Vegetables are an intrinsic part of Indian cuisine. While most dishes you’ll find in Indian restaurants consist of standard veggies available in every produce aisle, like cauliflower and spinach, there are several interesting vegetables that are worth seeking out.
The lotus root, is the rhizome of the lotus plant. It is considered a starch, like a potato, but it is high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. You’ll usually find them vacuum packed in Asian grocery stores. If they are fresh they should be a light orange brown color, and they darken as they age. They should be peeled, sliced, and immediately put into water with a little vinegar to stop the flesh from turning brown. You can boil the slices in the vinegar water for a few minutes if you are going to eat them in a salad or stir fry. This way they will still be crunchy, but won’t have the bitter tannic flavor that they do when raw. Another way to prepare them is to grate them and use them in fritters, or deep fry or bake the slices to make chips.
This bitter gourd or bitter melon grows on a tropical vine in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. It is an edible fruit that is valued for it’s medicinal and nutritional benefits. It is said to help with diabetes and toxemia conditions, stimulate digestion, relieve constipation. It is usually cooked while it is still green or in the early yellowing stage. You can reduce the bitterness by removing the seeds and soaking it in salted water for about half an hour. It is used in recipes for stir fries, in soups, and curries. It is sometimes stuffed, tied shut and fried.
It has wonderful medicinal, and nutritional characteristics. It is an excellent source of vitamins B1, B2, B3, beta-carotene, vitamin C, magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, folic acid, zinc, phosphorus, and manganese. It is also high in fiber. Pregnant women, however, are warned not to eat bitter gourd because it can cause preterm labor!
Also known as the calabash gourd, or the white flower gourd depending on the shape because some grow round, and others grow long. It has smooth, light green skin and white flesh. The gourd is usually peeled and cut into cubes or slices for use in curries, stir fries, or au gratin style casseroles. It is grated for use in soups, or in the Indian sweet called Doodhi Halwa. Bottle gourd is low in calories, high in fiber, protein, and essential minerals.
The elephant yam is a tropical tuber, and it’s botanical name Amorphophallus means misshapen penis! Yam is considered to be a healthy low fat food. It is a great source of vitamin B6, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus. It is prepared in many dishes, often boiled, then sliced, seasoned and fried. It can be used in sweet or savory dishes. One recipe blends the yam with milk, sugar, ghee and nuts to make a Halwa paste. It is used in curries, and stews, just like potatoes.
The mango tree is cultivated in India and is considered to be the king of the fruits. Yes, it is a fruit but when it is green, it is used both like a vegetable, and a fruit. It is used to prepare pickles and chutneys, but is also used cubed as an ingredient in curries and daals (lentil stews), grated in rice dishes, and even in tasty beverages. The polyphenolic antioxidant compounds it contains have been shown to protect against colon, breast, leukemia, and prostate cancer. Mango is rich in dietary fiber, Vitamins A, C, E, B6, beta-carotene, potassium, and copper.
Author Byline: Leslie Holler is in India learning local cuisine and trying to learn Kannada. She loves writing culinary pieces for various online and offline publications.