|The newest Tomato in the
produce department…is actually the very old Heirloom Tomato.
HEIRLOOM TOMATOES (Monday, August 22): In 1987,
President Ronald Reagan stood at the Berlin Wall and spoke directly
to Russian President Mikail Gorbachev. “President Gorbachv,”
Reagan said, “Tear down this wall.” And in 1989, the
wall come down, along with the “Iron Curtain.” It started
a flood of people crossing the protected wall, the Germany reunification,
the fall of the Soviet Empire. And it also started a flood of one
particular produce item to the United States. Have you noticed?
Over the past decade, you have seen a lot more of this item? At
the farmer's markets and at the grocery store. Heirloom Tomatoes,
full of flavor, unique colors, shapes and textures. With names like
Cherokee, Zebra, Brandywine, Striped German, Anna Russian, Crnkovic
Yukoslavian, and many other interesting names. An Heirloom fruit
or vegetable is a particular seed variety that originated prior
to 1940. Well, some of these Heirloom tomato seed varieties date
all the way back to Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and the Czars
of Russia. Many Heirlooms Tomatoes that have been popping up the
past dozen summers have come in from Eastern Europe, since the fall
of the Berlin Wall. Until then, there wasn't a lot of agricultural
exchanges between countries behind the Iron Curtain and the United
States. Many of these "new" Heirlooms come from Poland,
Russia, Czechoslovakia and other Eastern European countries. But
now, just like their people, these tomatoes have found freedom in
our markets. By the way, they do cost a lot, don't they? That's
because many of these Heirloom Tomatoes are difficult to grow and
harvest. They tend to be more tender than other tomatoes, which
is why most of them are packed in a single layer. Also, the sugar
and acid content of many of these older varieties are more than
today's tomato, which gives them not only a richer flavor, but also
causes them to deteriorate much faster. They don't last as long.
But then again, they don’t need to. They’re so good,
you’ll eat them quickly.
|There is more to the world
of squash…than Zucchini.
|Try a Sunburst!
SQUASH (Tuesday, August 23): This time of year,
maybe your garden is overflowing with Zucchini Squash. Well, may
I suggest that there is more to the world of Squash than just Zucchini?
There are two main types of squash, summer and winter. Although
now, with imports from other countries, we now can get summer squash
all year, as well as winter squash. So now, you may hear them referred
to as “soft” or “hard” squash. Soft squash
is our “summer” squash. Hard squash is our “winter”
squash. There is a perfectly good reason why God made soft squash
for the summer, and hard squash for the winter. It was for our health.
You see, soft squash has fewer calories and has a lot more moisture.
Our bodies need more moisture in the summer months to stay hydrated.
Try the other varieties, like Crookneck, Gold Bar Zucchini, Globe,
Sunburst, Patty Pan or even Gray Squash. They all have a great flavor.
ASIAN VEGETABLES - SQUASH (Wednesday, August 24):
Recent Asian immigrants have brought about dramatic changes in the
kinds of vegetables consumed in the United States, especially in
localities where these peoples are concentrated. When I first started
in the produce industry, about the only place to get Asian Vegetables
were in large cities, like San Francisco’s or New York City's
Chinatown. Today, you can find many varieties of Asian vegetables
in most grocery stores, and certainly in most Farmer’s Markets
in most areas around the country. There is a group of Asian Vegetables
I simply call the many different “Squashes.” They are
actually the “cucurbit” family. Here are some of the
most common varieties.
Bittermelon - Mormodica charantia: Bitter melon is a cucurbit vine
native to Asia with eastern India and southern China proposed as
the centers of domestication. It is now widely cultivated throughout
the world for the immature fruits, and sometimes for the tender
leafy shoots or the ripe fruits. Other species used for their immature
fruits in a similar way are M. cochinchinensis and M. dioica. The
immature fruits are stuffed, pickled, and sliced into various dishes.
The immature fruits, called bitter melon, bitter gourd, or balsam
pear, are harvested at developmental stages up to seed hardening;
the fruits are warty in appearance and vary in size from 3 –
4” long. It is usually grown on a trellis system and is roughly
about the size of a zucchini, but warty. Fruits are eaten while
still green and before there is any color change. Bright orange
fruits are saved for seed. Bitterness (quinine content) increases
with age of the fruit. Salt reduces the bitterness. Slice lengthwise
and stuff with pork or seafood and top with oyster sauce; or cut
halves into ¼ inch chunks and add to meat/vegetable stir-fries.
The young leaves and tips can be steamed. The bitter principle,
for which the fruit is named, is due to the alkaloid momordicine,
not to cucurbitacins as in other members of the Cucurbitaceae. Immature
fruits are less bitter than the mature but unripe fruits. Among
the different types of bitter melons, smaller darker green types
are very bitter, and the lighter green-colored fruit are slightly
bitter. Bitter melon is also important for various medicinal properties,
with more recent attention focused on it as a hypoglycemic agent.
The spongy white interior pulp and seeds of unpeeled immature bitter
melon are sliced for use as a vegetable in various Asian dishes.
The fruit are parboiled or soaked in salted water to remove excessive
bitter principle. Proximate composition is similar to that of other
immature cucurbit fruits. Good quality bitter melon should have
a fresh appearance and the peel should be of uniform green color
and free from visual defects. The developing fruit should be firm
without excessive seed development, and free of defects such as
decay and splitting, both associated with fruit ripening. When the
fruit begins to ripen, the exterior color changes from green to
yellow and the pulp becomes gelatinous and orange-red. Coincident
with color changes, the fruit pulp loses bitterness and becomes
sweet. It is a chilling sensitive vegetable.
Opo - Lagenaria siceraria: also called a type of bottle gourd, has
large white flowers and may have originated in either Mexico or
Egypt. Fruits are very smooth, hairless, and normally harvested
when 10-12 inches long. This squash is the equivalent of the Italian
cucuzza. It is commonly used in soups and stir-fries. The taste
Smooth luffa - (Luffa cylindrica): Dishrag gourd (loofah) originated
in India and was later taken to China. Left to mature on the plant
the squash will produce the familiar "Luffa sponge" found
in stores and used as a dishrag or great back-scrubber (hence the
name). Soak the light brown mature gourd in 10% bleach for 24 hours,
then peel off the skin and allow dry. Most of the luffa grown in
California’s Central Valley is for the young squash like fruits.
Slice Luffa into 1" pieces and stir-fry with shrimp in a tempura
batter and cooked in oyster sauce; or simply stir-fry in butter
by itself or with other vegetables. Be careful not to overcook as
it will become mushy. This is also known as “Chinese Okra.”
Angled Luffa - (Luffa actuangula): is very similar to the smooth
luffa except that the actuangula seems somewhat more susceptible
to spider mite attacks. Except for Chinese winter melon, all of
the cucurbits discussed are trained on trellises to encourage straighter
fruits, which can become more curved if allowed to grow on the ground.
Warm season. The quality of this squash as a sponge gourd is not
as desirable, however, in stir fries and other foods it excels and
does not become mushy as readily. It is sweeter and has a better
flavor than zucchini. This type should be peeled, as the ridges
are fairly hard. Most plantings will have both types of luffa for
the varied tastes of consumers, but the popularity of angled luffa
predominates. Angled luffa is another cucurbit native to Asia cultivated
since ancient times. The young immature fruit is also called Chinese
okra, because of the okra-like shape and external appearance of
the tender ridges. Luffas can only be eaten when young as mature
fruits become very bitter due to the development of purgative chemicals.
The species used for vegetable production is usually a separate
species from the more fibrous species routinely used for sponge
production (L. aegyptiaca). Immature fruits of Luffa acutangula
are considered to be superior in flavor to immature fruits of L.
Snake gourd - (Trichosanthes anguina): is a night-blooming vegetable
squash with white blossoms. Usually a small stone is suspended from
its apex to keep it growing straight and long. The genus Thichosanthes
is Greek meaning "hair flower", which describes the fragrant
and delicately fringed white corolla (petals). The young fruits
are cut into pieces and boiled. As the fruit ages, it becomes bitter.
Like many other bitter fruits, the bitterness is viewed as a tonic
in natural medicine.
Hairy Melon/Fuzzy Gourd - (Benincasa hispida var. chiehgua): This
squash is little brother to the Chinese winter melon. Most often
called Moqua, this squash is eaten in the immature stage as is opo/sinqua
and before it has developed the white wax bloom on the skin. It
has the same pest problems as angled luffa and is also trellised.
In Chinese, “Mo” means hair and “qua” means
squash. This is known as hairy squash. As the name implies, it is
quite hairy and will need to be peeled. It has a refreshing delicate
flavor and is often included in stir-fries and soups. It can be
stuffed with shrimp, pork, bamboo shoots, bok choy, and onions and
mixed with soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and sesame oil. The immature
fuzzy melon fruits have a delicious flavor, stronger and more distinctive
than than of immature summer squash, although composition is similar
to that of summer squash. Flavor can change during storage, with
the fuzzy melon taking on an acidic, less agreeable flavor. The
diversity and antiquity of cultivars in China suggest that this
crop may be indigenous to southern China. Cultivars of B. hispida
are classified on the basis of wax formation on the mature fruit,
fruit size, and shape and pubescence of the immature fruits, from
which its common name is derived. Generally, separate cultivars
are used for immature vegetable production and for mature fruit
production. One vegetable type has fruits, which are cylindrical
and roundish with many bristle-like trichomes on the epidermis.
The other (jointed gourd) has immature fruits which are narrowed
in the center (dumbbell shaped) with their length 2-3 times their
width. Small solid green fruit are the best; the younger the fruit,
the firmer the flesh.
Chinese Winter Melon - (Benincasa hispida): Donqua melons usually
weigh in excess of 30 pounds and are harvested when mature and have
developed the white wax bloom on the skin. Because of its size,
it is not trellised but allowed to spread over the ground. Like
the other cucurbits, it is attacked by spider mites, aphids, nematodes,
and viruses. The mature melon can be stored for 3-4 months over
the wintertime. The flavor is mild, white and is a main ingredient
in chicken broth soup with other vegetables or stir fry with pork,
onions, and mizuna. An elaborate dish is made by carving the skin
like a cameo, then filling the melon with other vegetables and meat.
Steam until the melon flesh is soft.
|Eggplant was named by
the English, because the fruit were small, white and
shaped like an egg.
|This is a traditional
ASIAN VEGETABLES - EGGPLANTS (Thursday, August
25): The Eggplant is known as the Aubergine in Europe and Britain.
It is one of the least widely appreciated vegetables in the Western
World. Eggplant was nicknamed the "apple of Sodom" by
physicians and botanists who accused the eggplant of causing fevers
and epileptic seizures in their patients, thus the Eggplant was
first called “Solanum insanum,” since it was thought
to be deleterious and unwholesome to the point of causing madness!
And yet, people starting taking a liking to this strange vegetable
so the botanist Linnaeus decided that its name was a bit too harsh,
and changed it to “Solanum Melongena,” meaning bad,
but soothing, apple. The Eggplant is the only member of the deadly
Nightshade family to originate in the Eastern Hemisphere and is
closely related to the Tomato, Potato, Pepper and Tobacco. Because
of its association to the Nightshade family, like its cousin, the
Tomato, the Eggplant's popularity was stifled in Europe and North
America until relatively recent years. The Tomato was believed to
be actually poisonous, but the Eggplant was believed by superstitious
Europeans to induce insanity and was unaffectionately known as the
"Mad Apple" until only a few centuries ago. Eggplant is
native to the general Southeast Asian region of India and modern
day Pakistan and was first domesticated there over 4000 years ago,
especially in the vicinities of Burma and Assam. In its home region,
the Eggplant is used in many local dishes and carries a wide range
of names in Bengalise, Hindustani, Urdu, Sanskrit and other local
languages. In fact, the Eggplant's true species name "Melongena"
is an ancient Sanskrit name for Eggplant. Within its home region,
the purple fruited Eggplant were the first to be domesticated. In
time, Eggplant soon spread into neighboring China by about 500 B.C.
and became a culinary favorite to generations of Chinese emperors.
About 500 A.D., a Chinese scholar put up the first written record
of Eggplant, noting that they had become popular among all classes
of the Chinese people some two centuries earlier.
|Eggplant makes a great
meat substitute during Lent, like in this Lasagna dish.
|The purple Eggplant most
of us recognize in the grocery store, was actually hybred by…
|A traditional Hungarian
dish would be
this Stuffed Eggplant
The Chinese viewed the Eggplant differently than the Indians did
and soon developed their own unique varieties. In particular, they
preferred smaller fruited Eggplant, as well as differing shapes
and colors. From India and Pakistan, the Eggplant soon spread West
into the Middle East and into the Lower Stans regions, as far west
as Egypt and northward into Turkey. Arabic records of Eggplant exist
from the 9th, 10th and 12th centuries. Eggplant is an important
part of Arabic, Turkish and Persian cuisine. The Turks alone are
believed to have over 1000 native recipes calling for the use of
Eggplant in varying ways. In the 4th through 7th centuries A.D.,
the Moors introduced Eggplant to Spain and the vegetable soon spread
throughout Europe. The 16th century Spaniards had great respect
for the Eggplant and believed its fruit to be a powerful aphrodisiac,
hence they referred to them as "Berengenas" or the "Apple
of Love." The Italians too, held the Eggplant in very regard
and called them "Melanzana". Northern Europeans, however,
were not so kind to the Eggplant. Albert of Cologne described the
Eggplant in the 13th Century and referred to them as "Mala
Insana", a corruption of the Italian name "Melanzana".
By the 16th century, Eggplant were widely known in Europe as "Mad
Apples" and were believed to induce insanity if eaten. Despite
this, a few people did respect the Eggplant and in 1550, both purple
and yellow varieties were introduced to Germany from Naples, Italy.
By 1600, white Eggplants, as well those with ash-colored and brown
colored fruit, as well as those with pear shaped, round, oblong
and long, thin fruit were also known in Germany. The English were
responsible for coining the name "Eggplant." They had
colonized India and brought back with them many of the plants of
India. One such plant was an Eggplant variety with egg shaped, white
fruit. This small Eggplant is still the most popular Eggplant in
the world. Oddly enough though, the English still refer to Eggplant
today by the French name of Abergine, which is a corruption of the
Catalonian name "Alberginia," the word for purple. Although
the Spanish actually introduced the Eggplant to the Americas, in
particular, to Brazil as early as 1650, Eggplant were still unknown
to the United States for another 150 years. Thomas Jefferson introduced
them to the United States in 1806 from a friend in France. Jefferson
loved Eggplant. In fact, even today, a prickly, white Eggplant is
still grown in Jefferson's preserved Virginia Garden at Monticello.
Jefferson was not only a founding father of the United States, the
writer of our Declaration of Independence, he was also a legendary
horticulturist who championed the Eggplant. Jefferson actually hybred
the large purple Eggplant most of us know today. Until as recently
as the 1900s, Eggplant was primarily grown in the United States
as an ornamental plant. Eggplant also reached Australia, and were
introduced there in 1850 by a nurseryman by the name of John Baptist
who obtained the seeds from a friend who spent some time in India.
Despite this, the Eggplant was largely a neglected species in Australia
until scores of Europeans immigrated to Australia in the 1950's
and popularized them. Eggplant comes in a wide array of shapes,
sizes and colors, which makes them an outstanding edible landscape
plant. When selected and prepared properly, you will become a true
Eggplant fan, opening you up to a whole new world of culinary delight.
So, Happy New Year. When picking out the best Eggplant, the skin
should be smooth, without any brown spots; it should feel heavy
and firm and have a nice green stem end. If the surface yields to
gentle pressure, the eggplant is ripe; if the flesh springs back,
it is immature and you will have to wait a few days before eating
it. Simply rub two Eggplant together. If they are fresh, they will
squeak. Younger, smaller, unblemished Eggplant will have less bitter
skin and the seeds determination be smaller. Be careful! Eggplants
are delicate and bruise easily. Handle them like fine China. Eggplant
can get chill damage from your refrigerator if stored too long.
Try to use your Eggplant within 3 or 4 days. Eggplants love tomatoes,
peppers and zucchini, and are good partners for lamb and beef. They
marry well with garlic, and have no objection to oil which they
soak up with delight. You will find Eggplant as a big part of French
cuisine. It appeared on the French royal table of King Louis XIV
in the 17th century. It wasn’t until the 19th century that
the Eggplant made it into cookbooks. It finally had become part
of everyday cooking. It is usually preferable to let the eggplant
release some of its water, since the high moisture content makes
it difficult to fry. This method also removes some of the bitterness
of the skin. The principle is simple: cut the eggplant in half or
into rounds, sprinkle with salt and let rest 30-60 minutes; many
cooks say that you should wash the eggplant to remove the excess
salt, but you only need to wipe each piece with paper towel. Otherwise,
rinse it quickly under cold water and dry as usual; eggplant does
not have to be peeled. Eggplant can be boiled, fried in oil, baked,
roasted or used in casseroles. The flesh of the eggplant oxidizes
very quickly once it is cut, so work quickly when preparing any
recipe. Eggplant loves Olive Oil. In fact, there is an ancient Arab
saying: “That man is so rich, he doesn’t care how much
Olive Oil his wife uses for the Eggplant.” There is a story
that somewhat goes along with that saying. A very long time ago
in the East, a priest wanted to marry a young girl whose greatest
quality was that she was a very fine cook. The priest sought out
the girl's father and demanded as a dowry 12 large jars filled to
the top with the purest Olive Oil. The girl, returning from her
wedding, put some Eggplants aside to soak in the oil. In fact, they
soaked up so much that in 11 days, the Eggplant had drunk up all
her dowry. Learning that the oil was gone so soon - or perhaps from
too much fat consumption - the Imam fell into a dead faint. In some
Eastern restaurants you will sometimes find Eggplant fried in oil
served under the name "Imam Bayildi," meaning "the
ASIAN VEGETABLES - GREENS (Friday, August 26):
The third main group of Asian vegetables are the greens. Here’s
a list of some of the main ones.
Bok Choy and other Choys - (Brassica rapa var. chinesis): All are
non-heading types of cabbage. Bok choy (pak choi), choy sum (var.
purpurea), yu choy (similar to bok choy except it is more delicate
and sweeter), gai choy (B. juncea), and tai cai (B. chinesis) are
all closely related to gailon, mibuna, mizuna, Napa, and turnip.
Bok choy has green leaves and white midribs. Baby bok choy (Shanghai)
has green midribs and leaf bases. Cool season. All are used in stir-fried
dishes with meat and other vegetables. The stem and leaves are also
used in soups. They are also good raw in salads.
Gailon - (Brassica oleracea var. alboglabra): This Chinese broccoli
(Kale) very closely resembles the more familiar broccoli, but with
much smaller stems and flowers. The seeds are planted for a spring
crop or fall crop. Main problems are aphids, armyworms, and cabbage
butterflies. Pick just before the flowers open for best quality.
The stems are more tender and sweeter than broccoli. Stir-fry the
2" pieces of gailon for one minute, then cover with water and
cook covered for two more minutes. Stir oyster sauce into a pan
with heated oil and water, then spoon over the broccoli and eat.
OR, instead of oyster sauce, use minced garlic and chicken broth
and a little soy sauce. It is also good in stir-fries with beef,
pork, chicken and with noodles. The edible vegetable consists of
a tender green flower stem with buds of what will become white flowers.
The leaves and stems are light to medium green in color and are
covered with a white haze due to cuticle and wax development. Different
varieties of gai-lan vary in stem length and color from light to
medium green. After harvest the stem becomes tougher than does that
of Chinese kale and it may be peeled before use much as broccoli
stems are. Gai-lan, like broccoli, is very perishable.
Chinese cabbage - is also known as celery cabbage and Napa cabbage.
The heads are fairly dense, though not as hard as regular cabbage.
They may be of two types - 'Michili', which are tall and upright,
and 'Napa', which are more round or barrel shaped. The leaves are
thinner than cabbage. The flavor is more delicate than cabbage.
It is one of the last ingredients to add to a stir-fry dish. It
is also added raw to salads.
Chinese flowering cabbages or choy sums - Choy sums are also referred
to as mock pak choy. This vegetable is grown and harvested similar
to gai-lan. The white to light green stems are cooked without peeling
and have a pleasant, mild flavor. Important quality characteristics
are a tender stalk and closed yellow flower buds. For optimum quality,
cooler growing weather is required. Postharvest requirements are
similar to those of other cool season leafy vegetables.
There are other Asian vegetables which are not in the three main
categories. Here’s a few of them.
Chinese long beans - (Vigna sesquipedalis): Also called the asparagus
bean and yardlong bean, the plants are long training vines grown
on trellises. The plants are susceptible to black bean aphids, spider
mites, nematodes, and mosaic viruses. The plant is more closely
related to blackeye peas than to the common green snap bean. Dark
and light green varieties are available as well as a red type. The
darker varieties are generally preferred. Cut into 2" pieces
and add to various stir-fries. The paler green is sweeter and more
tender than the dark green.
Lemongrass - (Cymbopogan citratus): probably originated in either
Malaysia or India. It is a perennial grass propagated entirely vegetatively
from stems as seed is seldom produced. Usually planted in March,
the earliest harvest is October, though it can be left growing until
the market price increases. In California’s Central Valley,
5-7 rows at a time are covered with clear plastic to protect the
plants from 28º freezes, which can kill the above ground portion.
Below this temperature, the plastic may not help. Stems are chopped
or pressed and added for lemony flavoring to many dishes. Leaves
and/or stems can be used to make a hot/cold tea drink. The plant
also makes a beautiful ornamental.
Daikon - (Raphanus sativus var. longipinnatus): Also called Chinese
radish, this root crop is very closely related to the common radish.
An Alternaria leaf blight and turnip mosaic are the main problems
on the leaves but aphids, and soil wireworms can also be a problem.
The main planting times are spring and fall, but some varieties
can be planted almost year-round. Bolting (premature seedstalk)
can be a problem with other varieties. Lo bok is a separate cultivar
that may have some green coloration. Medicinal uses are many. Daikon
can be grated and added to various cooked dishes, sliced and added
fresh to salads, or stir-fry onions and add shredded daikon and
shrimp (6-8 minutes). The young leaves are also good steamed and
served with a little butter. Daikon seeds are slightly peppery and
great in a tossed salad.