The artichoke familiar to our dining tables is actually the unopened flower bud of the thistlelike plant Cynara scolymus. (Thistles are mentioned in Genesis 3:18, and are probably the plant referred to in Proverbs 24:30. Wild relatives of the cultivated artichoke are common in Jordan and are often referred to as thistles.) Also known as globe artichokes because of their shape, these buds consist of overlapping bright or olive-green leaves, which are extremely tough and inedible except at their base, where they are fleshy and tasty. Within this bud of leaves is the thistle, also known as the choke, which is light yellow or ivory in color and, toward the center, almost hairy. At the very base is a portion of tender, edible flesh, called the heart. Artichokes can vary greatly in size, from 2-ounce baby artichokes that can be trimmed, marinated, and eaten whole to 1-pound giants that are tastiest when stuffed with cheese-based or other fillings.
Originating in the Mediterranean region, perhaps in Sicily or Carthage, artichokes have been cultivated at least since the time of ancient Rome, and perhaps even by the ancient Greeks. The Saracens of Sicily and the Moors of Granada continued artichoke cultivation during the Middle Ages, when this vegetable fell out of favor, and in the 15th century artichokes spread north from Sicily to Naples and throughout the Italian peninsula. As a young bride of fourteen, Catherine de” Medici is reputed to have reintroduced the artichoke to French cuisine in the 16th century—causing a scandal, because she was very fond of eating them, and they were reputed to be an aphrodisiac. European immigrants brought artichokes to the Americas in the 19th century, and today they are most popular in Italy, France, and Spain, with some popularity in the United States. The cool, foggy climate of certain areas of California are so ideal for growing artichokes that California now produces 99 percent of the commercial artichoke crop world-wide.
Artichokes are high in vitamin C, folacin, and dietary fiber. They can be baked, steamed, boiled, saute´ed, stir-fried, and marinated. Often eaten alone with a dipping sauce, they are delicious when stuffed or can be used as an ingredient in salads, stews, casseroles, omelets, and sauces.
Also known as rocket, roquette, or rucola, arugula is the name for three species of leafy vegetable: Eruca sativa, Diplotaxis tenuifolia, and D. muralis. Somewhat like lettuce, arugula has had a place on the Mediterranean table since the time of ancient Rome, when it was used as an aphrodisiac. Arugula is thought by some scholars to have been one of the bitter herbs eaten by the Israelites at the first Passover. Up until very recent years it was usually collected from the wild; cultivation has spread in the past decade or so as people have developed a taste for different types of leafy greens.
Rich in beta-carotene, extremely high in calcium, and higher in vitamin C than most “lettuces,” arugula has a peppery taste and aroma that tends toward the mustardlike. It adds flavor to soups, salads, vegetable dishes, sandwiches, and pastas.
Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis), a member of the Lily family, is a perennial plant whose geographic origins are difficult to determine. Currently, wild asparagus ranges from Iran to England, Russia to the Atlantic coast of Europe, and on all sides of the Mediterranean—not to mention across North America, though the plant is definitely not of American origin. The first to cultivate asparagus may have been the ancient Egyptians or perhaps the ancient Greeks, so perhaps the peoples of the Bible were familiar with it also. Certainly, by the time of ancient Rome, asparagus was a valuable garden vegetable, lauded by Cato (2nd century b.c.e.) in his De Re Rustica. Cultivated asparagus probably reverted to the wild after the fall of the Roman Empire, to be reintroduced into cultivation by monastic gardeners in the Middle Ages. Venetian farmers made fortunes in asparagus in the 16th century c.e., and Italian asparagus cultivars and methods became the standards against which all others were measured. At this time, European painters began including bunches of asparagus in their still lifes. French farmers also raised delicious asparagus, and the Huguenot refugees brought French cultivars with them when they fled to England in the 17th century, vastly improving the English asparagus, which had been extremely popular in England yet not very robust. English colonists brought asparagus to North America, but asparagus did not become a commercial crop in the United States until the 19th century.
The two main types of asparagus now grown are the white and the green. White asparagus is planted beneath piles of dirt, to block the sunlight that would help the plants produce green chlorophyll. The stalks of both the white and green varieties are usually cut when they are about a foot in length; the rhizome (root) will grow stalks again the following year. If allowed to continue growing, the plant will develop into a very tall (perhaps 10 feet in height), feathery stalk, which produces berries (seeds) devoured by birds.
Asparagus is very high in vitamins A, B6, C, and E and in copper, folacin, manganese, and potassium. Fresh asparagus must be refrigerated after it is harvested, as it decays rapidly and loses much of its vitamin content and flavor. And it should not be overcooked—quick boiling, steaming, blanching, or stir-frying works best, though it can be roasted and grilled and even served raw. Cooked asparagus can be served hot or cold, in vegetable salads, with pastas, or in soup.
Before the introduction of green beans, the broad bean (Vicia faba) was a dietary staple in northern Africa and southwestern Asia. Commonly known as fava beans, the broad bean goes by a variety of names: faba, horse, field, and tic beans. Fava beans have been cultivated since prehistoric times and have been found in Stone Age (circa 6000 b.c.e.) excavations and even in the ruins of the ancient city of Troy. Fava beans were certainly known to the peoples of the Bible, and if the Hebrew word poˆl means “fava,” as biblical scholars believe, then Daniel received fava beans as a gift and ground them into flour to make a bread for Ezekiel. An easy-to-grow annual, fava beans have no known wild equivalent; it is possible that the progenitor of the fava may be extinct. Easily shucked, the seeds of these beans are large, nutritious, and protein rich, eaten fresh or dried, mixed with grain and ground into flour to make bread, or used as fodder for livestock. Both black and white seeds have been known at least since ancient Greek and Roman times, when a white seed indicated “aye” and a black seed “nay” during elections. Ancient Egyptians stocked the tombs of the dead with dried fava beans, as provision for life in the hereafter, and beans played an important role in the funeral rites of the ancient Greeks. This association with death continues to the present: in Italy, fava beans are sown on November 2, All Souls' Day. During the Middle Ages in Europe, fava beans came to be associated with the supernatural (witches and fairies and ghosts), but they were often one of the few foods affordable by the poor. Fava beans crossed to the Americas in the 16th century c.e. but did not become widely cultivated until recent times.
Fava beans are rich in vicine, divicine, convicine, and isouramil, which can cause hemolytic anemia (the breakdown of red blood cells) in persons with Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency, which may result in kidney failure and death. For this reason, G6PD has become known as favism. G6PD is the most common enzyme-deficiency disease world-wide; it is specific to certain ethnic groups and confers a certain level of immunity to malaria.
Fava beans are an important ingredient in modern Middle Eastern cooking. Whole fava beans are edible only when very tiny; shelled fava beans must also be skinned unless eaten when very young and tender. Fava beans go well in soups, risottos, and stews.
Green beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) are known by a variety of names, such as common bean, French bean, navy bean, string bean, flageolet or snap bean, American haricot bean, and wax bean, and may be bush beans or pole beans. Green beans are usually eaten whole—that is, both the seeds and the fleshy seed covering (pod) are consumed fresh—though the seeds are often removed from the pod, dried, and stored for later use. Such dried beans include pinto, kidney, navy, pea, great northern, and black turtle beans. High in protein and dietary fiber, beans are excellent sources of iron, potassium, selenium, molybdenum, and folate.
The green bean is native to the Americas and was certainly cultivated in prehistoric times, for it has been found in excavations dating to 7000 b.c.e. But it was not known outside the Americas until the so-called Age of Exploration (15th through 17th centuries c.e.) and the transfer of native species across the oceans. During this time, the green bean began to replace the broad bean in many European, Mediterranean, North African, and Middle Eastern dishes. Before the introduction of green beans, the broad or fava bean (Vicia faba) was a dietary staple in northern Africa and southwestern Asia.
Green beans are an important ingredient in modern Middle Eastern cooking. Generally, green beans are picked when still small and the seeds have not fully formed and are eaten whole. Whole green beans are delicious alone, cooked, pickled or marinated, or in salads and casseroles.
Kidney beans are varieties of the common or green bean (Phaseolus vulgaris). Usually dried for long storage, kidney beans have dark red, light red, or even white skin and have a shape that resembles that of a human kidney. Some types of kidney beans include Montcalm, Wells Red, Geneva, New York, and True Cranberry. These beans are used to make chili, soup, red beans and rice, and Creole dishes. As with other dried beans, kidney beans need to be soaked in water overnight to ready them for cooking.
The lima bean (Phaseolus lunatus) is a native of the Americas, from modern-day Mexico to Argentina, and may have originated in what is present-day Peru. The large-seed variety of lima beans was domesticated in prehistoric times, probably about 6500 b.c.e. A small-seed variety was separately domesticated, probably about 800 c.e. Domestication spread to Europe during the 16th century. Lima beans would not have been known to the peoples of the Bible, but certain contemporary Middle Eastern dishes call for lima beans, which are high in fiber and iron. Also known as butter beans, lima beans are delicious alone or in company with roasted meat and poultry.
Bean, navy or white
Navy beans, also known as small white beans or pea beans or haricots, are a variety of the common or green bean (Phaseolus vulgaris). Usually dried for long storage, navy beans have a mild taste that complements the flavors of the foods with which they are served or combined. Some of the major varieties include Robust, Rainy River, Michelite, and Sanilac. To prepare the dried beans for cooking, they need to be soaked in water overnight. Then they can be boiled for serving as a bean dish, or they can be added to soups, stews, casseroles, and salads.
Bean sprouts are the small sprouting plants
of bean seeds. Most often allowed to germinate and harvested for their sprouts are the common or green bean (Phaseolus vulgaris), chickpeas (Cicer arietinum), lentils (Lens esculenta), and mung beans (Vigna radiate). (Alfalfa [Medicago sativa] and mustard [Brassica genus] sprouts are also commonly consumed.) Bean sprouts have less carbohydrates, iron,protein, and vitamins A and B than the beans (bean seeds) from which they grow, but they can have as much as five times the vitamin C. Bean sprouts are usually eaten fresh, added to salads or used as a garnish. They can be used in stir-fries, but cooking reduces the amount of vitamin C in the sprouts.
The beet (Beta vulgaris) is a root vegetable that is completely edible: both the roots and the green leaves are delicious, according to many palates. The species includes the common beet (also known as the red beet, beetroot, and table beet), the sugar beet (which is processed for sugar), mangle-wurzle (also known as mangel or mangold, and used as animal fodder), foliage beet (grown for its leaves), and Swiss chard (also grown for its greens).
Though the earliest written record of beet cultivation occurs in an 8th-century b.c.e. cuneiform tablet from Babylon, it is probable that beets were domesticated before 1000 b.c.e., along with the carrot, cabbage, turnip, and other like vegetables. Some botanists believe that the beet is native to the Mediterranean region. The ancient Greeks used beet greens for flavoring and as medicine, but beets grown specifically for their swollen roots may not have appeared until the time of ancient Rome. With the fall of the Roman Empire, beets, radishes, turnips, and carrots seem to have been lost to much of Europe until the Renaissance, when they again became essential garden vegetables. Beets have a relatively high tolerance for salt and grow very well in land reclaimed from the sea. They grow best in temperate to cool regions.
Beets are a biennial plant, producing their large, edible, red (or reddish, pinkish, or even white) root the first year and seeds the second (if they are allowed to remain in the ground).
Remarkably, the sugar beet has the highest sugar content of any vegetable. Andreas S. Marggraf, a German chemist, was the first to extract sugar from beets, describing in 1747 how he boiled beetroots in alcohol, allowed them to cool, and collected sugar crystals that were exactly similar to those of sugar cane. The first sugar extracting factory was established in Silesia in 1802, when the price of cane sugar from the West Indies was at an all-time high. Napoleon, at war with the English, encouraged the production of sugar beets, ordering the planting of 70,000 acres of them in order to undermine the English trade in sugar cane. In 1812 financier Benjamin Delessert opened a sugar-beet refinery in Paris. The Germans took the lead in the following years, when Moritz von Koppy developed the White Silesian beet, from which all of today's varieties of sugar beets have evolved. Today, nearly half the world's sugar comes from the sugar beet.
Beets are rich in folacin, vitamin C, and manganese. They have no cholesterol but are high in sodium. Beet greens are an excellent source of beta-carotene, calcium, and iron.
Fresh beets are always in good supply. They can be baked, boiled, or steamed alone to make a hot side dish. They can also be added to salads, pickled, spiced, made into a relish, and added to soups, including borscht, the traditional Russian soup so popular at modern Passover meals. Beet leaves can be steamed, saute´ed, fried, and prepared just as other greens. So-called baby beets, which have been picked when immature, are a delicacy.
Like cauliflower, broccoli (Brassica oleracea form cymosa) is a cabbage. While cabbage has a long history of cultivation, it is not known when or where the broccoli form developed. Some scholars believe that it was known in ancient Rome and came from Asia Minor and the eastern Mediterranean. Others assert that the Etruscans developed it early in the common era. Certainly, it was well known in Italy by the 17th century and in the eastern Mediterranean before then. Some scholars state that broccoli came to the Americas with French or English settlers, as broccoli had made its way to England by the 18th century. Most believe that Italian immigrants brought broccoli to the Americas in the 20th century, though that may be simple folklore.
Broccoli is usually deep green, though purple-headed and white-headed types are known. One of the healthiest vegetables to eat, broccoli is extremely high in vitamins A and C and provides significant amounts of vitamin B6, folacin, manganese, and potassium.
Broccoli can be eaten either raw or cooked. If cooked, it should remain crispy and bright green—overcooking removes much of the vitamin content. Broiling, steaming, and stir-frying are the usual ways of cooking broccoli. Too often served with cream or cheese sauces (which add enormous amounts of calories and fats and mask the taste of the vegetable), broccoli is delicious if served plain with lemon juice or if mixed with pastas or added to soups.
The common garden cabbage (Brassica oleracea capitata), a member of the Cabbage family, exists as either red cabbage or white cabbage. It is very closely related to kale, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, collards, broccoli, and cauliflower. Indeed, cross-pollination is possible among these relatives and results in a relatively rapid reversion to the common wild ancestor: wild cabbage (sometimes called sea cabbage: B. oleracea). Generally, cabbage grows best in cool, moist climates, but wild cabbage is still found from England south to Spain, and relatives are native to Sardinia and Corsica (B. robertiana), northern Africa (B. insularis), and the eastern Mediterranean (B. cretica). The ancient Greeks knew of cabbage, and the ancient Romans considered it good for health: both Cato and Pliny the Elder mentioned cabbage in their writings—the latter as a source of medicine. It is certainly possible that the peoples of the Bible knew of and used cabbage in their cooking, though there is no conclusive evidence to that end and it is not mentioned in the Bible. Though probably native to northern Europe, red and white cabbage is not recorded there until the 14th century c.e., when the French court chef dared to serve cabbage at a banquet. Cabbage is recorded in the German lands in the 12th century, and in the Netherlands and perhaps England in the 16th.
Cabbage can be prepared in a number of ways: as a simple dish of boiled cabbage leaves; as the main ingredient in cabbage soup; and famously, as cole slaw and pickled as sauerkraut.
Cabbage, when raw, is a good source of vitamin C. It also contains moderate amounts of vitamin A. It is most nutritious when served fresh or lightly steamed. There is some evidence that eating cabbage might help lower the risk of gastrointestinal and respiratory cancers.
The carrot (Daucus carota), an edible root, is probably a native of what is modern-day Afghanistan, Turkestan, and the Hindu Kush region of central Asia. There, carrots with red or purple roots still grow wild. Selective cultivation probably produced the reddish-purple, forked-root Asiatic carrot. The orange, yellow, or white single-root Western carrot was probably a later development. Carrot seeds have been found in Swiss and German archaeological sites dating from the 3rd millennium b.c.e., though archaeologists have concluded that early peoples ate only the seeds and left the roots in the ground. In the Fertile Crescent (from the Nile to the Indus Rivers), carrots were probably cultivated for their roots by 1000 b.c.e., so the Israelites may have encountered carrots during their captivity in Egypt. Linguistically, there is no reference to carrots until the 2nd century c.e., in the writings of Galen, a Levantine-Greek medical author. The people of modern-day Iran and northern Arabia were growing purple and yellow carrots by the 10th century; the range of yellow carrots expanded with the spread of Islam across northern Africa and into Spain. By the 13th century, carrots were known in Italy; by the 14th, Germany and the Netherlands; by the 15th, England. Carrots are reported in China from the 13th century; in Japan, from the 18th. Artists depicted carrots as purple or yellow; the orange variety first appeared in 16th-century art and probably developed in the Low Countries at that time. White carrots appeared in art at about the same time, indicating the domestication of wild, white-rooted varieties (though like orange carrots, white carrots may also have been selectively bred from yellow carrots). English colonists brought carrots to the Americas in the 17th century, and there they quickly escaped into the wild, and feral carrots have spread all over North America. In the 18th century the Dutch produced the Long Orange cultivar, the ancestor of all modern carotene (orange) carrots. Today, China and the United States are the top carrot producers, though carrots are grown around the world.
Carrots retain their high vitamin A content when cooked (vitamin A is essential in maintaining vision). Indeed, cooking carrots until they are just crisp-tender actually makes their nutrients more accessible to human digestion. Carrots are high in potassium and fiber (which helps to lower cholesterol) and may lower the risk of cancer of the lungs, larynx, and esophagus. Carrots also contain a lot of sugar, though they are seldom prepared as a dish unto themselves. Usually, carrots are used in stews, soups, salads, breads, muffins, and even cakes.
Carrots are related to parsley, dill, fennel, celery, and the wildflower Queen Anne's Lace.
Surprising as it may be, cauliflower (Brassica oleracea form botrytis) is actually a variety of cabbage and is the same thing as broccoli: both cauliflower and broccoli are types of cabbage whose flowers have been developed for eating. Essentially, humans have selectively grown cauliflower as an annual plant whose flowers do not mature but form into a head, a compact mass called the curd. Farmers developed broccoli as a biennial plant, picking it at the end of its first year of growth, when the flower buds had developed but before they could bloom during the second year. All of this selective cultivation occurred over many millennia: by the time of the ancient Romans, cauliflower was already part of the cuisine. Its exact origins are unknown, but the people of Asia Minor (which today is known as the eastern portions of Turkey) may have been the first to grow cauliflower. It's possible but unlikely that the people of the Bible ate cauliflower. Cauliflower did not cross north of the Alps until about the 14th century c.e., and it made its way to the Americas in the 17th. It became a favorite food for the Lenten season in northern Europe, as it was filling but unaffected by any rules for fasting. Enthusiasm for cauliflower has waned, except in Scandinavia (where long summer sunlight produces a tasty curd), Germany, England, and India (where curries add flavor to what some people say is an otherwise dull-tasting vegetable).
A large number of subvarieties of cauliflower are in cultivation, from white to green to purple. Cauliflower is very high in vitamin C and provides significant amounts of folacin, vitamin B6, manganese, and potassium; it has no cholesterol. Preparation includes boiling, saute´eing, and steaming, though the cooking time should be held to the absolute minimum, as overcooking will cause the nutrients to leach into the water. Also, cauliflower will turn yellow if cooked in aluminum and brown or blue-green if cooked in iron. Store cauliflower in a perforated plastic bag or wrap to allow carbon dioxide to escape and prevent the vegetable from developing an unpleasant taste and color.
Celery (Apium graveolens) is a biennial plant of the Parsley family. Grown from seeds, it produces a cluster of furrowed stalks with wedge-shaped leaves. In the wild, celery is coarse and somewhat rank; cultivation and blanching remove its acrid qualities and leave it with a mildly sweet, aromatic taste. Celery stalks are often chopped and used in salads and soups; the leaves are added to soups and stews for additional flavor; the seeds are used as a spice. Sometimes stringy, celery provides roughage that is beneficial to digestion. Celery was probably not known to peoples of the Bible, but it is a common vegetable in modernMiddle Eastern dishes.
Also known as the garbanzo, garbanzo bean, and ceci, the chickpea (Cicer arietinum) grows in a pod, like beans and peas. Roughly spherical in shape, chickpeas are tan in color and have a slightly nutty taste with a firm texture.
Cultivation of the chickpea began so long ago that its original wild ancestor is now extinct. Presumed to be a native of the region between ancient Persia and the Caucasus, chickpeas have been found in prehistoric archaeological sites in Sicily and Switzerland. They were a staple in ancient Egypt and were grown in the hanging gardens of ancient Babylon. The Greeks of Homer's day relied on chickpeas in addition to beans, lentils, onions, and garlic, and the ancient Romans enjoyed chickpeas and bacon the way many people enjoy pork and beans. The chickpea would have been common across the Middle East during the biblical era. Chickpeas are now consumed world-wide: inexpensive with a high nutritional value, they are a staple in the diet of poor peoples and a contrasting favorite in the cuisine of the middle class and the well-to-do.
While high in calories, chickpeas are also high in protein, calcium, folacin, iron, phosphorus, and potassium and provide a good amount of dietary fiber. Chickpeas contain no cholesterol. Though to a lesser degree than other beans and legumes, chickpeas do contain some complex sugars that can cause indigestion, bloating, and flatulence. Not all people are affected, but those who are can minimize the effects by preparing the chickpeas in large quantities of fresh water, eating them in small amounts and in company with low-fat foods, having them earlier in the day rather than later, and avoiding other gas-producing foods like cabbage.
Around the world, people add chickpeas to salads, toss them with pasta, mash them to make hummus or falafel, and roast them for snacking. Like other beans, chickpeas tend to absorb the flavors of the foods they are cooked with and thus are extremely versatile. Dried chickpeas can also be ground into flour and used to make breads and other baked goods.
Cilantro is one of the common names for fresh coriander.
Cucumber (Cucumis sativus), belonging to the Gourd family, has been domesticated and cultivated for at least 4,000 years in India and Egypt, so it is probable that Abraham and his kin would have been familiar with it. Cucumber is mentioned in the book of Isaiah (1:8) and the book of Numbers (11:5). The cucumber is probably a native of the Himalayan regions. The plant grows as a vine, with large leaves that provide a canopy for the edible fruit (botanically, it is a fruit because the seeds are inside a fleshy shell; it is, however, a vegetable in the culinary, or cooking, sense), which can grow as long as 12 inches with a diameter of 2 or more inches. Cucumbers are eaten raw, cooked, or pickled. They are low in calories and provide few nutrients besides some minerals (unless pickled) but are filled with water and do constitute a refreshing dish on hot days.
The dandelion species (Taraxacum genus), members of the Sunflower family, are the common lawn weeds that annoy so many homeowners, but the leaves are quite nutritious. Picked before the plant develops its yellow flower (which turns into a puffball of seeds that scatter in the wind), the leaves taste slightly bitter, but they are high in calories, beta-carotene, vitamin C, calcium, and iron—in fact, dandelion greens have more calcium than whole milk. The leaves may be blanched, braised, sautéed, simmered, and steamed but are especially tasty if served fresh with a hot, garlicky vinaigrette. The leaves can also be steeped to make a tea and fermented to make wine. The flower buds are edible and are delicious fried, and the long taproot can be peeled and boiled and is less bitter if dug up in the spring or after autumn frosts. Ground and roasted, the roots make a passable coffee. Honey can be collected from dandelion flowers.
The ancient Mediterranean peoples ate wild dandelions, which were plentiful, and dandelions may have been among the bitter herbs that made up the Israelites' Passover meal. Dandelion greens were used as medicine up through the Renaissance period, though the presence of greens in the diet of European peoples had declined drastically during the Middle Ages. At the end of the 17th century, John Evelyn included dandelion greens in most of his salad recipes. Many African recipes, including the Algerian honey cake yubba, call for the addition of dandelion greens, and the African people sold into slavery brought their taste for dandelions with them to the Americas, where southern soul food developed to include dandelions in mixed-greens recipes. Bringing their recipes with them from northern Europe, the Pennsylvania Dutch prepared a dandelion salad dressed with hot cider vinegar, sugar, and bacon.
A member of the Nightshade family, eggplant, also known as aubergine, comes in two varieties: purple (Solanum melongena) and white (S. esculentum). Plants can grow 12 to 24 inches tall, producing large, pendulous fruits 6 to 12 inches long. When first harvested, the fruit is spongy and bitter to the taste, but upon cooking becomes tender, with a rich, complex flavor. First cultivated about 2000 b.c.e. in Southeast Asia, eggplant traveled to the Middle East and the Mediterranean and was quickly adopted into the regional cuisines. Abraham and his kin would probably have eaten eggplant, either as an ingredient in stews, as a paste to garnish bread or endive, or cooked in oil on its own. During the Middle Ages in northern Europe, eggplant fell out of favor because it was thought to cause fevers, epileptic seizures, and even insanity and came to have the nickname “ “Apple of Sodom. ” However, it remained popular in the Mediterranean, and its use in cooking has again spread across the world.
A member of the Aster family, endive (Cichorium endivia) is a leafy salad vegetable that is believed to have become known in ancient Egypt by 3000 b.c.e. Endive was probably one of the bitter herbs eaten by the Israelites at the first Passover. Both the ancient Greeks and Romans used endive as a vegetable and ingredient in salads. Often confused with chicory (C. intybus), endive is now known in three major varieties: Belgian endive, curly endive, and escarole. Endive is a very good source of potassium, fiber, selenium, and vitamin B. The best endive is either white with yellow tips or reddish; endive that is green has been exposed to too much light and has lost some of its taste and nutritional value. Crunchy yet tender, moist, and bitter, endive adds both texture and flavor to salads but can also be used as a scoop to complement cheese-, yogurt-, honey-, or bean-based dips or sauces.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), also known as sweet fennel, Florence fennel, and finocchio, is a member of the Parsley family. Although it may look like plump celery, fennel has quite a different flavor, tasting more like licorice or anise. Fennel has apparently had a long history of cultivation, though it has been seldom written about. Probably native to the Mediterranean, it has been a favorite of cooks on the Italian peninsula, and the ancient Romans sprinkled fennel seeds on bread and mixed fennel leaves in with other greens. They also preserved fennel stems in a mixture of vinegar and brine. Earlier, the ancient Greeks used the stalks and leaves, and their word for fennel, marathon, gave its name to that famous field of battle because it was overgrown with the plant. It was known among the ancient Gauls before the Roman conquest, and it is one of the traditional ingredients in Chinese five-spice powder (the others being anise seed, Szechuan pepper, cloves, and cinnamon). In India, fennel became an important ingredient in curries. In the Middle Ages, fennel was one of the four hot seeds (the others being anise, caraway, and coriander). Chaucer called it one of the nine holy herbs (though the identities of the other eight have been lost to history). In modern times, fennel has been considered one of the five roots that encourage appetite (the others being wild celery, asparagus, parsley, and knee holly [also known as butcher's broom]). Fennel is now part of modern Middle Eastern cuisines.
All parts of fennel are edible: the bulbs, leaves, stems, seeds, and flowers. Italian cuisine tends to concentrate on the bulbs and stalks, while French cooking uses the leaves as herbs. In general, the stalks can be used like celery and make a tasty addition to soups and stews, and the leaves make a flavorful herb. The bulbs can be baked, braised, sautéed, or steamed. Fennel adds a nice flavor to vegetable stir-fries, fish dishes, pasta sauces, and even fruit salads.
Fennel is very high in vitamins A and C and high in calcium, iron, magnesium, sodium, and potassium. It has no cholesterol and very little fat.
A relative of the radish, the horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) is of indistinct origins: various botanists claim it is native to the Mediterranean, to southeastern Europe and western Asia, to western and southeastern Asia, to Siberia, to central or northern Europe, and so on. It is generally agreed that horseradish was known to the ancient Romans, as Cato mentions it in his agricultural treatises and a Pompeiian mural depicts the plant. The roots and leaves were used as both medicine and condiment, from southern Europe through Germany and Denmark.
The horseradish plant grows to about 5 feet in height, and the root is long and white. The greens are sometimes used as one of the bitter herbs of the Jewish Passover meal. Jewish cuisine also uses a sweetened horseradish-vinegar sauce called chrain. The root is often grated or crushed, used as a garnish for meats or fish, mixed with salt and distilled vinegar, or added to flavor sauces, though it can be eaten whole as erudite.
Horseradish is rich in vitamin C, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous.
A wild horseradish (A. lapathifolia) is native to North America and was highly favored by no less a wild food expert than Euell Gibbons, proponent of natural diets and author of Stalking the Wild Asparagus and other classics of food lore.
The leek (Allium ampeloprasum var. porrum, otherwise known as A. porrum) belongs to the Lily family and is thought to be native to Central Asia, though it can withstand colder weather and flourishes in the British Isles and northern Europe; indeed, the leek is the national emblem of Wales. Leeks have been cultivated for millennia, and they are recorded as a staple of the builders of the Egyptian pyramids. They are also mentioned in the Bible (Numbers 11:5-6) when the Israelites were complaining about the blandness of their diet in the desert: “We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” Leeks have many health-promoting properties: they reduce disease-causing cholesterol, protect against prostate and colon cancer, and stabilize blood-sugar levels. Like onions, leeks are relatively easy to grow and are in season from the fall to the early spring. They are used in soups, salads, omelets, casseroles, stews, and many other dishes throughout the world.
Like other legumes and beans, lentils (Lens esculenta) have been part of the human diet since time immemorial. Although their origin is unknown, they have been found in archaeological sites in northeastern Iraq dating from 6750 b.c.e., in Turkish sites from 5500 b.c.e., and in Egyptian tombs from before 1500 b.c.e. Documents from ancient Sumeria record their cultivation in Babylon by 800 b.c.e., but by then lentils had probably already spread well north into European lands and east into the Indian subcontinent. Lentils were certainly a staple in the cuisine of the peoples of the Bible: Jacob served them to his brother, Esau (Genesis 25:31), and Ezekiel made a bread with lentils (Ezekiel 4:9). The ancient Greeks and Romans considered lentils a food of the poor, though some wealthy Greeks and Romans did serve lentils at their meals, perhaps by choice, perhaps by necessity. In Europe, lentils were avoided during medieval times and did not come back into fashion until the 17th or 18th century c.e. Now they are consumed world-wide, though they are particularly important in the Middle East, India, and Africa.
Lentils come in a large number of varieties, from red to brown to green. They are relatively high in calories and calcium; high in protein, dietary fiber, iron, and phosphorus; very high in folacin. They contain no cholesterol and little fat. Though to a lesser degree than other beans and legumes, lentils do contain some indigestible complex sugars that can cause bloating and flatulence. Not all people are affected, but those who are can minimize the effects by preparing the lentils in large quantities of fresh water, eating them in small amounts and in company with low-fat foods, having them earlier in the day rather than later, and avoiding other gas-producing foods like cabbage.
Lentils cook quickly and, unlike other dried beans, do not require presoaking (though it does help to soften them). Their taste is relatively bland (some say it is mildly peppery), but they do pick up the flavors of accompanying foods. Use lentils in soups, salads, and stews; with other vegetables or with rice; or as a dish unto themselves.
Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is perhaps the world's most important salad plant, but it probably entered cultivation by accident, its wild ancestors (L. serriola, L. saligna, L. scariola, and L. virosa) migrating out of the Caucasus region to grow as weeds in fields of wheat or barley that had been planted by denizens of the fertile Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates River valleys. Farmers would have begun cultivating these wild lettuces for the oil in their seeds, as the leaves would have been extremely bitter. It is believed that these wild lettuces would have been among the bitter herbs eaten by the Israelites at the Passover meal in Egypt (Exodus 12:8). Yet through ancient times lettuce was more of a medicinal and religious plant than a food plant. Many lettuces, particularly the serriola, exude a milky white latex when cut, and this bitter fluid contains a narcotic that induces sleep. By 2500 b.c.e. the ancient Egyptians were using this liquid in making poultices and in treating stomachaches and coughs, and they also made sacred offerings of lettuce to Min, their goddess of fertility, probably because lettuce's white fluid was a reminder of fertile semen. The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates (5th century b.c.e.) knew that lettuce juice would induce sleep, and the Romans were great fans of lettuce because of its soporific quality. But by the 1st century c.e., Roman farmers had begun to develop lettuces with tastier leaves.
Though Asia had indigenous lettuce (L. indica), the sativa lettuces made their way to China by the 8th century, and lettuce underwent further hybridization. In the Americas, as early as the 16th century colonists were growing European lettuces, which interbred with the bitter native lettuces (such as horseweed [L. canadensis]) to produce even more varieties. Today, seven types of lettuce, each with dozens of varieties, are recognized:
- Iceberg, the mildest tasting, resembling cabbage, pale green in color
- Crisphead, crunchy and mild
- Looseleaf, green or shading to deep red at the edges
- Romaine, also called Cos (in reference to its origin on the Greek/Turkish island of that name), with long, deep green leaves
- Butterhead, also called Boston or bibb, with a buttery texture, grass green in color
- Batavia, similar to butterhead
- Chinese, bitter and robust, with long leaves, good for stir-fries and stews
Of these types, romaine provides the most calcium, vitamins A and C, and folacin, though the butterheads provide more iron. In general, the darker lettuces provide more nutrients, though all lettuces provide a good amount of dietary fiber.
Lettuces are usually eaten raw, in salads, either alone or mixed with several varieties or with other vegetables, but lettuce can also be grilled, sautéed, steamed, and braised. Different lettuces can also be used as garnishes for sandwiches or Mexican dishes or as scoops for poultry or fish salads.
The lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) is also known as the sacred lotus, Indian lotus, and sacred water lily. Native to India and Indonesia, the lotus is an aquatic perennial, growing to a height of about 5 feet. Each green leaf may be as wide as 2 feet in diameter, and the pink and white blossoms with yellow centers may be as wide as 8 inches in diameter. It was introduced into Egypt from Persia sometime between the 8th and the 4th centuries b.c.e., and traders probably brought it to the lands of the Israelites en route or soon thereafter.
Every part of the lotus is edible. The leaves are eaten as a vegetable, often as a wrap or container for other foods. The petals serve as garnish, while the dried stamens can be used to brew herbal tea. The seeds (nuts) can be eaten raw, dried and popped like popcorn, grilled, candied, or boiled into a paste; lotus seed paste is used in daifuku and rice flour pudding.
The rhizomes (roots) are generally about 8 inches long and 2 inches in diameter, with many large air pockets running lengthwise to make the plant buoyant (a cross-section of the rhizome will look like a wagon wheel). The rhizomes are delicious, used in soups and stir-fries and sometimes eaten raw. They can also be dried and ground into lotus flour, which can be used in baking a wide range of goods, from breads and bagels to noodles and pancakes. In developed countries, fresh lotus root is difficult to find; it may be available in Asian markets, where one can encounter canned lotus root, which is almost as good for cooking. Asian markets may also have lotus flour.
In the Hindu religion, the lotus is associated with the divinities Vishnu, Brahma, and Lakshmi. Though it grows in mud, it yields a pure beauty, suggesting the spiritual potential of all souls, and the lotus' unfolding petals represent the soul's opening to the universe. In Buddhism, the lotus has come to symbolize purity—of body, speech, and mind—because it floats on top of muddy waters, detached from earthly desire. The lotus is closely associated with the Buddha.
Also known as Jews' (or Jew's) mallow (see Job 30:4), bush okra, nalta jute, and jute mallow, mulukhiya (Corchorus olitorius) is a type of jute, cultivated in the Middle East and Africa as an herb and in India, southeastern Asia, and the south Pacific for its fiber. It is believed to be native to India. Generally, when referring to the leaves consumed as a vegetable, the name mulukhiya (or molokhiya, molohiya, mulukhiyah, mulukhia, molehiya, or molocheiya) is used; when referring to the fiber obtained from the plant, the name jute is used.
As a summer vegetable, mulukhiya is available fresh or dried (powdered), and sometimes frozen (finely chopped leaves). Like okra, it can have a somewhat slimy (mucilaginous) texture when cooked.
Fresh mulukhiya is most often used to make soup (extremely popular in Egypt, Syria, and Jordan), and the leaves are sensitive to overcooking, which causes them to fall to the bottom of the soup pot instead of remaining suspended in the broth. It is also made into a stew with chicken and served over rice and sometimes lentils.
Mulukhiya is high in protein, vitamin C, beta-carotene, calcium, and iron.
“Mushroom” is the common name for a large number (perhaps as many as 38,000) of edible (and sometimes poisonous) fungi—plants that have no roots or leaves, do not flower or bear seeds, but reproduce by releasing spores, and do not require light to grow. Most mushrooms grow in the wild and have been collected as food since the time of the Egyptian pharaohs, who named them a royal food, and perhaps earlier. It is likely that mushrooms were known to the peoples of the Bible. The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates used mushrooms as both food and medicine. The Japanese may have been the first to cultivate mushrooms, having raised shiitakes for more than two thousand years. The French followed, though many years later, in the 17th century c.e., systematically cultivating mushrooms in caves. Commercial cultivation spread throughout Europe and the United States by the late 1800s, and Pennsylvania farmers developed methods of growing mushrooms indoors. Today, most mushrooms are grown in special buildings that closely regulate the light, temperature, humidity, and ventilation for maximum yield.
The most popular types of mushrooms include the button (Agaricus bisporus: sometimes called table, white, or common), cèpe (Boletus edulis: also known as bolete, cep, and porcino), chanterelle (the Cantharellus genus: also known as girolle or pfifferling), enoki (or enokitake or enoki-daki), Italian brown, morel (the Morchella genus), oyster (or pleurotus, tree oyster, phoenix, or sovereign), porto-bello (or portobella or Roma, a large brown strain of the button mushroom; immature portobellos are known as cremini), shiitake (Lentinus edodes or Lentinula edodes: also known as golden oak, forest, black forest, oriental black, or Chinese black), and wood ear (or tree ear or black tree fungus), not to mention the truffle.
In general, mushrooms provide more nutrition than they are usually credited for, containing a high amount of protein, B vitamins, copper, folacin, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, and riboflavin. They are low in calories and contain antibacterial and other medicinal substances; some have been reported to inhibit the growth of tumors.
Mushrooms can be prepared in a large variety of ways, from stir-frying and sauteeing to broiling and baking. They can be cleaned and eaten raw and whole, sliced for salads or sandwiches or pizza, stuffed with cheese, vegetables, or crabmeat, mixed in with rice or barley or other vegetable dishes, added to tomato sauces for pasta, and made into soups. They can also be dried, a process that tends to concentrate their flavor, and canned, to extend their shelf-life.
Given the prevalence of mushrooms in the field, mushroom lovers may be tempted to forego the store varieties and gather them wild. Only expert mushroom botanists should dare to do this, however, as many wild mushrooms are highly toxic, even deadly, and may be nearly identical in appearance to their edible relatives.
Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) is an unusual vegetable in that it is picked and consumed when unripe because it is indigestible when ripe. It probably originated in the Ethiopian regions of Africa and spread from there to northern Africa and the Middle East. There are some claims that okra was known in ancient Egypt; if true, okra would have been known to the peoples of the Bible. When native Africans were enslaved and taken to the Americas, they brought okra with them, and the name okra is said to come from its name in the Twi language, nkruman or nkrumun. However, okra is also known as gumbo, which is an abbreviation of its name in Umbundu, ochinggombo or ngombo. Although gumbo originally meant the actual vegetable, it now applies to any heavy catch-all American stew, even if that stew does not contain okra as a thickener. Okra is now consumed throughout the developing world, often used in soups and stews, sometimes eaten fresh, boiled, steamed, or pickled. It has been relatively unknown in Europe, though recent immigration patterns have been changing the variety of foods found in European markets.
Okra has a distinctive taste and a mucilaginous texture, which means that when it is sliced and cooked, it produces a sticky juice that thickens any liquid. Okra tastes particularly good when combined with tomatoes, peppers, and corn. A good source of vitamin C, folacin and other B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, and calcium, okra is also high in dietary fiber, low in fat, and has no cholesterol.
The common onion (Allium cepa), like garlic, leeks, chives, scallions, and shallots, belongs to the Lily family. Usually known simply as the onion, common onions come in numerous varieties, from the Japanese onion to the tree or Egyptian onion, and from white to yellow to purple. The common onion is a biennial plant that is now grown world-wide.
No exact equivalent of the common onion occurs naturally in the wild, but five closely related species are found in central Asia, on the Tibetan plateau and on the Russian-Chinese border. Genetic comparisons indicate that onions have been cultivated and modified for a very long time, and the archaeological record provides additional proof. Traces of onion bulbs have been found at sites in Jericho, dating from about 5000 b.c.e. Carvings of onions appear on Egyptian tombs, and one of the pyramids built before 3000 b.c.e. records the amount of onions required to provision the laborers. The Bible also mentions onions (Numbers 11): when the Israelites grew tired of manna during their desert exile, they complained to Moses that they missed the onions that they had enjoyed while in Egypt.
Over the centuries, onion bulbs and seeds spread west to the Mediterranean basin and Europe. The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, the ancient Greek philosopher/teacher Theophrastus, and the Roman writer Pliny the Elder all knew of onions, which by the time of the Roman Empire were available as either flat or round, yellow, red, or white, and mild or bitter varieties. Onions were ubiquitous in Europe during the Middle Ages, and seafarers took onions with them to Asia, Africa, and the Americas, where they quickly became a staple of agriculture.
Most onions have a sharp, strong smell and taste. Some onions, such as the white or silver Mediterranean onion, are mild, soft, and juicy; these tend to spoil quickly and cannot be stored for very long. Other onions, such as those cultivated in northern Europe, with reddish-brown skins, store nicely for longer periods, particularly when kept in cool vegetable cellars.
Because of their strong flavor and odor, and because they often induce tears when they are chopped or sliced, onions came to be known as the food of the poor. The Code of Hammurabi (about 1700 b.c.e.), from ancient Mesopotamia, stipulated a monthly ration of bread and onions for the poor. Cooking tends to mellow the strong flavor and odor of most onions, though some mild- or sweet-tasting onions are eaten raw. When cut, onions release sulfenic acid, which breaks apart quickly into a volatile gas; the gas combines with the fluid in the eyes to create a very mild sulfuric-acid solution, which causes the stinging sensation. The eyes produce tears to dilute and flush out this acid.
Onions are a good source of vitamin C and folacin. It is believed that onions may be at least somewhat effective against colds and may help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
The pea (Pisum sativum and P. fulvum) is technically a legume, like the bean, having a pod that surrounds fleshy seeds, but the pea does not require the long cooking times that other legumes often do. Humans have been eating peas since Neolithic times, and some say the oldest find of peas dates from 9750 b.c.e., located in the “Spirit Cave” on the border of Thailand and Myanmar (Burma). Other archaeologists claim the oldest peas to have been discovered in southeastern Turkey, with a date of 7500 b.c.e. These all seem to have been peas gathered from the wild. The oldest of these would provide some indication of the geographic origin of the wild pea, which would necessarily have been a cooler area, and would indicate the direction in which peas migrated, either east to west or west to east. Or it is possible that there were different species of wild peas that had their own natural habitat and that may have hybridized to produce the species known today. The first evidence of cultivation comes from the town of Çatal Hüyiik in Turkey, dating from circa 5750 b.c.e. From there, cultivation seems to have spread to Greece, Egypt, the Balkans, the Rhine Valley, the western Mediterranean lands, and, by circa 2000 b.c.e., to India. Peas were most likely known to the peoples of the Bible. Peas probably reached China by the 7th century c.e. To the end of the Renaissance, across Europe, peas were usually harvested when ripe, dried, and stored until they were ground into flour, mixed with wheat or rye flour, and made into bread or until they were soaked and used to make pease porridge or pudding, though sometimes they were eaten fresh in France. The Italians, who make an art of dining, seem to have adopted the custom of eating fresh peas in the 16th century, though consuming peas fresh did not really become common across Europe until the 17th century. Legend indicates that Christopher Columbus planted peas on Isabella Island in 1493 and that their cultivation spread rapidly among Native Americans, to Mexico by 1540, to Florida by 1602, and to New England by 1614. English colonists in both Massachusetts and Virginia planted their own garden peas too.
Besides their importance as a foodstuff, peas have played a major role in human scientific progress. Thomas Knight of England was the first to record his efforts to produce new cultivars of a standard crop under controlled conditions, and he experimented with pea cross-pollination in the late 18th century. More important were the experiments of Gregor Mendel, a Moravian monk who founded the science of genetics by hybridizing peas.
Generally, the best-tasting peas are the smallest. Peas are very high in nutrients, providing significant amounts of vitamins A, B6, and C, copper, folacin, iron, magnesium, manganese, niacin, phosphorus, and thiamin. They are often eaten raw, or they may be blanched, braised, steamed, boiled, or stir-fried. Added to rice, pastas, salads, soups, or eaten alone, peas are a colorful and delicious part of a meal.
The pepper (Capsicum annuum) comes in a wide variety of shapes and colors and are either sweet or hot.
The most commonly known sweet pepper is the green bell variety, with three or four lobes, but bell peppers can also be yellow, red, orange, brown, or purple. Bell peppers generally have a sweet taste. Banana peppers, so named because in shape and color they resemble bananas, are also mild in taste. Cubanelle (light green or yellow, long and tapered) and pimento (red, heart-shaped) peppers are also among the sweet varieties.
The hot peppers, also known as chilies, include Anaheim (green or red, long and slender), poblano (also known as ancho; red to black), cascabel (green or red, tomato-shaped), cayenne (red, long and thin and pointed), cherry (red, cherry-shaped), Hungarian wax (yellow to orange-red, banana-shaped), jalapeno (green or red, short and thick), and serrano (green, torpedo-shaped). Some botanists classify these hot peppers as a different species, C. frutescens.
The Capsicum peppers originated in the tropical Americas and thus would not have been known to the people of the ancient Mediterranean regions. They were, however, an early domesticate of indigenous Americans, having been found in a Peruvian archaeological site dating from 2500 b.c.e. Transported across the Atlantic in the 16th century c.e., peppers gained immediate acceptance in Europe: plants flourished in the Mediterranean climate, and when the fruit was dried and ground, the result was an acceptable imitation of the much more expensive black pepper. Soon thereafter, peppers were also taken to India, China, and the Philippines. Today Capsicum peppers are cultivated world-wide and are an important ingredient in many cuisines, including Middle Eastern cooking.
All peppers are high in vitamins A and C, and the hot varieties provide cap-saicin, which works as an anticoagulant and can help prevent heart attacks or strokes caused by blood clots.
Easily grown and readily available at any time of the year, peppers can be eaten raw, stir-fried, sautéed, baked, stuffed, blanched, or roasted. They can be made into relish, added to sauces or casseroles, sprinkled on rice, used in salsa—the possibilities are limitless, and peppers can add a colorful, flavorful, and healthful zest to almost any dish.
The term “pickle” normally refers to cucumbers that have been pickled, but over the millennia humans have pickled many foodstuffs, from cabbage, carrots, beans, onions, olives, and cauliflower to herring, eggs, plums, watermelon, lemons— even snakes. Pickling has become so widespread because it extends the shelf-life of many perishable foods; it developed as a way of storing food for winter or during long voyages. The process involves soaking and storing the item in a brine (salt) and vinegar solution; herbs and spices (such as dill, mustard, and cinnamon) are often added to obtain different flavors.
The potato (Solanum tuberosum) was assuredly not known to the peoples of the Bible, but modern cooks around the world, including those of the Middle East, now rely upon potatoes as a staple of their cuisine. A member of the Nightshade family, the potato is believed to be native to the Andes of South America and to have been widely cultivated by the pre-Columbian Incas. In the 16th century c.e. Spanish explorers brought potatoes to Europe, where they became extremely popular because they were easier to grow than wheat or oats, the prevalent staple crops. The edible part of the potato is not the green leafy stems (which are poisonous) nor the flowers that grow above ground, but the fleshy tubers that grow beneath the surface; these are simple to locate and unearth at the end of the growing season. Potatoes do not grow from seeds, as most vegetables do, but from buds (eyes) on the tubers; when planted, these buds grow into plants identical to the parent plant. Another reason why potatoes have spread world-wide is that they produce more food energy per acre than many other vegetables. Though they grow best in cool, moist climates, they are cultivated in most temperate regions. Additionally, they usually store well when kept cool and dry, and have carried many families over from one harvest to the next. High in carbohydrates, potatoes also provide potassium, calcium, and vitamin C. Potatoes come in many varieties. Their skin may be brown, yellow, pink, red, or purple (blue), and their flesh may be white or may match the color of their skin. Some are suitable for baking and/or roasting; others for boiling and/or mashing; still others for frying. They are eaten hot or cold, in stews, soups, casseroles, salads, and pancakes or alone as chips, fries, or gnocchi. Potatoes can even be fermented to produce wine!
A member of the Chicory family, radicchio (Cichorium intybus) is known as Italian red winter lettuce or Italian chicory. It resembles a small head of red cabbage, with leaves in shades or red, purple, white, and green. Still relatively expensive, it is used more as a color and flavor accent than as a base for salad, as it is slightly bitter in taste, and it is often used in the Passover meal to represent the bitter herbs of the Exodus. In addition, radicchio can be braised in broth for an unusual hot side dish. It can also be grilled (cut the head in half lengthwise) with oil, sautéed, and steamed. The raw curved leaves can be used to hold cooked vegetables, condiments, or other fillings. Radicchio is high in magnesium and potassium and relatively rich in vitamin A.
The radish (Raphanus sativus) is one of humankind's oldest root vegetables, believed to have been cultivated in Europe as early as the Neolithic era (3000-1500 b.c.e.). Its exact origins are not known: some botanists propose the Mediterranean wild radish (R. raphanistrum) as the ancestor; others, the Spanish radish (R. maritimus); still others, some long-lost Asian species, as the earliest record of radishes comes from China, in the document known as the Rhya of 1100 b.c.e. Herodotus (484?-425? b.c.e.) recorded that radishes were part of the diet of the workers who were building the Egyptian pyramids, and the ancient Egyptians were enthusiastic proponents of radish-seed oil. Radishes are traditionally used in the Passover meal to represent the bitter herbs of the Exodus. Both China and India grow special varieties of the radish particularly for their oils.
Whatever its origin, the radish is now cultivated world-wide, mostly for its root, but also for its pods, seeds, and leaves. R. raphanistrum and R. landra have leaves that can be eaten fresh in salads or boiled. The rat-tailed radish (R. sativus var. caudatus) grows pods of 8 to 12 inches that can be eaten raw.
As for the radishes cultivated for their roots, there are two types: summer and winter. The summer radishes are red or white, and spherical, oblong, oval, or conical in shape. Their taste is sharp and pungent, but they do not store well. The winter radishes grow more slowly but store much longer; these include the Japanese daikon (R. sativus var. longipinnatus), which can grow to 3 feet in length; a rose-colored Chinese radish; and several black radishes (R. sativus var. nigra). Winter radishes are frequently eaten raw, but they are also cooked and pickled and seem to have been more popular during ancient and medieval times than they are now.
Radishes are very low in calories and fat and have no cholesterol, and they are high in vitamin C and folacin.
In the United States, the most popular radishes today are the black, California mammoth white, daikon, red globe, and white icicles. To prepare them for consumption, radishes are scrubbed but not usually peeled. They can be eaten raw as a condiment or as part of a salad; they can also be boiled, steamed, or stir-fried and served alone or with fish or chicken.
Rhubarb is descended primarily from wild rhubarb found in the colder region of the Tien Shan Mountains in Central Asia through Mongolia to western China. Humans first used rhubarb as a medicine because the roots are a source of anthaquinone: the first written record of rhubarb is found in the Chinese herbal book titled Pen-King, which dates from 2700 b.c.e. The roots of two species of rhubarb, Rheum officinalis and R. palmatum, when dried and crushed, are extremely effective in purging the digestive tract, and powdered rhubarb root is quite helpful in treating amoebic dysentery. By the 1st century b.c.e. rhubarb root was known in the Roman Empire, having been recorded as a pharmaceutical by Dioscorides, an army doctor from Cilicia in southeastern Turkey. With the fall of the Roman Empire, the use of rhubarb as a purgative seems to have been lost to Europe, though it continued to be used in Asia and was “rediscovered” by Marco Polo during his travels. Rhubarb powder commanded extravagant prices in France in the 16th century c.e. In the 17th, China began trading with Russia, which quickly took control of the rhubarb trade in Europe, but this monopoly fell apart when China was forced to trade with other European powers in the 19th century. The Chinese guarded the secret of growing and processing rhubarb, and efforts to produce the medicine outside of China were unsuccessful, as the only species of rhubarb that could be made to grow was R. rhaponticum, and its roots are not very rich in anthaquinone. However, the stems of rhaponticum (which is sometimes considered to be the same species as R. rhabarbarum, the contemporary garden rhubarb) are edible, and the English began to cook them as a vegetable in the 17th century. The stems do not have the medicinal effects that the roots possess. By the 18th century, when sugar became more readily available and less expensive, rhubarb pies, puddings, custards, and crumbles became popular. In North America, rhubarb became known as the Pie Plant. Although some people of northern European origin still cook rhubarb stems as a vegetable, rhubarb is used in Iranian stews and Middle Eastern dishes, and the Italians make an aperitif called rabarbaro from rhubarb stems, most of the time rhubarb is cooked as a fruit for dessert dishes.
Rhubarb is now grown either in hothouses (in which case the stalks are pink or light red) or in the field (in which case the stalks are dark red); hothouse rhubarb tends to be milder and less stringy. When buying or growing rhubarb, it is essential to remember to remove and discard all the leaves before cooking; rhubarb leaves, both raw and cooked, contain a deadly poison and must never be eaten! Rhubarb stems can be baked or stewed and sweetened with sugar or fruit juices. The stems are high in vitamin C, calcium, and manganese.
The rutabaga (Brassica napobrassica or B. napus var. napobrassica) is a relative of the cabbage and the turnip. The first record of rutabagas dates from the 17th century c.e., and they were used mostly as animal feed in southern Europe, though they much prefer colder temperatures. They spread north, and their popularity in Sweden earned them their nickname the swede, swede turnip, yellow turnip, neep, or turnip. Rutabagas made their way to North America by the beginning of the 19th century. During World War I rutabagas saved many people from starvation; after the war, they became very unpopular in Europe, though they are still a food staple of European Jews.
Like turnips, rutabagas can be stored at low temperatures for long periods, and they overwinter well. They are at least 4 inches in diameter, with tan skin and a dark purple band at the top. Their flesh has a sweet, slightly peppery taste and can be eaten fresh or baked, roasted, boiled, braised, steamed, or stir-fried (they must be peeled first). They are often mashed with potatoes or carrots, added to soups, chowders, and stews, made into “coleslaw,” or served with other crudites.
Low in fat, sodium, and cholesterol, rutabagas are high in vitamin C, folacin, and potassium.
The scallion (Allium fistulosum) is often confused with the shallot (A. ascolonicum or A. oschaninii). Many authorities believe that they are actually the same species; others assert that neither one exists as a separate species but that both are simply varieties, or young specimens, of the onion. We will follow those botanists who state that the scallion and the shallot are both separate species.
The scallion is different in appearance from the onion: onions shade off to pale green or white at the bottom, while the scallion is dark green for the entire length of its leaves. Scallions and shallots have the same appearance, but scallions have a much stronger taste than shallots.
As a member of the Lily (or Onion) family, the scallion has a long history of cultivation, and it serves a variety of cuisines and dishes. Both the leaves and the roots can be eaten, in tuna or potato salads, cheese spreads, dips, rice dishes, tomato sauces, soups, omelets, and stir-fries.
Scallions are very good sources of vitamin C and folacin. In fact, scallion greens provide about five times more vitamin C than onions. Scallions also provide significant amounts of vitamin A and iron. With no cholesterol and very little fat, they are a nutritious addition to one's diet.
The shallot (Allium ascolonicum or A. oschaninii) is often confused with the scallion (A. fistulosum). Many authorities believe that they are actually the same species; others assert that neither one exists as a separate species but that both are simply varieties, or young specimens, of the onion. We will follow those botanists who state that the shallot and the scallion are both separate species.
The preeminent shallot is the French grey or griselle (A. oschaninii). Small and mild tasting (milder than scallions and much milder than onions), the shallot bulb has a yellow or brown, onion-like skin. The interior is white with purple tinges but is divided into garlic-like cloves; but unlike those of garlic, the shallot cloves are not each enclosed in a separate sheath. When fresh, shallots and scallions have the same appearance—dark green along the entire length of their leaves.
As a member of the Lily (or Onion) family, the shallot has a long history of cultivation, having originated in central or southwestern Asia. Shallots serve a variety of cuisines and dishes, from Asian to Middle Eastern to French. Both the leaves and the roots can be eaten, in tuna or potato salads, cheese spreads, dips, rice dishes, tomato sauces, soups, omelets, and stir-fries. Shallot bulbs can also be pickled.
Shallots are very good sources of vitamin C and folacin and provide significant amounts of vitamin A and iron. With no cholesterol and very little fat, they are a nutritious addition to one's diet.
Spinach (Spinacia oleracea) is a relative newcomer to the domestic garden. Its origins are as yet unknown: some botanists claim that it originated in Asia, where it continues to grow wild; others assert that it is native to the lands of Persia (in modern times, a wild spinach [S. tetrandra] has grown in that part of the world) and did not enter cultivation until the 7th century c.e., in China. It is almost certain that spinach was not known to the peoples of the Bible: there is no ancient Hebrew word for spinach, and there is no written or archaeological record of the consumption of spinach in the Middle East, the eastern Mediterranean, or northern Africa before the common era. However, spinach is used in many Middle Eastern dishes today. There are many conflicting accounts of spinach's entry into Europe: some say that the Moors brought it to Spain in the 9th century; others that it was new to England in the 16th century. Food historian Waverley Root has concluded that spinach came to Europe in the 1 1th century, brought either by the Moors or the Crusaders. It was fairly widespread throughout Europe by the 12th century and had made its way to the Americas by the 18th. Today it is grown world-wide.
Spinach is extremely rich in vitamin A and folacin. It is high in vitamin C, potassium, and magnesium, low in fat, but high in sodium and low in fiber. Although spinach is rich in iron and calcium, those minerals are bound into an insoluble salt that the body cannot easily absorb. It has no cholesterol. Three main types of spinach are available in the United States: savoy, with crinkly, curly leaves and a dark-green color; flat, or smooth-leaf, with unwrinkled, spade-shaped leaves; and semi-savoy, with slightly crinkled leaves. The growers of most U.S. spinach are in California and Texas.
Spinach does not store well, but it can be prepared in many ways: blanched, steamed, or sautéed for a dish of spinach leaves; used as a salad base instead of lettuce; added to vegetable soups or broths; mixed into soufflés or omelets; ground for appetizer dips; or baked into breads.
Native to Mexico and Central America, the many species of squash (Cucurbita genus; not to be confused with gourds, which are in the same family) comprised one of the Three Sisters (maize [corn], beans, and squash) cultivated by Native Americans. These three vegetables were usually planted together: the beans climbed the corn stalks, which shaded the squash, which kept the weeds down. Squashes are divided into two groups: winter and summer. The winter squashes include the acorn, gourd, pumpkin, and butternut squashes. The summer squashes (C. pepo) are the zucchini (green), patty pan (scallop), chayote (white), yellow straightneck, and yellow crookneck squash.
The summer squashes are harvested when the fruits are tender and relatively small. They contain large amounts of vitamin C and are low in calories, so they are often eaten raw (in salads or as finger food), though alone their taste is relatively bland. They are also boiled, sautéed, baked, and fried; added to sauces for pasta or seafood; and grated and used in breads, cakes, muffins, pancakes, and omelets. Zucchini flowers are also a flavorful addition to pancakes. Termed a vegetable but botanically a fruit, summer squash would not have been known to the peoples of the Bible (though the word for “gourd” in the scriptures was often erroneously translated as squash) and did not enter Europe until introduced by Christopher Columbus in the 16th century c.e., at which time the cultivation of squash quickly spread to the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. (It is probable that the “squash” referred to by the Romans Pliny, Apicius, and Martial was really an edible gourd and not a true squash.) Now squash is a staple of many cuisines throughout the world, including the Middle East.
Butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata) is a winter squash with a sweet, nutty taste. It has yellow skin and orange flesh, turning a deeper orange when ripe.
Butternut squash can be prepared in many different ways. It can be roasted or baked, pureed or mashed into soups, and added to casseroles, breads, pies, and muffins.
This variety of squash is high in fiber, vitamin C, manganese, magnesium, and potassium.
Zucchini is a variety of summer squash (Cucurbita pepo), which also includes the patty pan (scallop), chayote (white), yellow straightneck, and yellow crookneck squash.
Termed a vegetable but botanically a fruit, zucchini would not have been known to the people of the Bible as it is a native of the Americas. Squash seeds have been discovered in Mexican burial caves dating from 8000 b.c.e., and their cultivation by Native Americans spread north into the Canadian lands. No squashes (or zucchini) were known in Europe before Christopher Columbus' voyages, but when he brought squash back with him in the 16th century c.e., it spread remarkably quickly throughout Europe and then to the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Now squash is a staple of many cuisines throughout the world.
There are many varieties of zucchini: some are medium-green to gray-green, others are dark green; some have pale flecks or spots, others stripes; some are even golden yellow.
Zucchini grows best in warm, sunny weather. The plants fruit prolifically, and the squash can grow to several feet in length. However, these large fruits are generally seedy and starchy and very bland. The young, small fruit (about 6 inches in length) are the most tender and tasty. Zucchini contains large amounts of vitamin C and folacin. Low in calories, it is often eaten raw (in salads or as finger food), though with some kind of dressing or dip (which adds calories) because alone its taste is relatively unremarkable. Zucchini can also be boiled, sautéed, baked, and fried; added to sauces for pasta or seafood; and grated and used in breads, cakes, muffins, pancakes, and omelets. Zucchini flowers are also picked fresh for eating: they are very low in calories and are a good source of beta-carotene, vitamin C, and potassium. They can be fried or stuffed (which adds calories and fat), and they add a delicate flavor to omelets and other egg dishes, pancakes and waffles, and soups.
The tomato (Solanum lycopersicum or Lycopersicon esculentum), although considered and used as a vegetable, is a fruit of the Nightshade family. Tomatoes originated in South and Central America and were probably first cultivated in what is now Peru. They would not have been known to the peoples of the Bible. Tomatoes were brought to what is now Mexico about 1000 b.c.e. The Europeans who settled in the Americas beginning in the 16th century c.e. believed the tomato to be deadly poisonous; not until the 18th century did tomatoes become accepted as a food item in Europe and North America, and they did not become really popular until the end of the 19th century. Now they are grown world-wide and have become a staple of Italian, French, Middle Eastern, and other cuisines. Tomatoes are cooked in sauces, soups, stews, and casseroles; they are eaten raw in salads and as appetizers; they are squeezed for their juice; they are even pickled and fried. Tomatoes contain lycopene, an antioxidant that is believed to help prevent prostate cancer, and their consumption is believed to benefit the heart.
Truffles are a type of fungi and are sometimes grouped along with the large number of mushrooms. The two main types of truffles are the black (Tuber mel-anosporum) and white (T. magnatum). The black grows mostly in France, Spain, and Italy; the white, which some gourmets consider superior in taste and scent, is found primarily in northern Italy. Chefs highly prize both black and white truffles for their flavor, but they are valuable because they are nearly impossible to cultivate and very difficult to harvest in the wild. Truffles grow beneath the ground, attached to the roots of oak or hazel trees; only specially trained pigs or dogs can sniff out the truffles, which truffle hunters, or trufficulteurs, must then carefully dig out of the earth. Truffle season is late fall and winter.
With a textured surface and a dense flesh, truffles have an earthy taste. Because of their strong flavor and expense, recipes normally call for only small amounts of truffles. They are sliced or grated raw over hot dishes. Black truffles are usually peeled before serving, the peelings used to flavor soups and stocks.
Ancient manuscripts mention the eating of “truffles” in Mesopotamia by 1800 b.c.e., and also in ancient Greece, Rome, and northern Africa, so it is possible that the peoples of the Bible would have known and used truffles in their cooking— but it is highly unlikely that the “truffles” mentioned were the true truffles now prized today, as truffles are a mushroom of the temperate zones. The first reliable mention of truffles occurs in the 15th century c.e., when the use of pigs to hunt truffles is described. At that time, truffles were mostly pickled, but in the 17th century the noted chef Pierre François de la Varenne began using truffles as other mushrooms were used. Because of their rarity and cost, truffles have been the food of aristocrats, and are even today.
Aside from black and white truffles, there are other brown, gray, and violet truffles found in France. Inferior tasting truffles grow wild in England and the United States. There are also three types of truffles from China (T. sinensis or T. indicum; T. himalayensis; and another without a scientific name), but these are not as tasty as the European varieties.
Black truffles are sometimes known as “the black diamond of the kitchen” or “the black pearl.” Over the centuries, people have attributed an aphrodisiacal quality to truffles, but that is mere fiction. Truffles do provide some iron and other minerals. However, they have little nutritional value, and it is their taste alone that makes them so important in the kitchen.
The turnip (Brassica rapa) is a member of the Cabbage family. A root vegetable with white or yellow flesh, turnips come in many shapes and sizes—some have weighed in at as much as 50 pounds.
Turnips were known in ancient India. Perhaps the first to cultivate turnips were the Babylonians, from whom the peoples of the Bible probably adopted this vegetable. From the lands of Asia Minor the turnip spread westward. The Romans also cultivated turnips, and turnips were a staple in the diet of medieval Europe. Both French and British settlers brought turnips to the Americas. Tolerating poor soils and ripening quickly, the turnip has often been considered a food of the poor.
Turnips are harvested in the fall and winter; they store very well at cool temperatures and can be part of a year-round diet. They can be baked and roasted, boiled, braised, steamed, stir-fried, mashed, puréed, and even eaten raw. Turnips are rich in vitamin C, relatively high in carbohydrates and sodium, and have no cholesterol.
Besides the root, turnip tops, or greens, are also widely consumed, particularly in the southern United States. The greens contain more calcium and iron than the roots.
Watercress (Nasturtium officinale) is a cruciferous vegetable, a member of the Cabbage family, and is one of the oldest known leafy foods. Native to Asia and Europe, it grows quickly in streambeds and forms masses of pungent, dark-green sprigs that have a sharp flavor. It is used as a garnish and a salad and sandwich ingredient.
The ancient Persians, Greeks, and Romans all ate watercress, observing that soldiers who ate watercress were healthier than those who didn't. It is very likely that the various peoples of the Bible collected and ate watercress. Cultivation may have started very early, though one of the first mentions of cultivated watercress comes from Hippocrates in 400 b.c.e. European immigrants probably brought watercress to the Americas in the 18th century c.e.
Watercress is low in calories but high in iron, calcium, folic acid, and vitamins A and C. Some scientists now believe that watercress can help break tobacco addiction and can even prevent certain cancers.