Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Indian Dinner - Rice & Green Pea Pilaf, French Lentils with Vegetables, Curried Zucchini; Question: what is the difference between fruit & vegetable?

Happy 2007! My Mom is a great cook and prefers eating at home. It's difficult to get her to try new things or even eat at my house, but I was surprised when she called earlier wanting to get together and when I asked if she would come for dinner, she said yes! She doesn't eat onions or garlic; my Dad doesn't eat garlic.

So I made an Indian dinner - the first time for my wife. I made a rice and green pea pilaf, French lentils with carrot and bell pepper, and curried zucchini. I also grilled asparagus and served a salad, plus two items that my Mom brought over, a single Indian roti bread to share, and black-eyed peas that she said are traditionally eaten on the first day of a new year.

The rice is a minor modification of a recipe that I teach my students. I cleaned a cup of white basmati rice, swishing it around in cold water and draining starchy water several times, then soaking for 10m or so in warm water. I heated in a nonstick sauce pan a little bit of canola oil and quickly, over medium heat, browned a quarter or third cup of raw cashew pieces, stirring/shaking and removing after only a minute or two, before the nuts burned. Then I wiped the pan down, put fresh oil in, and, over medium-high heat, a teaspoon of cumin seeds, most of a medium hot green chili pepper, finely sliced, and about 1/2 tablespoon of minced ginger root. I stirred for half a minute, minding that the cumin didn't burn, then added the drained rice, stir frying for 2m or so. I then added 1 3/4 cup water, a teaspoon of turmeric, and 1/2 teaspoon each of garam masala and salt. I brought the rice to a boil then reduced to a low simmer, covered, for about 15m. I quickly removed the cover (basmati cooks nicely with steam, so it should stay covered), added 3/4 cup of peas, and sometimes let the rice cook for another 5-10m, but it seemed done, so I just kept it covered without heat for abou 10m, and stirred the cashews into it before serving.

For the lentils, I simply added 3 times as much water as lentils into a pan; normally I'd also add a bouillon cube, but it would have onion in it. I also added a sliced carrot and finely chopped red bell pepper, plus a pinch or two of salt. I brought it to a boil and then simmered for about 20 minutes.

The zucchini was also easy to prepare. I thinly sliced zucchini and sauteed in a little bit of canola oil. When the zucchini was just barely starting to brown, I added a little cumin seed, turmeric, and asofotedia powder (it's easier to call it "heing", the Hindi name). Asofotedia powder is a staple in the pantry of those Indians who don't eat garlic, and it also has a somewhat strong flavor, stirred, and served.

By the way, what is the difference between a fruit and a vegetable? My wife and I were pondering it; she thought juice or sugar content was a factor; I didn't think so, but didn't have any good suggestions. So, I did a search and found an "Ask Yahoo!" answer that partially validated my wife's sugar angle; they refer to dictionary.com's explanation:

A fruit is actually the sweet, ripened ovary or ovaries of a seed-bearing plant. A vegetable, in contrast, is an herbaceous plant cultivated for an edible part (seeds, roots, stems, leaves, bulbs, tubers, or nonsweet fruits). So, to be really nitpicky, a fruit could be a vegetable, but a vegetable could not be a fruit.

I wonder what would be an example of a non-sweet fruit? And what does it mean to not be sweet - I suspect all vegetables have some fructose and certainly carbohydrates. I know that tomatoes are considered to be fruits - and I guess that they would be one example of a fruit that can also be called a vegetable, according to this explanation. dictionary.com cites includes this definition for tomato: "mildly acid red or yellow pulpy fruit eaten as a vegetable".

I wonder what it means to eat something "as a vegetable". Are there other examples of non-sweet fruits? I know that avocado is considered a fruit. In doing a little research, I also found that pumpkin, pea, bell pepper, cucumber, olive, zucchini, and squash are also fruits.

I also found answers to our question at The Straight Dope

Fruit is the matured ovary of a flower, containing the seed. After fertilization takes place and the embryo (plantlet) has begun to develop, the surrounding ovule becomes the fruit. ... [there are] four types of fruit--simple, aggregate, multiple and accessory--which explain things like berries and pineapples.

A vegetable is considered to be edible roots, tubers, stems, leaves, fruits, seeds, flower clusters, and other softer plant parts. In common usage, however, there is no exact distinction between a vegetable and a fruit. The usual example is the tomato, which is a fruit, but is eaten as a vegetable, as are cucumbers, peppers, melons, and squashes. The classification of plants as vegetables is largely determined by custom, culture, and usage....

A grain is described as the dry fruit of a cereal grass, such as the "seedlike fruits of the buckwheat and other plants, and the plants bearing such fruits." So, grain is also a fruit.

and the Cornell University department of Horticulture

The difference between a fruit and vegetable depends largely on your perspective. From a botanical perspective, a fruit is the mature ovary of a plant, such as an apple, melon, cucumber, or tomato. From the common, every day "grocery store perspective," we tend to use the word fruit with respect to fruits eaten fresh as desserts - apples, peaches, cherries, etc. - and not to items cooked or used in salads. So, tomatoes tend to be lumped in with vegetables because of the way they are used (cooked and in salads), but botanists will call them fruits because they develop from the reproductive structures of plants. The California legislature once passed a law declaring tomatoes a vegetable in order to impose a tariff on Mexican imports!

So there you have it!


At Tue Jan 02, 10:43:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

looks very good! have a great new year!

At Tue Jan 02, 11:37:00 AM EST, Blogger Dilip said...

Happy 2007, johanna3!


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