French Cooking - Basic Ingredients (Vegetables)

French Cooking - Basic Ingredients (Vegetables)

Unusual Vegetables

Artichokes are highly developed kind of thistle with an edible flower head. The 'choke' is the silky, under-developed flower that is removed before its fleshy succulent base is eaten. The freshly base of each leaf (sepal) on the flower head is also edible. The tiny Italian artichokes are eaten whole. Artichokes are boiled and eaten cold as an hors-d'oeuvre or as a separate vegetable.

Fennel is a greenish bulb with a slightly aniseed flavor. It can be eaten raw, finely sliced with a vinaigrette sauce as an hors-d'oeuvre, or cooked as a vegetable. Its leaves can be used as a herb, either fresh or dried, especially with fish. Celeriac has an edible stem base, shaped like a turnip. (The stalks, unlike those of common celery, are inedible). Celeriac can be grated and eaten raw as part of an hors-d'oeuvre or it can be cooked and used as a vegetable or in soups.

Pumpkins are large round gourds. The bright orange flesh, with the seeds and peel removed, can be used in soups or as a vegetable. Sorrel looks rather like spinach and is often cooked with spinach or in its palce. Some varieties are very bitter and need blanching for about five minutes in a lot of boiling water, to remove the excess acidity, before being used.

Chicory (endive in French) should never be washed but just wiped. Any damaged leaves should be removed. It can be eaten raw as an hors-d'oeuvre with a vinaigrette sauce or cooked as a vegetable. Endive (chicoree in French) looks rather like a yellowish-green mop-head with thin, curled leaves. If it is young and pale it can be eaten as a salad, but if it is dark green it is apt to be bitter, and it is better to blanch it and then cook it like spinach or use it for soup.

Small white onions like large round spring onions can be bought in France, but are not very common elsewhere. In many cases an ordinary onion, quartered, makes an acceptable substitute, though it will not look so good. However, where the recipe calls for glazed onion, it is best to try to find small pickling onions.

Dried Vegetables

Haricot beans are white dried beans. They need soaking before they can be used; the length of soaking depends partly on their age, but less than 12 hours is rarely adequate. They are used in soups and in meat dishes. Chick peas are cream-colored peas which are bought dried. They must be soaked before being used in salads, soups or stews.

The French varieties of lentil are brown or green, not orange. Lentils can be used in soups and in some vegetable dishes. They do not require soaking before use.

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