At no other time does God’s hand in what we get to eat seem more apparent in India than in the winter. This is the season of plenty. This is the season when vegetables are freshest and juiciest – and cheapest. When I lived in America, I used to shop for vegetables in supermarkets, also called grocery stores. Every vegetable seemed available all year round.
But, in India, certain vegetables, until a few years ago, appeared only in winter – tomato, cauliflower and green pea, for instance. Now, thanks to hybrid varieties and advanced farming, some of these vegetables are available all year round.
In any case, though, never are they cheaper and prettier than in the winter. I go grocery-shopping in Central Calcutta on Saturday mornings. Although, there are now several supermarket-style grocery stores in Calcutta, they don’t match the freshness of produce found at farmer’s market-style vegetable “stalls,” which are merely heaps on emptied jute bags laid on the ground. The vegetables make the street come alive with bright colors.
I buy from a sabziwala -- or vendor -- I have known for the past several years. He brings his fare from rural Bengal. The eggplants he sells are huge and purple or green with red streaks. Both varieties are wonderful – soft and mildly sweet, never astringent. In the winter, especially, they shine in the morning sun in all their purple or green glory. The cauliflowers are white, firm and hefty. And, the tomatoes blush in their scarlet best. The desi, or indigenous, variety is orange, and has notches running down – they aren’t perfectly round and beautiful, but, as Ashok, my sabziwala tells me, they are juicier. True, they are. Once I tried to make the classic marinara sauce with them. That’s another story; I reserve it for the next post. Until then, dear reader, I have a couple of questions for you. If you live outside South Asia, are certain vegetables seasonal in your country? Do you buy vegetables from supermarkets or farmer’s market-style vendors?