I am obsessed with foreign seeds. I suppose it is the endless desire to try and recreate that amazing cheesy cauliflower dish I once had in Aosta, Italy, or perhaps I might one day have success making my favorite spicy Thai soup that is perfect for when I'm sick (because who wants to drive to that special soup making place all the way in Boston when they're sick?), or how about those crazy (good) cactus cocktails we had in Santa Fe....the beet soup in Russia...I could go on and on...
Recreating special meals from my travels is always a consideration when planning and planting my garden.
Rather than admit my reverse engineering and then subsequent re-creation ability isn't up to the task, I choose to believe that at least part of my culinary challenges start in the garden. You simply must have the right ingredients — and for me that means growing all sorts of crazy vegetables from places we have traveled.
I am still on the all out hunt for the perfect cassoulet bean, but here are some sources I have found to grow vegetables from around the world.
Native Seeds specializes in the seeds of Northern Mexico and the southwest United States. You will find a huge variety of amaranth, flour corn, sorghum, tomatillos, and tobacco (amongst many other varieties that were grown by the Native Americans of the region). (Hint: make sure you click through to individual seed pages to get pricing on packets that are less than 4 oz).
I've got my eye on Cauliflower of Macerata from Seeds from Italy. Last year I grew their voluptuous Pomodoro tomatoes and can't wait to repeat that. If you have traveled through Italy with even a slightly adventurous palate, this website will be like a culinary scrapbook.
Years ago when my babies were actual babies we had the help of an au pair from Thailand who lived with us. She had trained in Thai chef school, and she cooked amazing meals that unimaginably emerged from my own kitchen. For a time, our nightly dinners were not only extraordinary, but they included decorative flowers made from peppers and other vegetables. We were so spoiled, but thankfully she taught me a few things. The biggest lesson: shop the Asian market if you want good Asian food. Or grow your own Asian vegetables with seeds from Kitazawa Seed Company. More Asian vegetable seeds can also be found at Evergreen Seeds.
Amishland seeds made me smile with their claim that, due to the cold war, we Americans know not the joy of Russian tomatoes. I have to admit, it's a claim that has me intrigued. Supposedly wonderfully tasty while also being cold tolerant and very hardy (for the tough Russian climate) — northern gardeners take note.
Have you been to South America? I haven't checked that off my list yet, but Tropilab (which is based in Suriname) sells all sorts of seeds for vegetables that you might find in the northern regions of South America and in tropical Central America. Jack fruit, Alligator peppers, fitweed, anato (whatever those are??), and more are available here.
Get seeds to grow the perfect veg for your favorite Indian curry at Seeds of India. Charmingly, they have a variety of seed collections that I find simultaneously mysterious and desirable (Gujarat Seed Collection, Middle-Eastern Vegetable seeds, Caribbean seed collection, Andhra Pradesh Seed Collection and then the obvious Burgundy-colored vegetable collection).
(Image: Pacific Seed)