A few months ago, I happened to post on Facebook that I thought aubergines were the best vegetable. Maybe it’s the company I keep, but this prompted a flood of comments which fell into three categories: those laying claim to the crown for other legumes; those pointing out that aubergines are not vegetables[i]; and those agreeing (thank you for your sanity; you know who you are). Not a one pointed out that a three day internet discussion of the merits of vegetables was a bit, well, sad. When I threw peas into the mix, the controversy levels quadrupled – some people really don’t like peas (you also know who you are, and you’re very misguided).
Of course, man (and woman) cannot live by vegetables alone; and I write as a vegetarian, admittedly of the ovo-lacto variety (cheese omelettes are good with me, but fish and, much less chicken, do not count as ‘vegetarian’ in my, nor any other sane, universe). So while aubergines and peas are some of the most flavoursome things I know, they don’t make it onto my ‘last three foods in the world’ list: bread, cheese and tomatoes[ii], since you ask. Not only are each genius in their own right, but combined they have formed the core of my diet on many happy holidays in southern Europe. The place-resonance of those flavours is very powerful, and even in rainy London, the taste of a good tomato and a piece of strong white bread can take me whizzing down to Andalucía.
The deep, smokey taste of Provencal aubergines also has strong associations, as does a good, spicy, oily brinjal bhaji , taking me to back to Karnataka, or to my first forays to Indian restaurants in Northampton, back when food got interesting. Eating sweet, sweet peas straight from the pod in a garden in Cramlington is one of my fondest memories of my grandfather. And I can think of few finer things than pea and mint soup on a sunny summer’s day in England (whatever one of those is).
So while aubergines are the best vegetable, so are peas. And kale, and broccoli, and carrots, and turnips. But I’ll give the celery a miss, if that’s OK with you.
[i] According to Wikipedia, they’re a berry.