Which Asian Vegetables Are Your Favourites?

Choosing asian vegetables from the vast array on offer at local markets in Tropical Australia can be exciting yet daunting, at the same time.

As I wander through Rusty's markets in central Cairns, North Queensland, I am intrigued by the variety of leafy greens and strange roots on offer and wonder how to use them.

Aibkia - asian green vegetableAibika

How to cook tatsoi or bamboo shoots?

I think I know the best way to cook bok choy and Chinese cabbage (steamed or quickly stir-fried – would you agree?) but what about tatsoi, choy sum, yu choy, or betel leaves? Perhaps they are eaten raw in salads? And what on earth will I do with those huge bamboo shoots?

Rusty’s markets prove to be quite an education for me as I chat to stall holders, whose forebears came from various Asian countries – China, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines – as well from Papua New Guinea and several small Pacific Islands.

Then I find Blia. Her family lives near Innisfail and grows the most wonderful asian vegetables.

It is Ricky, Blia’s brother, who introduces me to the amazing pandan leaves, which, on his suggestion, I add to fresh ginger during the process of crystallising it, resulting in a special taste, colour and aroma.

Section of pandan leafPandan leaf

Apart from that which I grow, organically, in my home garden, we buy most of our freshly dug turmeric and ginger for Tropical Superfoods from their stall.

Ricky is happy to explain the uses of any fresh vegetables which may be unfamiliar to you - look for his stall, right at the back of Rusty's, near the Grafton Street entrance.

Asian vegetables are increasingly in demand, partly because of their health benefits, but also because of the variety that they add to modern cuisine. But sometimes it’s just recognition of what’s right under one’s nose that proves to be an education and revelation. An example is sweet potato, which I grow in my small home garden (more truthfully, it grows itself!). Who would have thought that sweet potato leaves are both tasty and nutritious?

Plate of (supermarket) mixed salad greensPlate of mixed salad greens, ready for rinsing and adding to your lunch or dinner.

Leafy Greens Nutrition

It would be accurate to generalise and say that Asian greens could be classified as superfoods because they are dense in nutrients such as Vitamin C, B Vitamins, Vitamin K, Vitamin E, beta carotene (converted by the body to Vitamin A), fibre and minerals such as calcium, potassium, magnesium and iron. They have lower levels of oxalic acid than vegetables such as silver beet, so the minerals are more readily absorbed.

They are low in calories and have little fat so, packed full of valuable nutrients, they are useful if you are wanting to lose weight or to increase your bone strength, improve eye health and immunity to diseases or to prevent cancer.

Description of the most commonly used asian vegetables

These leafy greens add variety and valuable nutrients to your meals and require the minimum of preparation.

Bunch of dark green kang kongKang Kong
Aibika green leavesAibika

Kang kong, aibika, sweet potato leaves, tatsoi and bok choy can all be used in rather the same way as you would English spinach or silver beet. Asian cooks mostly add chopped leaves and tender stems to a stir-fry just before serving, to preserve the strong green colour and nutrients, but they may also be steamed or boiled for a few minutes.

You may be used to using tinned bamboo shoots. If you have access to fresh ones they can be used in a similar way but should first be peeled and boiled for ten minutes to remove hydrogen cyanide, which most shoots contain. Sounds alarming? Check first with your supplier!

Then enjoy all the new flavours and health benefits that Asian vegetables bring to your table.

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