Green vegetables in Indian Food is an essential portion of the meals. We serve vegetables in all shapes & forms, raw or cooked, fried or sauteed, steamed or pureed. They are the most versatile food ingredient available for consumption. The freshness of a vegetable can never be compromised. This is possibly the freshest thing you can buy yourself, as they have a very short span of life. So from harvest to your plate they shouldn’t have lived a life of more than a couple of days. Though there is no comparison to the ones picked straight from your garden or the farm, but that is not a choice for most of us. Hence it is essential to have a knowledge about picking your fresh veggies correctly from the market.
Technically, vegetables can be classified widely into three types
- Root Vegetable : like potatoes, carrots, radish, yam, beetroot. While picking up the root vegetables, check if they are firm and heavy for their size. The skin tells a lot about the veggie, look for a bright skin not pale and dull( I am not talking about shinny skin, as that can be achieved with artificial oiling of vegetables, and acid wash).
- Leafy Vegetable : These are easy to pick, as the leaves look alive like a plant if they are freshly picked and stored properly. These should be crisp and give a crunchy sound when squeezed. When you break the steam, it should have a snap.
- Other vegetables that are grown above the soil: like Cabbage, aubergine, okra, beans, cauliflower, tomatoes, gourds. These have to firm, snappy, bright in appearance. The feel of the vegetable is a great test. The farmers market are best source for buying freshest vegetables rather cold supermarkets.
Indian diet which generally constitutes of Cereals-Daal and vegetables, calls for many varieties of green fresh vegetables. The Indian subcontinent is blessed with variety of soils and changing seasons and thus it gives us a lot of opportunity to grow different vegetables all year around. Seasonal variation in diet gives Indian meals a variety & variation, complete nutritional requirements, and a budget expenditure on good meals. Food should be eaten as far as possible when it is at its best . When any ingredient is in season it is at its best nutritionally, aesthetically, and tastefully.
The economics of fresh seasonal produce also works best for the farmers as well as the consumers. It is best for the consumer as the seasonal produce will be at its freshest level, cheapest cost and abundantly available, which in turn benefit the farmers who will receive fare price and a profit from their harvest. The ancient scriptures in India talks about how can we eat while being in harmony with nature- it is by eating LOCAL, eating SEASONAL, eating REGIONAL. It is best if we can come as close to these three Golden words-Local:Seasonal:Regional, we can create harmony not only with nature but with our bodies too.
Green vegetables also play an important role in the diet and supply our essential vitamins and minerals, not forgetting the contrast of texture and colors that can be achieved in the dishes with green vegetables.
Vegetarian meals in India is not essentially religious always, but it is more like a lifestyle. We love our vegetable markets, the fresh varieties of vegetables are abundant. It is a daily routine of Indians to go to their nearest fresh market to pick veggies. I think greens are versatile in cooking, they can be served as raw, boiled, bruised or sauteed, can be transformed even into very impressive dishes. They can be your appetizer-snacks-main course- even lovely colorful desserts.
Vegetables are cooked majorly for one purpose in India, for variety of flavors. We love experimenting in texture of vegetables. From pickling vegetables & fruits like unripe mangoes, lemons, chilies, bitter gourd, carrots, yam, jack fruit to frying okra, yam or potato chips, to charring aubergines and potatoes. The experiments can be endless and exciting always. Every region of India has got not only different set of vegetables but also different preferred methods of cooking. One major difference from North to South of India in cooking vegetables is complexity. The North Indians are known for their long slow cooked vegetable dishes and while in South you will find simple fresh flavors of veggies in the dishes.
Attributes of Different Vegetables
There is an essential nature of all food ingredients, the nature of an ingredients is decided by its flavor as well as its effects on our digestive system. Some vegetables like aubergines and Cauliflowers are heavy for digestion–not best suitable for raw consumption, if under-cooked or wrongly treated can create stomach ache. Adding digestives like fresh ginger while cooking can help in easy digestion. On the other hand there are vegetables like ridge gourd or bottle gourd are simplest to digest.
We will talk about each vegetable individually while doing their recipes in coming posts. Each vegetable will be discussed about its texture, nature and taste.
With this, lets wrap up this Introduction to Vegetables of India.