A Quick Guide to Asian Vegetables

Imagine a holiday so big that the government gives the entire country a week of vacation. Sound too good to be true? Well, in China, it’s very real. The occasion: Lunar New Year, an epic festival that brings families together around food and fireworks. The good news is, everybody can celebrate.

If you’re anything like us, you’ve had your fill of cold and casseroles by the time February comes around. Chinese New Year offers an explosion of color and flavor in the midst of the year’s grayest month. So give your slow cooker a break. Sayonara, soups and stews! Just because it’s dismal outside doesn't mean you can’t have fun inside.

This holiday offers us a great reason to make something new. It’s an awesome opportunity to try that Chinese Five Spice blend you’ve been hearing about, to fill your home with tangerines (eating them is supposed to be lucky, plus they smell so good), and to learn what to do with all those Asian vegetables you see in the produce department.

Use this quick guide to some of our favorites, and scroll down for an easy recipe.

  • Baby Bok Choy     Perhaps the best-known Asian vegetable on the market today, Baby Bok Choy is a sweet and tender green that’s a member of the cabbage family. You can eat it all, and slice it raw into salads or cook it pretty much any way you want it.
  • Napa Cabbage vs. Green Cabbage       There are a few reasons we actually prefer Napa to regular green cabbage. It’s a little sweeter and less bitter. Its leaves have a crinkly, wrinkly texture that’s perfect for soaking up sauces; whether it’s a dressing in a raw preparation like a slaw, or the delicate broth of a soup. Practically speaking, it’s got an oval shape and is easy to cut. For us, Napa is a win-win-win.
  • Long Beans vs. Green Beans     Chinese Long Beans have a pleasantly nutty, green bean and asparagus-like flavor and keep their texture during cooking, so they’re a great choice for soups, stews and casseroles. They are quicker to prepare than traditional green beans - rather than snapping off all those ends, just go ahead and cut down the line!
  • Daikon vs. Red Radish     Part of what’s so fun about Daikon radishes is their monstrous size. There’s no doubt that they’re extremely impressive! But, their bark is bigger than their bite, so to speak. In fact, Daikon radishes are extremely mild with a refreshing, crisp texture. Try shredding Daikon for a slaw, slice it super thin to add to a salad, or even use as tiny, low-carb taco shells.
  • Taro vs. Potato     With a mild, nutty, slightly sweet flavor, Taro can used be like a potato, but it has a creamier, custardy texture that’s perfect for luscious fritters and mashes. Cut off the rough outer layer and slice for frying, or cube for steaming and mashing.

Enjoy all these tasty vegetables anytime you want! There’s no reason to wait for a special occasion. There’s never a bad time to try something new!

For ideas and recipes, download the free Chinese New Year ebook from Melissa’s Produce. It has ten recipes that are easy and fun, so go ahead and experiment. Happy cooking, and Happy Chinese New Year!

About the author:

Elizabeth Weinstein lives, writes and eats in Los Angeles, where she has spent five years as a member of Melissa’s Produce’s marketing team. She is passionate about teaching Americans how to live tastier, more flavorful lives.