Above all, look for freshness. Green vegetables should be fresh and crisp; roots and tubers firm; bulbs — such as onions — dry and free from mildew.
Always buy vegetables in the quantities you need: don’t be tempted to buy more than you can use. As a general rule, avoid small vegetables, which may be tasteless, or overgrown ones, which can be coarse. However,always keep a look out for seasonal bargains.
Artichokes (globe) Cut off the stalk and the tougher outside leaves. Rinse well under running water, making sure no grit remains between the leaves, then drain.
The artichoke has an inedible ‘choke’ above the heart, or fond, the most succulent part of the vegetable. You can scoop it out with a teaspoon when it is raw or when it is cooked.
Cook the artichoke in boiling salted water, for about 35-40 minutes. You can tell when it is done: the leaves pull out easily. Drain upside down in a colander.
Serve hot with melted butter or Hollandaise sauce; cold with mayonnaise or vinaigrette dressing.
Artichokes (Jerusalem) Scrub and peel, plunge quickly into cold water and lemon juice to prevent discolouration, then boil in salted water with additional lemon juice for 15-20 minutes or steam for 20-25 minutes and drain. Alternatively, remove skin after cooking, and serve with melted butter or Hollandaise sauce.
Asparagus Cut off the woody ends and scrape along each stalk, wash, and tie into bundles of about six, with all the heads together. Trim the stalk ends of the bundle to an even length. Boil upright for 10-15 minutes, taking care not to overcook in case the heads become mushy. To eat, hold by the stem and dip in melted butter, or serve cold with mayonnaise.
Aubergines Cut off the stem and leaves around it, and slice it thinly. Sprinkle salt over the cut surface, and leave for about 30 minutes before rinsing with cold water. Serve fried in slices; whole, use it stuffed and baked. Use aubergine in Moussaka and Ratatouille.
Avocados Usually eaten as a starter or in salads; buy ripe. Cut in half lengthways, remove the stone and brush with lemon juice to prevent browning. Serve with a vinaigrette dressing or fill the halves with prawns and a light cocktail sauce.
Beans (broad) When young and tender cook in the pod, but large ones should be podded, boiled in salted water for 15-20 minutes and drained, then tossed in melted butter with parsley or served with a parsley sauce.
Beans (French) Slender, stringless beans, prepared by trimming the ends and cooking whole in boiling salted water for about 5-10 minutes, or steaming until soft.
Beans (runner) Larger and coarser than French beans. Trim the ends, slice thinly and cook in the same way.
Bean sprouts (Mung beans) Rinse under cold water and strain well; fry in oil for 1-2 minutes. Serve with salads, cold meats or traditional Chinese dishes.
Growing bean sprouts at home Soak 175 g (6 oz) beans overnight in a warm place and transfer the sprouting beans to a tray covered with blotting paper or an absorbent kitchen towel. Keep in a dark, warm place for about six days, watering every day, to produce white shoots.
Beetroot Cut off the stalks 2.5 cm (1 in) above the root and wash, handling with care, to prevent the beetroot from ‘bleeding’. Add a little vinegar to the cooking water and boil for about 45 minutes or bake at 160-170°C (325°F) Gas Mark 3 for 1-2 hours, moistened with butter and loosely covered with foil. Peel off the skin when ready, but do not prod to test tenderness. Serve with vinegar or melted butter, hot or cold.
Broccoli The white variety is best broken into florets or cooked in boiling water whole, like cauliflower. The purple variety and the green (Calabrese) have a delicate flavour and are best steamed for about 10-15 minutes, then drained and buttered.
Brussels sprouts Remove outer leaves, wash and cut a small cross in the stalk end of larger sprouts to ensure thorough cooking. Boil in salted water for about 10 minutes, drain, and toss in butter, seasoned with pepper.
Serve Brussels sprouts with chestnuts: use equal quantities of both. Slit the sides of the chestnuts and boil for about 2 minutes to soften the skins. Remove from the heat, peel and put on to simmer for about 40 minutes. After 30 minutes cooking, put on the sprouts in a separate pan. Drain both, mix in a serving dish and serve with butter, salt and freshly ground pepper.
Cabbage Remove outer leaves, cut in half and remove the hard centre. Wash thoroughly, slice and cook in a small quantity of boiling, salted water for 5-10 minutes. Drain and serve at once with a knob of butter. Red cabbages can be pickled and are excellent served as an accompaniment to cold meats. Use white cabbages to make coleslaw.
Carrots Scrape or peel thinly, cut off the ends, and slice, dice or cut into strips. Simmer for about 10 minutes. New carrots can be cooked whole and drained then served with melted butter and chopped parsley. They are an excellent addition to stews and casseroles, or grated raw in winter salads with onions and cabbage.
Cauliflowers Remove outside leaves and make a cut across the stalk. Wash, and cook in boiling salted water with the stem down, or steam for 10-15 minutes, according to size. Alternatively, divide into individual florets and cook for 5-10 minutes before serving with butter and salt and pepper or a cheese sauce. Raw florets are excellent served with savoury dips.
Celeriac Known as the ‘turnip-rooted celery’, it has a strong celery flavour, Peel, slice and cook in boiling, salted water for 20-30 minutes. Drain well and serve with melted butter or a sauce. Alternatively steam, fry, make into a cream soup, or grate raw into salads,
Celery Separate the stalks, scrub thoroughly in cold water, and drain. Excellent served raw with cheese or cooked in boiling salted water for 15-20 minutes. Alternatively braise and serve with a gravy-like sauce.
Chicory Cut off the stem and outer leaves and remove the core before wiping. Generally eaten raw as part of a salad, but can be cooked by plunging into boiling salted
water, with lemon juice, for 15-20 minutes, or braised in butter and water. Serve with a sauce, or seasoned with herbs.
Corn Avoid overripe golden yellow kernels which have lost their sweetness. Remove silky threads and outside leaves and cook in boiling water (unsalted to prevent toughening) for 5 minutes or more, according to size. The corn is ready when a kernel can be easily removed from the core. Alternatively cut away the corn from the cob after cooking. Drain and serve with a liberal amount of butter and salt and pepper, fry in butter, or serve cold with salad vegetables.
Courgettes Trim the ends, wash and slice, but do not peel. Saute in melted butter in a covered pan for 5-10 minutes or steam or boil until tender. They can be stuffed and baked or used as an ingredient in Ratatouille, itself an excellent accompaniment to roast beef and lamb cutlets.
Cucumbers Usually eaten raw and sliced with or without peel. Add cucumber to a salad, a chutney or a cold soup. Cucumbers can also be steamed for 5-10 minutes, or sautéed in butter. They can be rather indigestible.
Endive Curly-leaved, lettuce-shaped salad vegetable with a distinct flavour. Trim the stalk and remove outer leaves before washing. Serve cold as a salad.
Fennel Trim both ends, and cook whole in boiling salted water for 30-40 minutes. Cut into slices and serve with melted butter. Alternatively sauté slices in butter for about ten minutes or serve raw with a cheese salad.
Kale There are two varieties available: curly kale, which has tight, curly leaves, and Borecole, with large, flat leaves. Both are prepared and cooked like cabbage or used raw in a winter salad.
Kohlrabi A large stem with green leaves which resembles a turnip in taste. It should be eaten when young and tender. Prepare by removing the leaves and peeling thickly. Leave whole, if small, or chop and cook in boiling water for about 30 minutes, until soft. Alternatively steam and serve with a sauce, or coat cooked slices in batter and fry.
Leeks Remove outer leaves, cut off root end and top, and split down the centre or slice. Wash thoroughly to remove dirt and grit between the layers and cook in boiling salted water for about 15 minutes, until soft. Drain and serve with a cheese sauce. Leeks are also excellent in flans and soups, or stuffed and baked in the oven.
Lettuce Available in many varieties, it can be cabbage-shaped, with soft or crisp leaves, or long with crisp leaves and a sweet taste. Long-leaved Cos is mainly available throughout the summer months and the round soft-leaved variety is sold all the year round.
Remove the outer leaves, separate remaining ones and wash well in cold salted water before drying thoroughly in a clean towel or draining in a colander. Serve as a salad or make into a cream soup.
Marrow Wash the skin and cut in half to scoop out seeds. Stuff with minced beef and breadcrumbs and bake for about 20 minutes at 180°C (350°F) Gas Mark 4. Alternatively peel large marrows, cut the flesh into cubes or rings and cook in boiling salted water until soft. Serve with a well-flavoured tomato Or cheese sauce.
Mushrooms Cultivated mushrooms include button, flat and open varieties which require only peeling or wiping before use. Sauté in butter for 3-5 minutes and use in a large selection of savoury dishes including casseroles, pizzas and quiches. May also be used raw in salads.
Mustard and cress Trim the stalks with scissors, removing the roots, and wash in a colander. Drain well and use to make appetizing salads and garnish sandwiches.
Growing mustard and cress at home Sprinkle cress seeds over a sheet of damp blotting paper or absorbent kitchen paper. Keep damp. Two or three days later sprinkle mustard seeds over the paper and about five days later it should be ready.
Okra Often known as ‘lady’s fingers’ this is a green pod vegetable much used in Indian, Caribbean and Greek cooking. Trim the ends and leave whole or slice, according to the recipe. It is usually sautéed for 5-10 minutes.
Onions They can be boiled, fried, braised, baked or steamed and are extremely useful in most savoury dishes. Cut off the ends and remove outer skin. To dice, cut in half and lay cut side downwards on the board. Then slice across and lengthwise. English varieties have a
stronger flavour than the larger, mild Spanish onions.
Parsnip Trim the ends, peel thinly and wash. Parboil for 5 minutes and drain. Roast in the pan with the joint of meat, at 200°C (400°F) Gas Mark 6 for 40 minutes. Alternatively cook in boiling salted water for 30-40 minutes, until soft, or sauté for about 10 minutes until golden brown.
Peas Cook fresh peas when they are still young and tender in lightly salted water for 10-15 minutes. Drain and serve with a knob of butter and a sprig of fresh mint. (When they are extra sweet they can be cooked and eaten in the pod.) The season for fresh peas lasts only six weeks, but they are also frozen, canned or dried.
Peppers Young peppers are green and turn red when fully ripened. Trim off the stalk end, cut in half and remove seeds before slicing. Use raw in salads; add to casseroles and other savoury dishes. Alternatively, remove the core and seeds with the tip of a sharp-bladed knife and stuff, halved or whole, with a savoury rice mixture and bake in the oven.
Potatoes There are many varieties of this versatile staple vegetable. Some are `floury’: use for mashing or baking in their jackets; others have a closer, more waxy flesh: use them for roasting and chipping.
Among the many good, all-purpose main crop potatoes are King Edward, Mans Piper, Pentland Crown and Kerr’s Pink. Desiree and Majestic are excellent for roasting and chipping, and cold in salads.
Boiled Scrape new potatoes and simmer in salted water for 15-20 minutes. Drain and serve with butter, fresh mint or parsley. Alternatively, make a potato salad, using a vinaigrette or mayonnaise dressing. Boil older potatoes in their skins, or peel as thinly as possible. Simmer, whole, for 20-30 minutes until soft but unbroken.
Casseroled Arrange thinly sliced old or new potatoes in a lightly greased pie or flan dish, season with salt and pepper and spread each layer with butter. Bake at 190°C (375°F) Gas Mark 5 for 11/4 hours or until tender. Serve in the dish.
Chips Cut potatoes into slices and then into sticks, soak in salted water for about 30 minutes to remove excess starch, and drain. Heat oil or lard to 190°C (375°F) in a large pan or deep-fat fryer, testing the temperature by dropping in a potato stick, which should rise to the surface immediately the fat is ready. If you use a deep fryer, quarter fill the basket with a batch of potatoes, fry for about three minutes and drain on kitchen paper. Continue until they have all been partly cooked. Finally fry all the chips rapidly for a further three minutes, drain on kitchen paper and serve immediately.
Creamed Mash and, over gentle heat, beat in a knob of butter, salt and pepper and a little milk. Beat well until light and fluffy.
Crisps Very thinly sliced potatoes, cut in rounds. Soak in cold water, drain and deep fry rapidly for about 3 minutes. Salt and serve.
Croquettes Roll mashed potato into small sausage shapes and coat with egg and breadcrumbs. Fry in deep fat until crispy and golden brown. Fried onion, chopped nuts or grated cheese can be added to the mixture to give extra flavour.
Duchesse Cream potatoes with an egg yolk, and pipe into rosettes on a greased baking tray. Bake at 200°C (400°F) Gas Mark 6 for about 25 minutes until golden.
Fried or sautéed Boil until almost cooked, slice and fry slowly in melted butter until golden brown.
Jacket Scrub large, even sized potatoes and prick all over with a fork. Bake at 190°C (375°F) Gas Mark 5 for 1-1 ½ hours, depending on size, until tender. Cut in half lengthways or cut a diagonal cross in the top, and serve with cheese, butter, salt and pepper and chopped chives. Mashed Boil potatoes, drain, and using a potato masher or fork, beat until smooth with a little added butter over a low heat, then season.
Matchstick chips Prepare and cook as for chips but cut the sticks into julienne strips (fine matchstick sizes) and reduce the cooking time to only three minutes in total.
Roast Peel and quarter potatoes and parboil for 5-10 minutes, then drain. Transfer to a meat roasting tin in a hot oven 220°C (425°F) Gas Mark 7 for about 45 minutes or until crisp and golden brown. Roast around a joint of meat or a chicken or turkey if there is room.
Pumpkin Skin, cut in half, remove seeds and fibrous centre and cut into cubes. Cook in boiling water for about 15 minutes until tender and serve with other vegetables. Pumpkin can also be made into pumpkin pie; a delicious cinnamon flavoured sweet which is traditionally served in America at Thanksgiving.
Radishes Cut off the leaves and roots and wash well. May be eaten raw; often cut into waterlily shapes and used as a garnish. Alternatively cook in boiling salted water for 5-10 minutes, according to size, until tender. Drain well and serve with melted butter.
Salsify Often referred to as ‘oyster plant’, this is a delicate-flavoured root vegetable. It should be scrubbed and scraped quickly, cut into 2.5-5 cm (1-2 in) lengths and cooked in boiling salted water with added lemon juice for 20-30 minutes. Drain and serve with melted butter and chopped herbs or with a sauce, such as Hollandaise.
Sea Kale Similar to thin celery stalks in appearance, it can be eaten raw with cheese and salad or cooked and served with melted butter or a sauce. Trim the ends, wash and tie in bundles like asparagus Boil or steam for about 20 minutes until tender, but still crisp.
Shallots A small, mild-flavoured onion. Prepare and cook in the same way as onions. Frequently pickled, added to a casserole or served with baby carrots in a cream sauce.
Spinach Remove any bruised leaves and rinse thoroughly to get rid of clinging grit. Trim away the base of the stalks and centre ribs. Put the wet leaves in a pan and cook over gentle heat for about 10 minutes. You should not need to add extra water. Drain well, and serve with a knob of butter, salt, freshly ground nutmeg and pepper.
Swede A round root vegetable with a purplish-coloured outer skin and orange-yellow sweet flavoured flesh. Scrub and peel thickly, dice or slice and boil or steam for about 20 minutes. An excellent addition to stews and home-made soups, swedes can also be roasted around the joint in the oven at 200°C (400°F) Gas Mark 6 for about 1 hour, according to size.
Sweet potatoes Not related to the potato, this is an elongated or round tuber which can be white, red or purple; it has a sweet taste. Use it like a potato; scrub, peel and boil, fry, bake or roast.
Tomatoes Although the tomato is a fruit, it is used as a vegetable. There are many varieties, from the large bright red Spanish to the smaller English tomato with its unique flavour and aroma. The skin is loosened by plunging into boiling water for 2-3 seconds, then into cold water. Tomatoes can be eaten raw in salads, fried, grilled, baked or steamed, and used in sauces with pasta and in savoury dishes.
Turnips Early turnips with green and white skins are available from April until July, and can be eaten raw, peeled and thinly sliced. Maincrop turnips with coarse flesh and thicker skins need to be boiled for 20-30 minutes according to size. Alternatively steam for 30-40 minutes. Add to a stew or serve with equal quantities of mashed potato, carrot or parsnip and plenty of butter.
Watercress Select fresh green leaves. Wash and serve raw with salads, use as a garnish to savoury dishes, or make into a soup.
Cucumber Before slicing, score the skin of the cucumber lengthways with a fork to give a decorative effect. If liked, make the slices into twists or butterflies and use for garnishing pâtés and plates of sandwiches.
Gherkins Fan shapes are made by slicing lengthways and opening out.
Radishes Make ‘roses’ by slicing lengthways through the radish and putting into iced water to open up.
Tomatoes Using the point of a sharp-bladed vegetable knife, make incisions around the middle, then carefully separate the two halves.