Common Questions About Vegetables, Answered

Starting with: Which parts of an artichoke are edible?

Published Mar. 11, 2019.

Our new cookbook, Vegetables Illustrated, contains more than just recipes. It also includes information on how to store and prep all of the 70 featured vegetables, plus the newest facts on different vegetable varieties and when they’re in season. There are also answers to common vegetable questions. Which parts of an artichoke are edible? Are fennel and anise the same thing? Are baby carrots simply . . . adult carrots, cut down to size? Learn all that and more here (and check out the book for even more crucial vegetable information).


Vegetables Illustrated

An exciting guide with stunning photos and inspired recipes for everything from your favorite everyday vegetables to more adventurous farmers’ market choices.  
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Which parts of an artichoke are edible?

The entire exterior of the artichoke (including several layers of leaves), as well as the fuzzy choke and tiny pointy leaves at the center cannot be eaten. The tender inner heart, leaves, and stem are entirely edible. The cooked heart can be eaten with a knife and fork. To eat the tough outer leaves, use your teeth to scrape the flesh from the underside of each leaf.

Can I eat beet greens?

Yes—and you should! When beet greens are attached to the beetroots, it’s a sign of freshness for the whole vegetable. As far as their flavor, beet greens taste pretty mild. When developing the Sauteed Beet Greens with Raisins and Almonds recipe in Vegetables Illustrated, we found the best way to cook them was a hybrid wilt-and-saute technique: Heat a bit of oil in a saute pan, add the just-washed greens, cover, and steam them until wilted, then uncover the pan and cook on high heat until all the liquid has evaporated.

How can I prevent leftover avocado from turning brown?

No, the answer isn’t just forcing yourself to eat all the avocado so you don’t have leftovers. Storing the avocado cut side down in water with a few squeezes of lemon juice keeps it green for a couple of days. Vacuum sealing will preserve its green color even longer, about a week. Or try one of the avocado “huggers” now available.

Are baby carrots cut from full-ground carrots?

Yes. So-called baby carrots are actually full-grown carrots that are too cosmetically ugly to sell. They were created in the 1980s by a California carrot farmer and have been a smash hit ever since. Full-size carrots are mechanically cut into smaller pieces, sculpted into small rounded batons, washed, and bagged, and delivered to a crudite platter near you.

Are you supposed to clean mushrooms before cooking them?

Although many sources advise against washing mushrooms (to avoid their soaking up any additional moisture), once we learned that mushrooms are over 80 percent water, we began to question their ability to absorb more liquid. To find out, we rinsed a batch in cold water, weighing them before and after their wash. Six ounces of mushrooms gained only about a quarter ounce of water, and most of this was beaded on the surface. So wash whole mushrooms just before cooking with them. We like to use a salad spinner.

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What is chicory coffee?

You often hear about New Orleans’ famous chicory coffee. And chicory is a type of vegetable, so is chicory coffee . . . vegetable coffee? Kind of. The root of the common blue-flowered chicory plant is dried, ground, and blended into dark roasted coffee, adding an almost chocolaty flavor note. Supposedly chicory was first added to coffee during the Union Army blockade of New Orleans during the Civil War, as a way to stretch the scarce supply of coffee. Over the years, the tradition took hold.

Are fennel and anise the same thing?

Fennel is sometimes labeled “fresh anise” in the supermarket, but when it comes to seeds, they’re two different things. Fennel seeds, which are a key component of the flavor profile of Italian sausage, come from a perennial flowering herb plant called common fennel, which has no vegetable bulb. Anise seeds, which have a more pronounced and sweeter licorice flavor than fennel seeds, come from a different species. These two seeds often can be substituted for one another, but in general it’s better to purchase the specific type that the recipe calls for.

What are legumes?

The umbrella term “legumes” refers to both the dried seeds, like kidney beans and lentils, and the fresh pods, such as green beans and peas. Other common examples are peanuts, fava beans, edamame, and bean sprouts.

Are sweet potatoes and yams the same thing?

You often hear these two terms used interchangeably, but these vegetables belong to completely different botanical families. Yams, generally sold in Latin and Asian markets, are often sold in chunks (they can grow to be several feet long) and can be found in dozens of varieties. Sweet potatoes are also found in several varieties and can have form or soft flesh, but it‘s the soft varieties that have in the past been mislabeled as “yams,” and the confusion continues to this day. In an attempt to remedy this, the U.S. Department of Agriculture now requires labels listing the term “yam” to also list the term “sweet potato” when appropriate.

Looking for more information on cooking vegetables? Check out these articles:

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