Niki Jabbour of Halifax, Nova Scotia, grows what most people do in the vegetable garden – peas, carrots, tomatoes, and beans. She also grows snake gourds for decoration and Halloween fun. But when her Lebanese mother-in-law came for a visit, she harvested the gourds and cooked some wonderful dishes for Niki’s family.
"And then I started thinking, what else could I grow that my mother-in-law would recognize from Lebanon? I started seeking out all these Middle Eastern vegetables, which then kind of translated into, well, I like Indian cooking, what can I grow in terms of Indian herbs and vegetables? I like Asian cooking and Central American cooking," she says. "I just started to explore global crops that would probably do well in my zone 5 garden, and just growing things and seeing what worked and what wouldn’t."
Niki explored hundreds of unique varieties of vegetables and herbs, and shares them in a book she wrote called “Veggie Garden Remix”. One of her family’s favorites are cucamelons. These inch-long fruits look like a tiny watermelon but taste like a cucumber with a citrus tang.
Niki says farmer’s markets are a good place to get inspiration and try out new foods that you might be able to grow in your own garden.
"The farmers are telling me there’s a demand for them. People want some of these more gourmet vegetables, they’re becoming better home cooks, and they just want a variety. So, it is available at some of the farmer’s markets, but it’s also more expensive. Like, some of the pints of cucamelons can be $7-$8 a pint, and one plant will give you hundreds of cucamelons," says Niki. "So, I encourage people if they’re not sure if they like it, sure, grab a pint from your farmer’s market. And then if you like it, grow it yourself because you can do that."
Thanks to the popularity of heirloom vegetables, Niki says many seed companies offer these unusual and exciting varieties.
Find Niki’s book and choose something different to grow in your garden
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