Fresh produce is still a seasonal proposition, though modern transportation and storage have made more out-of-season vegetables available to a wider market. Most produce sold in the markets is graded for size and quality, from extra to primera, first, to segunda, second. Prices will vary by grade, as well as from one town to the next. Out-of-season vegetables are obviously more expensive than the seasonal ones, which are often grown locally.


An edible thistle, the artichoke is available from early winter until almost summer. A perennial, the plant grows to a stately four feet. Except for the very tiniest ones, only the heart and the fleshy pulp on the inside of the leaves and their bases are edible.


The first stalks of wild asparagus poke up through damp earth in late winter, though the cultivated asparagus, both white and green, doesn't appear until almost Easter. Wild asparagus has thin, spindly stalks with a slightly bitter taste.


Americans know this vegetable as eggplant. A summer vegetable, aubergine is found in sizes from tiny plum-sized ones to big globes. The colours, too, can vary from purple-black to violet striations to white. The small white ones actually look like chicken eggs.

Bean, Green
judía verde

Available year-round, beans are considerably less costly in the summer. There are quite a few varieties. Beans that are young and tender and freshly picked seldom need stringing.

Bean, Broad
haba, fava

Plump, pale green beans inside big pods, they very much resemble the American lima bean but are actually a relative of the pea. Their season is springtime.

Bean Sprout

Available fresh and bottled in many supermarkets.


Red beets, a winter vegetable, are mainly used in Spanish cooking as an ingredient in entrées and salads.

bróculi, brécol

Winter to spring.

Brussels Sprout
col de Bruselas

Winter to spring.

col, repollo

Always available, but at its best in the winter, cabbage is a fairly standard ingredient in many Spanish stews.


Carrots are available year-round.


Celery, available through all the cool months, is usually sold by the bunch, or manojo.


Sweet corn on the cob has only recently come available in Spain, especially in regions where foreigners live. However, the Canary Islanders have been using corn for centuries as an ingredient in some stews.


Americans call this vegetable by its Italian name zucchini. This member of the squash family, a summer vegetable, looks much like a cucumber, though some specimens grow considerably larger.


Cool cucumbers, though available year-round, are a real summer vegetable, a basic ingredient in salads and gazpachos. The long, smooth-skinned variety is sometimes called pepino holandés, Dutch cucumber.


Called chicory by the English, Belgian endive is shaped like a small white, elongated cabbage, with overlapping leaves tapering to a point. Endive is available through the winter months. Curly endive, a slightly bitter-tasting lettuce-like vegetable is also called chicory and in Spanish escarola. Powdered chicory for giving coffee a rich taste is called achicoría. It is the dried root of endive.


The bulbous root of the cultivated fennel can be eaten raw or cooked. It has a subtle anisette flavour. Wild fennel grows on hillsides everywhere. It is used in the curing of olives and flavours soups and potages.


Garlic is sold in the markets by the head, cabeza, or plaited into strands, ristras. A single clove of garlic is a diente, or tooth.


A member of the onion family, these look like fat, overgrown scallions.


The most common type of lettuce in Spanish markets is the loose-leaf type, dark green leaves branching from a single stalk. Iceberg lettuce, crispilla, a compact head lettuce, is also popular. Lettuce is available year-round, but most expensive in the winter.

champiñón, seta

The first of the Spanish names is used only for the cultivated white mushrooms found in markets everywhere. The second name means every other kind of mushroom, mainly wild ones. Truffles, trufas, are available tinned, very rarely fresh.


The best onions are the sweet, yellow Spanish onions. There are also red ones, tiny ones called cebollas francesas, green onions, usually harvested a little bigger and more bulbous than scallions, and shallots, chalotas or escalonia. Chives, which can be grown from seed, are cebollina. Onions come into the market in early summer.

Palm Heart
cogollo de palmito

These are usually only found tinned. However, they are sometimes sold by street vendors, who gather the wild palmettos and pare them down to the woody heart for consumption raw.


Available winter through spring. Peas are best when freshly picked, before the natural sugars turn to starch.


Red peppers, the mature version of the green ones, are sweeter and milder. Bell peppers and the smaller, narrow Spanish pepper can be used more or less interchangeably. Hot chili peppers are called guindillas. The tiny red ones are the fieriest, thumb-sized and plum-sizes ones are medium-hot. They come into the markets in the early fall.


Spanish explorers brought the potato from South America around 1540 and it was cultivated in Spain long before it became popular in the rest of Europe. The potato probably appears more frequently on Spanish dinner tables than any other food except bread. The favourite preparation of course is patatas fritas, chips or French fries. New potatoes come into the markets in spring time.


A member of the squash family, this hard-skinned variety is harvested in the summer, but keeps well through the winter. Some of them are grown to enormous size and are sold in the markets by the piece. Spanish pumpkins are usually green-skinned. The seeds can be dried and toasted for snacking.


These come in all sizes, from tiny, cherry-sized ones to big, turnip-sized.


Spinach is a cool season crop, available from fall to spring.

Sweet Potato
batata, boniato

This sweet-tasting, orange-fleshed vegetable seems to appear in the market in time for All Souls' Day, when it is eaten with chestnut. It lasts through November, when Americans enjoy it for Thanksgiving and disappears shortly after Christmas. People often mistakenly call sweet potatoes yams. Real yams, ñames, a starchy root, are grown and eaten in the Canary Islands.


In our part of Spain tomatoes are grown year-round in protected places and in hot-houses. The slightly green, underripe tomatoes make an excellent ingredient for salads, while the ripe ones are selected for gazpachos and tomato sauces.


Most often used as a flavouring ingredient in stews, turnips are also eaten raw and cooked.