Tested: food rules for preparing vegetables + two great recipes

What really is the hottest part of a pepper? Can you still use garlic that has started to sprout? Should you peel carrots before cooking? Get the answer to these questions and more.
April 11, 2023
Top row, a Fresno chile pepper and sprouting garlic cloves. Bottom row, dried garden sage and a cut-open lemon, showing the white pith. Photo by Bill St. John, for UCHealth.
Top row, a Fresno chile pepper and sprouting garlic cloves. Bottom row, dried garden sage and a cut-open lemon, showing the white pith. Photos by Bill St. John, for UCHealth.

We’ve all learned how to prepare our cooking ingredients to maximize their flavors. For example, peel some vegetables (onions, for example, or rutabaga) because the skins are tough, bitter or useless, But it’s OK to leave some vegetables partially peeled or unpeeled altogether (certain potatoes, say, or Persian cucumbers).

Some rules, I never question; they make total sense or have proven potently true. “Refresh your dried herbs and spices every two years at the very least,” is one. (I opt for even less time.) Or “Don’t store or keep fresh tomatoes in the refrigerator,” another. (Doing so irreparably destroys their flavor.)

However, on thinking about them, I’ve wanted to test other imperatives such as “Always remove the green sprouts inside garlic cloves because those are bitter.” Or “Never include the white pith when zesting or peeling citrus fruits because the pith is astringent.”

But aren’t those cute little green centers to the garlic clove just new growth? And isn’t new growth nearly always tender and mild? And, for my part, I’m forever unable to precisely or completely separate the rind from a lemon’s or a lime’s pith, but I don’t seem to taste any astringency or bitterness there. (I have a friend who loves eating a lemon whole; however, he does spit out the seeds.)

So, I decided to test these tenets and share the results.

I removed the green sprouting parts from 10 cloves of garlic, minced them, then also minced an equal amount of the cleaned-out ivory flesh. I tasted and swallowed 1/2-teaspoon portions of both raw, the chewing and swallowing expressly to test for bitterness and raw garlic “heat.” (Do not try this at home, ha.) Plus, I cooked portions of both in a film of extra-virgin olive oil.

What did I discover, at least this once?

Sometimes garlic cloves will sport green spouts. Photo by Bill St. John, for UCHealth.
Sometimes garlic cloves will sport green spouts.

That the wee green sprouts had far less “fire” or flavor (but also no perceptible bitterness) than the clean garlic flesh, which, raw, was overpoweringly “hot” and full-flavored. Also that, when sautéed to soft and golden, both were “sweet” and nutty, the regular garlic flesh even more so.

Apropos at least the green sprouts, entirely as you’d assume baby vegetable growth to be. Sweet and mild.

Lo, the pith of the common lemon is surprisingly flavorless, or at least I found it so on repeated chomps. I look forward to further taste-testing on my next lime, orange, mandarin or grapefruit. Perhaps the pomelo’s pith will bring me bitterness, its noticeable thickness the citrus world’s most dumbfounding deflector shield.

Three years ago, a friend gave me some dried sage from a trip to Greece. On crushing some leaves with my fingertips, they were many shades less aromatic and flavorful than some sage leaves that I had dried from my herb garden last summer. No surprise there, plus who knows how long before the time I received the gift from my friends had the Greeks dried theirs?

Carrot skins, by and large, have an, um, “difficult” taste: neither bitter nor carrot-y sweet; if well-scrubbed, not dirty-tasting, but a tad more “earthy” than is pleasant. I was surprised — disheartened, to tell the truth, wanting from time to time to keep the peels on in cooking. But I believe I henceforth shall peel all carrots, for whatever sort of eating.

Did you know that the flesh from the daikon (Japanese radish) is “hotter” and more strongly flavored at the top end, than that from the middle portion or even more so than that from the tip end? The tip end’s flesh is nearly insipid. Exactly the same goes for another root vegetable, the carrot, although happily replace “insipid” with “sweeter.”

Makes sense, does it not? The last, least developed, tenderest growth comes at the tip end in both vegetables’ circumstances; the longest grown, oldest and potentially gnarliest, at the top end, closest to the topsoil and the sun.

Get more tips and great recipes by Bill. St. John.

Once, a cooking teacher of Southwestern foods told me that, no, the seeds of chile peppers were not their hottest facet; the “veins” were, those whitish “ribs” that run along the inside walls.

Sure enough, here is a Scoville scale of sorts on both a raw jalapeño and a raw Fresno chile: of the three parts of the pepper—the flesh, skin-on but deveined; the wee seeds alone; and the stripped-out veins alone — the flesh is least hot (if one can say that of either a jalapeño or a Fresno), the seeds next up and the fieriest, the veins.

Now, that hurt.

Vietnamese Carrot and Daikon Pickle

Enough to fill a 1-quart jar. Use as a garnish on sandwich insides or atop salads.


1 large or 2 medium carrots, peeled

1 med daikon radish, peeled

1/3 cup white cane sugar

2 teaspoons kosher or fine sea salt

1 cup warm water

1/2 cup rice wine vinegar (or 4 tablespoons distilled white vinegar)


Cut the carrots and daikon into about 2 cups each 1/8-inch by 3-inch julienned sticks or “batons,” 4 cups total. (Use a mandolin such as the Beriner brand or slice thinly into strips, stack the strips and cut into sticks.)

Toss the vegetables with the sugar and salt in a large bowl, massaging both into the vegetables, until their moisture dissolves the salt and sugar, about 3-5 minutes. Add the water and vinegar, mix well and pack everything into a 1-quart jar.

Seal the jar and refrigerate at least overnight or up to 2 weeks. The flavor becomes stronger the longer the jar sits. (The proportions of sweet and tart in the recipe are adjustable to your own taste.)

An Agrodolce of Peaches and Fresno Chiles on three various sorts of cheeses. Photo by Bill St. John, for UCHealth.
An Agrodolce of Peaches and Fresno Chiles on three various sorts of cheeses.

Agrodolce of Peaches and Fresno Chiles

From Mark Antonation, Communication Manager for the Colorado Restaurant Association and Foundation, who writes that this agrodolce is “sweet, tangy and spicy—great with bold cheeses and cured meats on a charcuterie board, or with pork chops. Would probably be great on a pulled pork sandwich. The agrodolce will keep in your fridge for at least a month.” Makes 4 cups.


2 pounds very ripe peaches

6 Fresno chiles

1 cup sugar

1 cup apple cider vinegar

1-2 teaspoons fruit pectin powder (such as Sure-Jell brand)

Pinch of salt


Peel peaches (blanch in boiling water for 30 seconds, then cover in cold water so that the skins just slip off) and dice into small pieces. Remove stems and seeds from chiles and slice into thin rings.

Add vinegar, sugar and pectin to a small pot and bring to a simmer. Add peaches and chiles and simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Make sure the mixture doesn’t come to a rolling boil or the sugar could burn on the bottom of the pot.

Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes before spooning the agrodolce into 16-ounce jars. Put lids on the jars and put in your refrigerator. Let it sit overnight or for a day or two before serving.

Reach Bill St John at [email protected]

About the author

For more than 40 years, Bill St. John’s specialties have been as varied as they are cultured. He writes and teaches about restaurants, wine, food & wine, the history of the cuisines of several countries (France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and the USA), about religion and its nexus with food, culture, history, or philosophy, and on books, travel, food writing, op-ed, and language.

Bill has lent (and lends) his subject matter expertise to such outlets as The Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post, The Chicago Tribune, 5280 Magazine, and for various entities such as food markets, wine shops, schools & hospitals, and, for its brief life, Microsoft’s sidewalk.com. In 2001 he was nominated for a James Beard Award in Journalism for his 12 years of writing for Wine & Spirits Magazine.

Bill's experience also includes teaching at Regis University and the University of Chicago and in classrooms of his own devising; working as on-air talent with Denver's KCNC-TV, where he scripted and presented a travel & lifestyle program called "Wine at 45"; a one-week stint as a Trappist monk; and offering his shoulder as a headrest for Julia Child for 20 minutes.

Bill has also visited 54 countries, 42 of the United States, and all 10 Canadian provinces.