Asian vegetables are most easily found in Asian markets, but are becoming more available in supermarkets and farmers' markets. Here are some vegetables you will want to know if you're cooking Chinese, Japanese, Thai, or Vietnamese food, but they can also be used creatively in salads, soups, and sandwiches that aren't strictly Asian.
Bok choy has leafy greens that rise from a cluster of crunchy and juicy stalks. This popular vegetable is a member of the enormous Brassica family (like cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli) and comes in a range of sizes from tiny and tender baby bok choy to very large heads that need to be trimmed and sliced. The stalks can be white or pale green and the leaves can be mild and sweet or spicy and peppery. Bok choy is a good source of vitamins A and C. Note that leaves cook more quickly than stalks. Bok choy is very versatile, good in salads, slaws, stir fry dishes, and soups. Serve raw, stir fried, braised, sautéed, or steamed.
Chinese broccoli is also know by the Chinese name gai lan. The thin stalks are longer than in conventional broccoli and are topped with leafy greens and a small cluster of buds that are sometimes blooming. Chinese broccoli is a good source of vitamins A and C. While the flavor is similar to broccolini, it's a bit more bitter than other kinds of broccoli and is complemented by bold sauces such as oyster sauce or soy sauce. Blanch, steam, sauté, or stir fry Chinese broccoli, cooking it until tender crisp.
Daikon radishes are long, white, and can be over a foot long. They are are crisp and can be used peeled or unpeeled. A cruciferous vegetable, it is related to both bok choy and Napa cabbage and is a good source of vitamin C. Its flavor, like that of other radishes, ranges from mild to spicy. Daikon radishes add great crunch to sandwiches and salads, but are also welcome additions to soups and when peeled into wide ribbons can take the place of noodles. Serve daikon raw, pickled, simmered, or stewed.
Shiitake mushrooms have broad brown caps with exposed gills that are a pale tan. They have a beefy chewy texture and meaty flavor from amino acids which are also found in meat. Shiitake mushrooms are a good source of copper and vitamin B5. Dried shiitake mushrooms need to be soaked in water before cooking. Fresh stems can be used to flavor broth but are too tough to eat. Add shiitake mushrooms to soups and combine with greens or use along with button mushrooms to add more texture and depth of flavor. Shiitakes are versatile, try them in stir fry, roasted, simmered, or braised.
Barrel shaped Napa cabbage has delicately crinkled leaves and wide thin stalks. It is a good source of vitamin C and has a mild flavor with contrasting crunchy juicy stalks and tender greens. A great choice for slaws, Napa cabbage is also delicious when cooked quickly in a stir fry or gently simmered in soups. Try it raw, pickled, braised, or stir fried.
Fresh Water Chestnuts
Fresh water chestnuts are crunchy and mildly sweet in flavor. Most often available canned, the fresh ones need their brown skin peeled to reveal a creamy white center. They are a significant source of vitamin B6 and potassium. Use water chestnuts to add crunch to dumplings, salads and stir fry dishes. They can be served raw, stir fried, simmered, or braised.