1. Mexican Sour Gherkins (Melothria scabra)
A cucumber? A melon? This savory fruit is a cucuamelon and is native to Mexico and Central America. You can grow them like a regular cucumber, easily training them up a trellis. These minis are neither too sweet nor too sour and are perfect for pickling (although they are so delicious right off the vine, they may not make it all the way to your kitchen).
2. 'Padrón' Peppers (Capsicum annuum)
These small Spanish peppers - mild when green and spicy when red, but equally delicious no matter what the color - are our pick for the very best all-purpose pepper. Traditionally, they are pan-fried whole in olive oil and finished with sea salt and a squeeze of lemon juice. Fun fact: occasionally, one of these innocuous-looking green peppers turns out to be extremely hot, hence the Spanish saying: "Pimiento de Padrón, pequeño pero matón" (which roughly translates as the Padrón pepper, little but a killer).
3. Scarlet Runner Beans (Phaseolus coccineus)
What can we say about scarlet runner beans? They are equally wonderful planted as an edible or as an ornamental. Seriously, we love this plant. Easy to grow, these 8-ft.+ hardy vines scamper up trellises and erupt with crimson blooms that attract bees and hummingbirds. The young green beans have a unique flat pod with a rich flavor. Save the more mature pods to harvest shelling beans swirled with deep purple and lavender. Use them for soups or save them and replant next season.
4. 'Fiesty' Peas (Pisum sativum)
This 3-4 ft. vine is great for a pot on a balcony or patio. Fiesty peas are grown for both their spectacular spiraling tendrils and the tasty peas. Add the young pea shoots to salads and stir-fries. The pods are very easy to see and harvest because the plant grows more tendrils than leaves.
5. 'Moskovich' Heirloom Tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum)
An heirloom from Russia, Moskovich grows well in our cool Northwest climate and produces tons of sweet and flavorful 4-6 ounce red tomatoes in only 60 days. With a tomato this good who needs other ingredients? Make a “just Mosky” salad.
6. Ground Cherries (Physalis spp.)
With a sweet-tart flavor that works well in desserts, salads, main dishes and more (they make the best salsa you've ever had, we promise), the ground cherry deserves more attention. The plants bear large yields of husked fruit that, curiously, fall to the ground before they are ripe. Simply gather them up and store them at room temperature until they deepen to a rich orange and are ready to eat.
7. 'Chioggia' Beets (Beta vulgaris)
These Italian darlings (pronounced [kee-oh-jee-uh]) are the fashionistas of the vegetable world, all decked out in chic red and white stripes. Try them on pizza with sautéed shallots and goat cheese, add them to mixed greens to create salad art, or make fanciful and nutritious Chioggia chips by frying thin slices in peanut oil, then dusting them with sea salt.
8. 'Forellenschluss' Lettuce, aka 'Flashy Trout’s Back' (Lactuca sativa)
An Austrian romaine lettuce with vivid green leaves sporting lovely deep red splotches. This lettuce is not only deliciously crisp and flavorful, it holds up well in summer's heat and adds dramatic interest in the garden. Hint: Tuck it into your ornamental border for a colorful display.
9. Radicchio (Cichorium intybus)
Tired of lettuce? Try radicchio, a member of the chicory family. Remove the outer leaves of the head to discover inner leaves of deep burgundy with white ribs and a slightly bitter taste. Excellent raw in salads or grilled with a little olive oil and sea salt. Mangia!
10. 'Delicata' Winter Squash (Curcubita pepo)
This squash performs well in the worst Seattle summers and is easy to grow, even for beginners. The skin is so delicate (hmmm… wonder where they got the name?) that you can even eat it. Roast a halved Delicata in the oven with butter and a sprinkling of brown sugar and chili powder and eat it straight out of the shell as sweet and spicy treat.
And for those who want a challenge:
11. Wasabi (Wasabia japonica)
Ready to trade in the ubiquitous green paste that calls itself wasabi (but is usually a mixture of horseradish and mustard dyed green) and try the real thing? Take on the challenge of this root vegetable from Japan and experience its true range of flavors: intense heat that mellows to sweet. Grow in rich, well-drained soil and don't forget to water frequently. A bonus: it grows well in a shady spot!