Cooking, preparation and nutritional value of some more commonly used vegetables that help towards a healthy diet.
A few facts about commonly eaten vegetables and also fruits that are used as vegetables, like the Aubergine or Eggplant, cucumber and tomato. This is an "A - Z" guide and "B" can be seen here and C1 here, while C2 is here and G to L are here.
Strictly speaking a fruit has seeds and a flower, while a vegetable has, or is, a root, leaf, stalk or stem, (this makes rhubarb a vegetable). However in culinary terms, fruit is sweet and vegetables are not and this puts tomatoes back with vegetables and rhubarb becomes fruit again.
The artichoke is part of the thistle family. This will not surprise many people who have tried to prepare them, as there are often sharp thorns at the end of the leaves. The most widely used type of artichoke is the Globe Artichoke.
The large head is actually an edible bud. The, (involucral bracts), the lower, fleshy part of the leaf is the edible part. The “heart” in the centre is only edible when the plant is young, and the actual leaf is hard, fibrous and bitter.
Artichokes are normally cooked by removing the stem up to about ½ cm from the base. Cutting off the thorns on the ends of the leaves before cooking makes it easier to eat, but this only applies if you are serving the artichoke whole.
Boil the artichoke in water until tender – this takes about 30 minutes. (You can add garlic, chillies and other flavours to the water.)
Artichokes contain acids which evaporate during cooking, so leave uncovered to let these escape.
If you serve a whole artichoke the leaves are pulled off one by one and dipped in melted butter and the fleshy part is “sucked or pulled off” using your teeth.
The edible part can be chopped and added to sauces like pasta sauce. For added flavour, cook the pasta in the water used for boiling the artichoke.
Once the leaves are removed there is a “fuzzy” part, called the choke. Remove this inedible part and you come to the heart. Cut the exterior off the stem and this is also edible.
Artichokes have a higher antioxidant value than all other vegetables. They are also diuretics which helps the functions of the liver and gall bladder. Artichokes help raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol.
Where once this was considered part of the lily family along with onions and garlic, it has now been moved to the Asparagus category.
Asparagus is only eaten when the buds are not open and it is still young, otherwise it is fibrous and does not have a pleasant taste.
The most common way to cook asparagus is to boil or steam it and serve with Hollandaise sauce as a starter.
To cook, cut off the woody ends and tie the stalks together. Set the bundle in 1 – 2 inches of boiling water and simmer for roughly 10 minutes. The best results are achieved by standing the bundle upright as this means the buds are steamed and not boiled. Special asparagus pots which are tall and thin and available to buy, but it is possible to tie the bundle so it will stand in a normal pot.
Asparagus contains many vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre and protein as well as asparagines – an amino acid for which this plant is named.
This is a list of some of the nutritional content of asparagus;
Vitamin B6, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamine, riboflavin, folic acid, niacin, folate, calcium, magnesium, zinc iron, phosphorus, potassium, copper, manganese and selenium.
Antioxidant are also contained in the stalks.
Asparagus is a diuretic and laxative.
Technically speaking an aubergine is a fruit, more precisely a berry, and in some countries is called “Eggplant”.
This is part of the Nightshade family, (so is the tomato, potato and also tobacco).
There are often prickly spines on the stem and the outer purple skin is edible, although most people peel aubergines before use.
There are many different ways to cook aubergines, depending on how you will use it. They can be baked or roasted whole for around 40 minutes. (Prick the skin first to let the excess water escape.)
An aubergine can be diced before adding to soups, casseroles, stews etc, or sliced and grilled, fried or battered, but this vegetable is like a sponge and will absorb an incredible amount of oil.
Slicing, sprinkling with salt and leaving to sit for a few hours will remove a lot of excess water and make it taste less bitter.
Aubergines contain potassium, folic acid and nicotine, and helps prevent free radicals forming.
Some experts believe aubergines lower cholesterol, but this has yet to be proved.
Aubergines contain large amounts of histamines and some people are allergic to this substance. Cooking does not remove any of the histamines, so if you feel itchy after eating a piece of aubergine or after touching it, simple try to avoid it.