Indian Vegetables Are Important Because Many People Living In The Indian Sub-continent Are Vegetarian. There Are Vast Numbers of Vegetables Native To The Area Plus Many Have Been Imported From The UK & Other Parts Of The World. Here Are Some Commonly Eaten Indian Veg.
Indian Vegetable History
India has been farmed for 11,000 years, perhaps longer. It’s traditionally been very productive due, in places, to a double monsoon season that meant two crops a year was the norm. Couple that with the fact that 82% of Indians have some form of restriction on eating meat, with many being totally vegetarian, and the importance of vegetables to Indians is obvious.
The influence of the various Indian cuisines here in the UK has been immense and it is often said that curry is the favourite dish in the UK. The favoured dish, often cited, is CTM .. Chicken Tikka Masala. But Veg dishes are not far behind.
But what vegetables do Indians prefer? And which vegetables can be grown here.
Of course India is a sub continent so what some Indians eat isn’t the same as what all Indians eat on a regular basis. There are huge regional differences due to climate and culture.
Favourite Indian Vegetables
In India there are hundreds of potential vegetables that can be selected from. Some we can get here in England, either imported or grown here. And some are common British veg that has been grown in India since the Raj. The latter have since become “Indian Vegetables” as many have become Indian staples in India.
Growing Indian Vegetables In The UK
I first started growing Indian vegetables commercially in the 80s. An Indian grocer approached me with a bag of seed and asked me to grow it for him. I asked what it was and he said bhajee .. vegetable. It took me a while to sort out if this vegetable was a root, stem, leaf or other type of crop and when I asked when it was sown I was told May on the plains and June in the mountains.
It transpired the crop was methi. That’s fenugreek in English.
So I grew it, he sent a gang in to harvest it, and I was paid. That was the start of my Indian adventure. The next crop was coriander. I’d never seen it before, this was the 80s and most people didn’t recognise these strange vegetables and herbs.
But we soon learnt and before long I was also growing chillis, bottle gourds and much more. Some of it under glass and some of it outdoors.
But though many Indian veg can be grown outdoors in some seasons, others need the protection of greenhouses or polytunnels. And some can’t be grown here in normal circumstances.
As well as veg I’ve included a few fruit in my list.
Here’s some fruit and veg you may. or may not, recognise …
Sharifa शरीफ़ा: (Annona squamosa ) aka Annona, Custard Apple, Ata phol, Sitaphalam, Cintamaram
Annona is a fruit I’ve seen growing in Madeira and I loved to pick and eat it. It originates from tropical South America and the West Indies. But it is widely grown and eaten in India after being introduced by the Portuguese in the 16th century.
There are over 160 different species of Annona species within the Annonea family bit only seven species are grown commercially. The most popular however is this one, A. squamosa.
The tree is evergreen or semi deciduous depending on location. In some locations it grows as a shrub rather than tree. It’s a strange looking fruit with a complex biology. Beetles seem to be the main pollinators in most Annona species.
I was warned not to eat the seed as it is toxic!
The video below explains more about the species.
Ajmoda: (Apium graveolens). English name: Celery
Celery is a marsh plant and needs plenty of water. So many people think it has no place in Indian cookery. But it has and is regularly used in several parts of India. And if you doubt the quantity used, look at the IndiaMart website. It’s the biggest online store for wholesalers, restaurants and retailers in India, and they list celery.
Sooran or Suran: (Dioscorea trifida). English name, Yam
Suran normally refers to Elephant foot yams. They are a perennial vine. The yams are the tuber. Sweet potato are a type of yam, but not the same one. Sweet potatoes can be grown in the UK but Suran aren’t as far as I know.
Shalgam, B. rapa. (Turnip)
There are loads of different colour and cultivars of turnip and they are easy to grow here in the UK. And don’t forget we can eat the roots or the turnip tops. In the UK I grow them outdoors in sumner and in my greenhouse in winter.
Tapioca isn’t a crop grown in the UK. But it’s something I remember from school dinners. I never enjoyed it!
In India it is often a winter veg and Kachalu Chat is a frequent dish. Below is a video on how to make Kachalu Chat.
Shakarkand (Sweet potato)
Sweet potatoes are grown from “slips” and can be grown in many parts of the UK. Yields tend to be relatively low though.
Chichinda (Snake Gourd)
Very long gourds that hang from a climbing vine. I’ve grown these under glass in the UK and they crop well.
I’ve seen snake gourds in a few specialist shops in the UK.
There’s a recipe below if you buy snake gourds and want to try cooking them.
Singhara (Water chestnuts)
There are two plants that are often called water chestnut. Eleocharis dulcis and Trapa natans. The latter is an aquatic plant and needs warmth. It has been grown as a commercial crop in Florida, but with limited success. I’ve not seen a record of successfully growing it in the UK as a food crop.
The nuts form under water and are eaten in Chinese food in the UK. I’ve yet to see it in Indian dishes here .. but maybe I’ve missed it as it appears on several internet lists of Indian foods.
Torai (Ridged gourd)
Gourds love warmth. And where you can give enough warmth they can provide a decent crop. There are many types of gourds worth trying in the UK, especially in tunnels and greenhouses where the extra warmth aids growth.
Surti Kand (Purple yam)
The Latin for this plant is Dioscorea alata. So its not to be confused with Sweet Potatoes. Again it’s a plant that is listed as being possible to grow in the UK but I can find no evidence that it is. The ethnic food growing research conducted by Garden Organic a few years ago doesn’t list it.
Parwal (Pointed gourd)
This is a plant of the cucumber family and goes by the Latin name, Trichosanthes dioica. It’s a vining plant popular in India, West Bengal and Bangladesh. Another warmth lover that does best in greenhouses.
This is the official State fruit of Kerala. It grows on a tree which can yield up to 200 fruit a year. It’s often seen in the West as tined fruit. But it is grown across many parts of India and as far away as the Philippines and Borneo
Tinde (Indian squash)
Tinde are bottle shaped squash and available across much of South Asia. they are usually long and light green in colour though varieties vary a bit.
The flesh is white, spongy and soft. When the squash matures it can be dried and used as a container. But when harvested young it is used as a vegetable.
Surati papdi, Sheem or Avara (Hyacinth beans) aka Lablab beans.
Another veg that is found across much of South Asia it is, as the name suggests, from the bean family. Being grown so extensively it is a very variable plant with lots of local cultivars. Some produce purple or even blue flowers whilst others are white.
Because of the flowers its grown as an ornamental in some areas and is either an annual or short-lived perennial. In other places it is a pulse crop that has been grown for centuries. In fact Indian records indicate it was grown in 2500 BC.
It’s been used extensively as an animal feed. And where eaten by humans , and it is extensively eaten, it needs to be boiled to remove the cyanogenic glycosides. Though some recipes call for the beans and pods to be dropped in to curries without first boiling them. I’m not going to try that myself.
Methi patte (Fenugreek leaves)
Methi is a crop I know well. It was one of the first Asian crops I grew commercially. The seed is yellow and a strange shape. When I first saw it I wondered if it could be grown legally in the UK .. this was the 1980s. But of course it can be grown and indeed did very well for me outdoors during the summer.
Methi has been recorded in archaeological digs and dated to 4000 BC. In the first century AD the Romans used fenugreek to flavour wine. Personally I prefer it in curries and on salads.
So is it an Indian veg? Well, over 80% of global production comes from Rajasthan. That make sit Indian in my book.
Shingh phali (Drumstick fruit)
Drumstick fruit is from the Moringa oleifera tree, it requires semi arid conditions and a sub tropical or tropical climate and it’s unlikely to crop well in the UK… unless anyone proves me wrong.
The young seed pods and leaves are often eaten as a vegetable. And India is the biggest producer of moringa in the world. It’s a plant that crops early after planting from cuttings and the first harvest can be as early as 6-8 months after planting. That is fast!
Cooking of the drumstick is usually by par boiling and then adding to curries. But the seeds may also be eaten like peas.
The roots are sometimes shredded and eaten as a condiment. They apparently taste bit like horseradish.
More to be added later … including