangos and coconuts at the Rock Hill Farm Market, located at the corner of Cherry and Celanese roads.

The market also carries other specialty items, including jicama, tomatillos, yucca root and baby bananas, which are native to Central and South America and the Caribbean.

Many shoppers who visit the market are inquisitive about the unusual looking produce.

"We have a lot of people that come in and ask how do you cook them," said Howard Phillips, who typically recommends customers prepare the produce as side dishes; he offers suggestions on seasoning.

Phillips said the market plans to provide its customers with recipes for the uncommon fruits and vegetables it sells in the near future for "other cultures to explore different foods."

Below is a description of some of the unusual fruits and vegetables. Recipes for each of the items are available at www.epicurious.com and www.foodnetwork.com.

Calabaza Panama or Mexican pumpkin

n Buying tips: Always buy whole calabaza that are beige in color or a little darker. This means they are ripe. The green calabazas are not. Buy calabazas that have the stem attached and that are heavy, without blemishes and wet spots. Calabaza, which comes in various whole sizes, can be bought cut in chunks.

n Storing hints: Keep whole calabaza in a cool, dry space for up to six weeks. Cut calabaza should be wrapped and can be refrigerated for more than a week.

n Preparation tips: Use a sharp knife to cut through whole calabaza. Scoop out the white seeds; peel and cook.

n Cooking suggestions: Calabaza can be used in pies, custards and soup, like pumpkin or butternut squash. It can be cooked as a side dish with calamari and pumpkin.

Jicama

n Buying tips: Buy firm jicama, also referred to as the Mexican potato; look for dry roots and unblemished skin. The thin brown skin covers a white crunchy inside that's sweet and nutty in flavor.

n Storing hints: Store in a plastic bag for two weeks in the refrigerator or without a bag in a cool, dry area.

n Preparation tips: Like white potatoes, the skin should be peeled before eating.

n Cooking suggestions: Prepare as you would a baked potato or cook as mashed potatoes, or blend with other vegetables in a stir-fry.

Tomatillos

n Buying tips: Buy tomatillos, also known as the Mexican green tomato, that are wrapped in a thin, leafy light brown skin to protect it from bruising. No matter how hard or green the tomatillo is, it's ripe. With its green inside, the tomatillo flavor ranges from lemon and apple to herbs.

n Storing hints: Tomatillos can be kept in the refrigerator for up to two weeks if the thin, leafy skin is intact. It can be stored in a paper bag in the freezer after the skin is removed.

n Preparation tips: Remove skin before preparing and wash with soap and water.

n Cooking suggestions: Use in salsas, guacamole and dips.

Yucca Root

n Buying tips: Buy firm yucca roots, known as cassava, that are between six and 12 inches long and about three inches wide. The yucca is part of the white potato family. It has a rough, brown shell and crisp, white inside with a sweet and bland flavor.

n Storing hints: Store like potatoes, in a cool, dark, dry place.

n Preparation tips: Like white potatoes, the skin should be peeled before eating.

n Cooking suggestions: Yucca can be cut and boiled, steamed or fried. Substitute yucca for potatoes and prepare with chicken.

Chayote Squash

n Buying tips: Look for small, firm and unblemished squash that are heavy. Under the green skin is a white interior with a soft seed in the center. It has a bland taste.

n Storing hints: Place whole chayote in a plastic bag and store for up to a month. Chopped chayote can be refrigerated for up to five days or placed in a cool, dry area without a plastic bag.

n Preparation tips: Peel before cooking.

n Cooking suggestions: Chayote can be cut in half and baked, served raw in a salad or as a side dish. Seasoning is required when preparing the squash.

Baby bananas

n Buying tips: Buy firm baby bananas, also known as finger bananas. The inside of the baby bananas are yellow and sweeter than the common yellow bananas.

n Storing hints: Keep at room temperature.

n Preparation tips: Peel and eat like a banana.

n Cooking suggestions: Serve with cereal and other foods.

-- Information provided by Howard Phillips at the Rock Hill Farm Market and the Food Reference and Epicurious Web sites

Calabaza panama

or Mexican pumpkin

Jicama

Tomatillos

Buying tips: Always buy whole calabaza that are beige in color or a little darker. This means they are ripe. The green calabazas are not. Buy calabazas that have the stem attached and that are heavy, without blemishes and wet spots. Calabaza, which comes in various whole sizes, can be bought cut in chunks.

Storing hints: Keep whole calabaza in a cool, dry space for up to six weeks. Cut calabaza should be wrapped and can be refrigerated for more than a week.

Preparation tips: Use a sharp knife to cut through whole calabaza. Scoop out the white seeds; peel and cook.

Cooking suggestions: Calabaza can be used in pies, custards and soup, like pumpkin or butternut squash. It can be cooked as a side dish with calamari and pumpkin.

Buying tips: Buy firm jicama, also referred to as the Mexican potato; look for dry roots and unblemished skin. The thin brown skin covers a white crunchy inside that's sweet and nutty in flavor.

Storing hints: Store in a plastic bag for two weeks in the refrigerator or without a bag in a cool, dry area.

Preparation tips: Like white potatoes, the skin should be peeled before eating.

Cooking suggestions: Prepare as you would a baked potato or cook as mashed potatoes, or blend with other vegetables in a stir-fry.

Buying tips: Buy tomatillos, also known as the Mexican green tomato, that are wrapped in a thin, leafy light brown skin to protect it from bruising. No matter how hard or green the tomatillo is, it's ripe. With its green inside, the tomatillo flavor ranges from lemon and apple to herbs.

Storing hints: Tomatillos can be kept in the refrigerator for up to two weeks if the thin, leafy skin is intact. They can be stored in a paper bag in the freezer after the skin is removed.

Preparation tips: Remove skin before preparing and wash with soap and water.

Cooking suggestions: Use in salsas, guacamole and dips.

Yucca root

Chayote squash

Baby bananas

Buying tips: Buy firm yucca roots, known as cassava, that are between six and 12 inches long and about three inches wide. The yucca is part of the white potato family. It has a rough, brown shell and crisp, white inside with a sweet and bland flavor.

Storing hints: Store like potatoes, in a cool, dark, dry place.

Preparation tips: Like white potatoes, the skin should be peeled before eating.

Cooking suggestions: Yucca can be cut and boiled, steamed or fried. Substitute yucca for potatoes and prepare with chicken.

Buying tips: Look for small, firm and unblemished squash that are heavy. Under the green skin is a white interior with a soft seed in the center. It has a bland taste.

Storing hints: Place whole chayote in a plastic bag and store for up to a month. Chopped chayote can be refrigerated for up to five days or placed in a cool, dry area without a plastic bag.

Preparation tips: Peel before cooking.

Cooking suggestions: Chayote can be cut in half and baked, served raw in a salad or as a side dish. Seasoning is required when preparing the squash.

Buying tips: Buy firm baby bananas, also known as finger bananas. The inside of the baby bananas are yellow and sweeter than the common yellow bananas.

Storing hints: Keep at room temperature.

Preparation tips: Peel and eat like a banana.

Cooking suggestions: Serve with cereal and other foods.

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