Same same but different

Amrita Prasad
Thursday, 26 July 2018

Onions, carrots, brinjals, capsicums — our everyday veggies come in so many colours and shapes. We can get the best out of them only if we know the properties of each of their varieties. Here’s some help

Heena was preparing Tomato Rice and after an hour-long preparation, when she finally tasted it, she realised that the dish lacked tanginess, which is so integral to its oveall impact. She had bought the freshest of tomatoes from the supermarket but she didn’t realise that those tomatoes — orange in colour and oblong in shape — weren’t best suited for preparing Tomato Rice as they lacked the tanginess needed for the dish. You may wonder how does the shape or colour of the tomato matter, afterall it is the same fruit? But that’s where most of us go wrong. 

Recently a picture of male and female capsicum (yes, you read that right) was doing the rounds on social media which said that capsicum (bell peppers) with three bumps are male and good for cooking and ones with four bumps are female and are more suitable to be eaten raw since they are sweeter in taste. There are many other fruits, vegetables and spices which come in different varieties and each variety serves a different purpose — for cooking, eating raw or garnishing. Says Diksha Sharma, Delhi-based home chef, “Tomatoes that are oblong in shape and orange in colour are harder, and are best for salads. They aren’t too tangy hence you wouldn’t get the desired taste if you use them in soups or curries. Tomatoes, which are round in shape, bright red in colour and softer to touch, on the other hand, are high on their juice and tanginess conent. They make good sauces, curries and soups. So next time when you are making a dish that requires tomatoes, or if you are preparing a salad, you know which ones to use,” quips Sharma. 

Something as simple and widely used in kitchen as onion also needs to be observed carefully to get the perfect flavour in a dish. Amit Bajaj, head chef restaurants, Foodlink, says that onions that are fully round and have one head are the best as they have very less wastage. “The rings out of them are evenly round and give a good yield if making fried onion rings,” he adds. Onions come in three varieties — orange, white and red — each one meant for a different purpose in your kitchen. “Orange onions add a powerful flavour to curries and non-vegetarian dishes. If a dish requires onion, you must opt for the orange one that has a yellow-brown papery skin on the outside and a white flesh. Coming to white onions, they can be used a substitute to orange onions but they are not as pungent as orange ones and have a mild flavour. They are used as coolants in summer and are eaten raw. Red onions are the sweetest. They are best to be eaten raw and used in salads, raita and sandwiches,” he explains. 

Bajaj further explains that the same logic applies to lemons too. He adds, “Lemons which have thin skin and are softer to touch, are juicy and have twice as much juice compared to the thick ones. Hence they are meant for juices and lemonades.”

Baingan Ka Bharta, Aubergine Steak, Begun Bhaja, Bharla Vanga —eggplants or brinjals to can be cooked into so many dishes. However, to get the best results, identifying the right variety is the key. The big dark purple varieties are meant for Bharta while the small dark purple ones and light coloured ones are for subzi with gravy. 

Chef Paul Kinny, culinary director, Bellona Hospitality Services Ltd, says that in aubergines, the female variants have more seeds and are hence not suited much for dishes like Bharta or Baba Ganoush. 

“In fact, it is the seeds that add to the bitterness of the vegetable, thus making the male variant more suitable for cooking. Moreover, even if the seeds are strained off from a female aubergine, they don’t give much yield.”

Kinny goes on to add, “At Shizusan, Phoenix MarketCity Pune, one of our signature dishes is Miso Roasted Baby Aubergine. The baby aubergine is also low on bitterness and hence the preferred choice for this dish, which is complemented by a sweet spicy glaze and shichimi dust.”  

Talking about carrots, chef Mark Philipose, Sheraton Grand Pune, Bund Garden says that it is believed that all carrots used to be purple before the 16th century but today all three kinds of carrots are used for different purposes while cooking. “Red carrots are the sweetest hence they are used in cakes, puddings and halwa. Orange carrots are used in cooking Chinese food, stir fry and salads. Purple carrots have a peppery flavours and are best consumed roasted. They make a good side dish for meats,” he informs.

We love to relish dishes cooked with mushrooms in them, but do we really recognise them well? Chef Praduman Bisht, executive chef, Marriott Suites Pune, says that there are approximately 10,000 varieties of mushrooms in the world but there are only a handful of them that are edible and can be used in cooking. “Out of those few, each and every mushroom has a clear distinct taste and texture. For example, portobello mushroom is older and much more mature than white button mushroom, with its cap fully grown out and darker in colour. Therefore, it has a stronger flavour but an extremely meaty texture. So it is much more suitable as a substitute for meat and tastes better grilled as against a white button mushroom which is lighter and can be eaten raw in a salad or sautéed separately as a light dish,” Bisht informs. 

Who hasn’t noticed dark green and light green, whitish to be precise, cucumbers in the market? But do we really know the difference? Answers Bisht, “Cucumbers are always sliced at both ends and rubbed separately with a peel to remove bitterness but the bitterness does not exist in all cucumbers. It is entirely dependent on how the cucumber was grown and its genetics. Many varieties of cucumbers are not bitter because they are watered much more frequently, are not stressed during the season and are grown in a much cooler climate.”

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