If you want to perk up your menus, look for these three items the next time you go grocery shopping: lychee, sea beans, and elephant garlic. In past years, lychee -- also spelled litchi and lichee -- has been available in the United States only in cans. But this sweet fruit, cultivated in China for more than 2,000 years, is now being grown in Florida.
When fresh, the fruit has a strawberry red shell with a sweet, white flesh. The shell darkens to brown when dried and looks somewhat like a prune. Most cooks use the canned variety; in this form the lychee tastes much like the fresh fruit. It's good for dessert, for nibbling, and it companions well with almonds in chicken dishes.
Sea beans are used as an interesting garnish, chopped in salads, and in place of chives with potatoes. Gardeners and foragers may know this plant as glasswort or mash samphire, but it is a succulent that grows under fern or hemlock close to the ocean. It is packaged and sold by Frieda's Finest, produce specialists in Los Angeles. Their sea beans are picked fresh off the coast of Oregon.
Elephant garlic is several sizes larger than regular garlic. One clove is the equivalent of 10 regular garlic cloves. It is milder, however, than regular garlic and is recommended as a side vegetable served like small onions with potatoes around a roast or other food main courses. It's also eaten raw in salads and sandwiches.