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3.1.3: Cucurbitaceae and Fruit-Vegetable Misclassifications

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    The Cucurbitaceae

    or gourd family includes almost 750 species; its members are found in warm regions worldwide. Gourds are characterized by large, complex root systems with quick-growing, trailing vines and large leaves. Their flowers are often attractive and edible. Although some members of the gourd family originated in Africa, chayotes and most squashes are native to the Americas. Among these include chayote, cucumbers, squashes (winter/summer).


    "gourds" by Leo Reynolds is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.


    Botanists classify avocados, eggplants, peppers and tomatoes as fruits because they develop from the ovary of flowering plants and contain one or more seeds. Chefs, however, prepare and serve them like vegetables; therefore, they are discussed here.


    Avocados include several varieties of pear-shaped fruits with rich, high-fat flesh. This light golden-green flesh surrounds a large, inedible, oval-shaped seed (pit). Some varieties have smooth, green skin; others have pebbly, almost black skin. Avocados should be used at their peak of ripeness, a condition that lasts only briefly. Firm avocados lack the desired flavor and creamy texture. Ripe avocados should be soft to the touch but not mushy. Ripe Haas avocados have almost black skins; the skins of the other varieties remain green when ripe. Firm avocados can be left at room temperature to ripen and then refrigerated for one or two days. Because avocado flesh turns brown very quickly once cut, dip avocado halves or slices in lemon juice and keep unused portions tightly covered with plastic wrap.



    Two types of eggplants (Fr. Aubergine) are commonly available: Asian and western. Asian varieties are either round or long and thin, with skin colors ranging from creamy white to deep purple. Western eggplants, which are more common in the United States, tend to be shaped like a plump pear with a shiny lavender to purple-black skin. Both types have a dense, khaki-colored flesh with a rather bland flavor that absorbs other flavors well during cooking. Eggplants can be grilled, baked, steamed, fried or sautéed. They are commonly used in Mediterranean and Indian cuisines (especially in vegetarian dishes), but also appear in European and North American dishes.

    • Eggplant - to salt or not salt?

    Eggplants are filled with cells that contain water and are surrounded by tiny air pockets. The presence of heat will squeeze the air out of the pockets. If the eggplant has not been salted, oil is then free to seep into these pockets and the eggplant becomes soggy when fried. But when salt is sprinkled on an eggplant, it draws the water out of the cells. The cells then collapse, which in turn makes the air pockets collapse. As a result, no oil can seep into the tiny pockets during the frying process.



    Members of the Capsicum family are native to the New World. When "discovered" by Christopher Columbus, he called them "peppers" because of their sometimes-fiery flavor. These peppers, which include sweet peppers and hot peppers (chiles), are unrelated to peppercorns, the Asian spice for which Columbus was actually searching.





    Also known as Mexican or husk tomatoes, grow on small, weedy bushes. They are bright green, about the size of a small tomato, and are covered with a thin, papery husk. They have a tart, lemony flavor and crisp, moist flesh. Although they are an important ingredient in southwestern and northern Mexican cuisines, tomatillos may not be readily available in other areas. Tomatillos can be used raw in salads, pureed for salsa or cooked in soups, stews or vegetable dishes.



    Tomatoes (Fr. Tomate or pomme d'amour; It. pomodoro) are available in a wide variety of colors and shapes. They vary from green (unripe) to golden yellow to ruby red; from tiny spheres (currant tomatoes) to huge, squat ovals (beefsteak). Some, such as the plum tomato, have lots of meaty flesh with only a few seeds; others, such as the slicing tomato, have lots of seeds and juice, but only a few meaty membranes. 



    This page titled 3.1.3: Cucurbitaceae and Fruit-Vegetable Misclassifications is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by William R. Thibodeaux.

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