What gardeners refer to as vegetables covers a range of plant parts, even the much-debated fruit: the tomato. Technically speaking the part of the plant that contains the seeds is a fruit, but many gardeners balk at referring to tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and squash as fruit. In practical terms, a vegetable is any edible part of a plant and may encompass roots, stems, flowers and seeds. Some plants are grown specifically for their edible seeds.
Corn kernels, the edible part of an ear of corn, are seeds. These tender morsels grow on ears ranging in size from tiny 6 inch ears to giant ears nearly a foot long. Consumed fresh and eaten from the ear it is referred to as corn on the cob. Kernels cut from the ear make whole kernel or cream-style corn. Making whole kernel corn involves cutting the kernel from the cob at 2/3 its depth, so that a portion of the corn stays on the cob. Cream-style corn is cut flush with the cob and the remaining milky substance is scraped from the cob and added to the corn.
Peas, the seeds of a pea plant, grow in pods. Eaten when immature, young peas are sweet and tender. Frozen or canned after harvesting, peas make a delicious side dish for nearly any meal. Peas allowed to mature on the vine and dried in the pod can be used for soups or sauces. Often sold dried as split peas (the seed splits in the middle after drying when the outer coating is removed), these seeds provide hearty nutrition with rich flavor.
Beans grow in pods, typically picked and eaten as a tender vegetable in midsummer. If left to mature on the vine, beans harden and dry, forming what we know as dried beans. Used in dishes for baked beans or hearty stews, these seeds are prized for their flavor and goodness when cooked with spiced or sweetened meats.
Lentils grow in tiny pods, used either fresh or dried. Like other legumes, they are sweet and tender when immature but mature to hard seeds suitable for adding to stews, soups and sauces when dried.
Chickpeas, often referred to a garbanzo beans, are neither a pea nor a bean, but a separate member of the legume family. These seeds grow in pods and can be eaten fresh when pods are immature, much like green beans. If left to mature and dried, chickpeas provide a healthy ingredient in sauces, dips and salads. Chickpeas, often sold canned in liquids for easy use in recipes, provide a hearty treat.