On the Ubiquity of Certain Vegetables

Yesterday I was presented with one of those unsolicited video clips on Facebook – some chap saying he was going to show us how to make a 60-egg omelette. Well that sounded a bit strange for a start. An omelette surely is a personal dish – three or four eggs carefully crafted into a disc of just the right consistency and wrapped around some suitably complementary filling, or even just folded over on itself, lightly speckled with golden brown on the outside and deliciously moist within.

I decided to watch the beginning. He broke the eggs into a large bowl (there was a fair amount of fast-forwarding or “here’s one I made earlier” at this stage – I don’t suppose many people would sit through watching 60 eggs being broken one at a time). Then he took a cleaver and chopped up a bunch of spring onions (interesting, I’ve never thought of using a cleaver for that) before stirring them into the eggs. OK, so it was probably going to be something more like a frittata than a classic omelette. But then he threw in a handful of grated carrot – at which point I stopped watching. Why the f*** would anyone put carrots in an omelette?

It’s not that I dislike carrots per se. I quite enjoy carrots if they’re freshly dug (i.e. they were still in the ground a couple of hours ago) and preferably home-grown on lovingly nurtured compost. But you don’t often get carrots like that. Most of the carrots offered for sale parted company with the soil days, weeks or even months ago. And it shows in the flavour, or rather the lack thereof.

I’m reminded here of JD Wetherspoons’ carrots. It’s been several years since I last ate in a “Spoons” and maybe the food has improved somewhat, but it used tolerable – with the exception of the carrots which were execrable. It wasn’t just that they were bland; they were slimy and what little flavour they did possess was actually quite unpleasant.

What’s more, carrots have a habit of turning up in places where they ought not to be, and not just the aforementioned omelette. They are far too prevalent in most coleslaws and piccalillis. They appear in way too many dishes at third-rate Chinese restaurants, usually in a gloopy sauce with bits of bubbly beef or hard pre-cooked pork. Do carrots even grow in China? At least Thai chefs are more inclined to sculpt them into flowers for merely decorative purposes.

I’ve even known people put carrots in Chilli con Carne. A good Chilli needs no more vegetable content than the kidney beans, the chillies, tomato paste, a modest amount of chopped onion and maybe red pepper (definitely optional). It doesn’t need carrots – or, God forbid, sweetcorn. (There’s a general principle here – adding extra ingredients to a recipe doesn’t necessarily improve it; on the contrary, it may well ruin the dish.)

So why are carrots so ubiquitous, both as an accompaniment to main dishes and as an ingredient? It’s surely not a matter of esculence, given the general diminution of flavour between the soil and the plate to which I alluded earlier. Is it because they’re cheap (unless sold in some semblance of freshness, in which case they become a premium product commanding several times the normal price)? Or is it because people are downright unimaginative in their choice of vegetables?

Peas are the undoubted leaders in the vegetable ubiquity stakes (a subject I’ve written about in an earlier blog and at greater length in my book) but carrots come a close second.

In third place is probably broccoli – not the tender succulent shoots of purple sprouting, which is most enjoyable in season, but the thick-stemmed green stuff which, while not exactly unpleasant, fails dismally to excite my palate whenever it appears on my plate.

I don’t understand why any vegetables should be so ubiquitous, not just in public eating places but in the domestic kitchen as well. Subject to availability, I like to choose my vegetables on the grounds of quality and freshness, seasonality and affinity with the meat or fish with which they are to be served. It amazes me how little attention is paid to the latter criterion – some combinations are truly harmonious, others less so and some quite jarring.

But, as I’ve probably said before, some people just don’t want their taste buds to be challenged, they actually prefer bland food. Others are seemingly impervious to nuances of taste and to the effects, good or bad, of juxtaposing flavours (for example, drinking Coke with pizza). Many are reluctant to be drawn out of their culinary comfort zone to experience new and exciting dishes (such people often claim to dislike foods they haven’t even tried).

So it looks as if frozen peas, tasteless old carrots and uninspiring broccoli are here to stay for a while yet.

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