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VEGETABLES AND FRUITS
In this section, there will be information on fruits and vegetables (mainly Asian), that I use in my cooking.
A Pomelo is a large citrus fruit that tastes like a grapefruit but is slightly less juicy, tangy, and has less of a bitter aftertaste. Pomelos are usually eaten as-is but can also be fantastic in salads, drinks, and desserts. It is often eaten and enjoyed in Asian cultures, especially during Chinese New Year & Mid-Autumn Festivals.
Pomelos can be tricky to peel because of their thick skin. There are two layers of peeling when it comes to peeling a pomelo. You first have to peel off the outer skin (the rind) and once the skin has been peeled you have to peel the tough skin that's wrapped around the pulp - the pulp is the only thing eaten in a pomelo. Pomelos are slightly less juicy than a grapefruit but much easier to eat and make great bite-sized snacks on the go.
You don't eat the skins of a pomelo at all since it is thick and tough. You only eat the pulp, which is very easy to peel out of the skin.
When it comes to food, Asians generally don't like to waste anything, so there are Chinese recipes out there to eat the pith of the pomelo skin which is the spongy part of the skin. The pith is usually peeled or cut off the rind and soaked overnight and boiled to remove some of the bitterness in preparation for it to be braised. It doesn't have much flavor, it's more of a texture thing. It absorbs the flavor of the braising liquid. The texture is exactly what you would think it would be like - spongy!
You can find my pomelos at the Asian grocery stores but they are more commonly available during big events such as Chinese New Year (Lunar New Year) and Mid Autumn Moon Festivals, although I occasionally will find them at my local grocery stores from time to time as well. To pick the juiciest pomelos, pick them up and feel how heavy they are. They should feel heavy for their size and be firm to the touch. The heavier it is, the juicier it is. If it feels very light, it most likely will be dry.
I have not figured out how to pick out the sweet ones. It's usually a hit or miss for me when it comes to picking out the sweet ones - sometimes I get sweet, sometimes I get tangy. If you have a way to pick out sweet pomelos, give me a shout! I would love to learn how!
If your pomelo has not been peeled, you can store them at room temperature or in the fridge. Once a pomelo has been peeled, keep the segments together and only remove the wedges you want to eat. This will prevent it from drying out. Store it in the fridge in a well-sealed container for up to a week.
Bitter melon is a melon used as an ingredient in savory dishes in Asia, India, and the Caribbeans. Although it has a bitter flavor, people still enjoy it for its health benefits. They have a very "green" flavor followed by a bitter after taste.
In Asian cooking, bitter melon is mostly used in stir-fries and steamed dishes. Traditionally as a stir fry, you will usually see it being served with a black bean sauce. Another interesting and very common way to serve these is by stuffing them with ground pork and bean threads (clear cellophane noodle) and steaming them.
To remove some of the bitterness from the melon, you may quickly par-boil it for 1 minute before stir-frying or using it but it will make the texture slightly softer and it will also remove some of the nutrients since it will go into the water during the boiling.
Bitter melon will be most commonly found at an Asian or Indian grocery store.
The bitter melons found in Asian grocery stores will look bumpy but smooth (like in the photo). Make sure they are free of bruises and look and feel firm when you are picking them out. I personally find, the greener bitter melons are more bitter and the lighter green ones have a less bitter kick to them. If you are looking for them in the Indian store, they will also be bumpy but will have more of a warty look to them, and be slightly shorter in length. Indian bitter melon (also known as Kerala) is also a deeper green color as well.
You can store these in the refrigerator loosely covered in a bag (so they don't dry out). If the bitter melon is in good shape, it will keep for up to 5-7 days.
Lychees are small, sweet, and juicy fruits that have a floral flavor to them. They originate from China and are mainly enjoyed as is but have been gaining worldwide popularity & has been popping up as an ingredient in a lot of Asian fusion recipes as well. They are very juicy fruits, and the flesh of the fruit old a lot of water in it, almost like a skinless grape. You can eat them as is, as a snack or dessert but now that lychees, use them in cocktails, or add them into desserts.
Before you can use the fruit, you have to peel the skin off the skin first. Peeled lychee will be white and slippery to the touch. The flesh of the fruit is the part of the fruit that is used and the small dark brown seed in the middle is removed and discarded.
Do not eat unripe lychees, they contain toxins that can make you very sick. Unripe lychee skins are green in color. It is also not a good idea to eat a lot of lychees in one sitting as well, as it is known to give you stomach aches as well.
You can usually find fresh lychee at an Asian grocery store. Fresh lychees are only in season in June and July though so get them fresh while you can! There is no good lychee substitute. Since lychees are only in season for a few months in the summer, you can substitute it with canned lychee which you can find at an Asian grocery store or online.
To pick sweet and ripe lychees, find the ones that are bright red or pink in color. When you give them a gentle squeeze, it should feel firm and springy. Avoid mushy or very soft lychees, chances are it is either overly ripe (and very sweet) or rotten. Lychees that are not springy or have sunken in skins usually mean they are dried out.
These little fruits should be stored in the fridge and last about a week. When storing them in the fridge, keep them in a plastic bag with holes in it, to prevent them from drying out too quickly.
Taro is a starchy root vegetable that comes from a tropical plant that is similar to a potato - but it can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. It is used worldwide in many different cuisines and is a very versatile ingredient that can be steamed, deep-fried, boiled or grilled. It is also not just limited to savory dishes only and is very commonly used in sweet dishes in Asia as well!
Taro must ALWAYS be cooked all the way through before eating it. In its raw form, it contains calcium oxalate which can cause kidney stones or gout - cooking it removes it.
Taro contains high amounts of Oxalic Acid, which can irritate and cause your skin to be itchy if you have sensitive skin. When you are working with it, it can also get unwieldy so I like to wrap a towel or dish rag around the taro where I need to hold it before I start peeling it or cutting it. If it's easier, you can also use gloves. I have read tips to use oil on your skin as a barrier, but I personally don't recommend it - using this method makes the taro very slippery and makes it harder to work it, and may cause cutting accidents, so please don't do this.
Taro is most commonly found in Asian and Indian grocery stores and sometimes at specialty grocery stores as well. When you are picking out taro, make sure it is free of mold and cracks. It should be firm and not show signs of shriveling or wrinkling. Cracking and shriveled up taro is an indicator that it may be drying out. There is no true substitution to taro. A potato comes close but taro has a nuttier flavor and creamier texture.
Store your taro in a dry cool dark place. Sometimes I keep it out on the counter in a very well-ventilated basket, but I will use it within 2 days if I do. Never rest it on any kind of plastic, it will cause moisture and form mold. If you keep it in the fridge, make sure it is well ventilated, else it will form moisture, which will then form mold. It is usually easier to just use it as soon as possible when you bring it home from the store.
Edamame is a fresh young soybean that has been harvested before it has matured. They have a very light and mild sweet flavor with a touch of umami-ness and are is a very versatile ingredient that can be used in salads, enjoyed as a light snack, blended into a dip, or eaten as-is. The most common and popular way to enjoy them is to boil or steam them for a few minutes and toss them in a bit of salt and eaten as a snack with a cold glass of beer.
Shelled Edamame are not eaten like a typical bean, and cannot be eaten whole. They have a waxy inner shell that is very fibrous and tough to chew (and swallow). The beans are the only thing eaten, and the shells are discarded.
A simple way to remove the beans from the pods is to use your fingers to push the beans against the seams of the pod to pop the beans out. If the pods are saucy or you don't want to get both your hands dirty, another way to remove the beans is to just hold the bean with 1 hand and use your teeth to push the beans against the seams to pop them out directly into your mouth.
They are most commonly found in the frozen vegetable section in both regular and Asian grocery stores. If you are lucky, you can also find them fresh when they are in season late in the Summer. If you cannot find edamame, fresh, young fava beans and green peas are a good substitution for edamame beans.
Frozen edamame should be stored in the freezer in a well-sealed container or ziploc bag to prevent freezer burn.
Chinese eggplant is a bright purple, tubular-shaped fruit (yes, fruit!) that is most commonly in stir-fries, deep-fried, oven-roasted, or in curries. Its spongy flesh absorbs all the flavors of the sauces and provides a slight sweetness and creaminess to any dish it is used in and can also be used in braised dishes as well.
One of the fantastic things about Chinese eggplants is, you don't need to salt them to remove the bitterness as you do with normal Italian eggplants. Chinese eggplants don't have a bitterness to them so you can use them as-is. That being said, it is good practice to soak it in salted water before you plan to stir-frying it so that it doesn't act like a dry sponge and absorb all cooking oil.
You can occasionally find these at local grocery stores and gourmet specialty stores but you can almost always find them at Asian supermarkets. When you are picking them out at the grocery store, find firm ones with no brown blemishes or dents. The eggplant should have smooth skin and be wrinkle-free and have a rich purple color. You can also use Indian eggplant as a substitution for it if you cannot find it in the store - they are smaller in size (egg-shaped) but have the same characteristics, and flavors as an Asian eggplant.
You can store eggplant at room temperature away from the sun. However, if you live in a very hot area and your kitchen is usually on the hot side then store the eggplant in the fridge.
Korean radish is a root vegetable that is very mild in flavor with a dense crunchy texture and mainly used in Korean dishes to make salads, pickles, stews, slaws, and kimchi. Not be confused with its cousin the daikon radish which has a stronger, pungent, and sometimes bitter flavor. Korean radishes can be used in a variety of broths as well and provide a sweet and mild flavor to them. They are also fantastically pickled as well because there is no bitter flavor to them and they have a mildly sweet flavor to them with a nice crunchy texture!
You can find these at Korean supermarkets only and when you are picking them out, make sure they are smooth-skinned and not bruised. They should have a very firm texture, try to stay away from soft Korean radishes. Look for the ones that have a bit of green at the top.
Korean radishes should be stored in the crisper drawer either wrapped in newspaper or covered in a bag with lots of holes in it to prevent it from drying out and getting soft. Make sure it is well ventilated as well because too much moisture can cause it to mold.
Daikon radish is a large root vegetable that is very commonly used in Asian cuisines and can be enjoyed both raw and cooked. You can use these in broths, unique sauces, salads, stews, or as a condiment.
An interesting way to use this raw would be to grate it and put a small amount of it into soy sauce to transform plain soy sauce into a flavourful and unique dipping sauce. Pickling is also another method that is commonly used to give salads and sandwiches, like Banh Mi, a fantastic boost in flavor. They are made as fridge pickles with no canning process involved. They do sometimes have a bitter flavor to it, so you should always salt the turnip ahead of time to remove the bitter flavor out before using it in pickling.
Cooking daikon radishes, bring out their sweeter flavors which is why they are fantastic in braises and stews - they are also fantastic at flavoring brothy soups.
Daikon radish is very commonly used during Chinese New Year to make turnip cake which is a dish you can also find at dim sum and at lunar new year festivals. There are a few types of Asian radishes and this one should not be confused with the Korean radish which is used for making kimchi.
You can typically find these at Asian supermarkets but they have been growing in popularity and they have also been spotted at local grocery stores as well. When picking them out at the grocery store, make sure they are smooth-skinned with no cracks and that they have creamy white color, and most importantly firm. Give it a squeeze, it should feel like an apple. If it is soft and slightly bendy, it is not fresh.
Raw and leftover daikon radishes smell faintly like farts, like cabbage but stronger! The smell may be off-putting to some but rest assured it's delicious!
They should be stored in the fridge in the crisper drawer in plastic bags that have holes in them for good ventilation. If the plastic bag doesn't have holes, make some - it needs to breathe a bit as well as maintain a good amount of humidity within the bag to keep it from molding as well as drying out.
Yardlong beans (aka Chinese long beans) are thin, long beans mainly used in Asian, Indian and Caribbean cuisines. They are most commonly used in stir-fries, curries, or eaten raw.
They are most commonly used in stir-fries but are also used a lot in curries because it has a tougher exterior and can hold their shape better than a typical green bean.
When you are preparing these, cut off and discard the ends and then chop them up into smaller sizes so they are easier to cook and eat.
These beans do not have the traditional texture of regular green beans, although they can be used interchangeably.
Yardlong beans have a slightly tougher exterior to them. When eaten raw, it can have a bit of a tougher chew than a standard green bean.
Although it is crunchy when raw, it doesn't have the same crispness as a typical green bean. Generally, these tougher beans take a bit longer to cook which is why they are great in curries - because they can hold up their shape well.
Where Do I Find It?
You will find yardlong beans in most Asian grocery stores. Although I have been able to occasionally find it at my local grocery store as well.
When buying these, make sure they are green, dry, and firm. These are susceptible to mold if they are packaged, so watch out for brown patches or white slimy spots.
If you can't find these easily, you can substitute this with green beans. The only difference is the green beans will not need to be cooked for as long as they tend to get softer more quickly.
You can store these in the fridge for up to a week.
Recipes That Use Yardlong Beans
SPICES AND HERBS
In this section, you will find both fresh and dried spices and herbs that are used to flavor and enhance the recipes that I share on my blog.
Annatto seeds come from the achiote tree and are primarily used in Latin and Caribbean cooking but can occasionally be found in Vietnamese & Filipino cuisines. It's mainly used as a natural coloring agent to change oils to a bright yellowish red hue and is used for stews, rice, and noodle soups. They can also be infused into oil or grounded up finely and used directly in marinades or pastes. The color it imparts ranges from a golden hue to a bright orange-red.
You can find annatto seeds at Latin, Caribbean, and some Asian grocers in the spice aisle. Look for bright color seeds when picking them up at the store. Dark-colored seeds usually mean they are old and stale.
Annato seeds have a very mild nutty and sweet scent. It is a very light flavor and not usually detectable if you are using it in small quantities. The seeds are very hard and should not be eaten whole. Once you have infused it into the food, it should be discarded before serving your dish. Alternatively, if you want to use it directly in food, you can grind it up into a fine powder.
Keep Annatto seeds in an air-tight sealed container with your spices away from the sun.
Recipes That Use Annatto Seeds
Kaffir Lime Leaves
Kaffir lime leaves are waxy leaves that come from the kaffir lime tree. The leaves provide a very fresh citrus scent and flavor to dishes without any tartness from the citrus juice so they can be used in a lot of light and refreshing dishes.
They are most commonly used in Southeast Asian (Thai, Lao, Cambodian, Indonesian, Vietnamese) cuisines, you may recognize the flavor of the leaves in the very common and popular tom yum goong soup.
Kaffir lime leaves are commonly used in soups and curries along with lemongrass since the two herbs go hand in hand wonderfully and have similar flavor properties. When finely chopped, it also goes well in rice, salads like Nam Khao (Lao crispy rice salad), noodles dishes like bun bo hue (Spicy Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup), and stirfry dishes to give it a nice pop in flavor.
One thing to note, these leaves are very potent, so if you have never used them before start with using 2 leaves and go up from there. If you use too much it can easily overpower a dish.
The leaves are quite tough and are not edible (like bay leaves). You will want to discard them once you are done cooking with them. If you plan to just flavor soups and broths with it, keep it whole so you can easily fish them back out. The tough skin will keep its shape so it will not break apart in soups, stews, and curries. If you want to use them in stir-fries, you should rip out the spine of the leaves and discard them. Use the soft parts of the leaves and chop them up very finely before adding them to your dish.
Kaffir lime leaves can be found at Asian grocery stores and are usually in the produce section, usually where there is a fridge. I highly recommend you buy these locally - it is very common for the fresh leaves to grow mold and mildew during transport if you are buying them through the internet. When you are shopping for them locally, look for waxy green leaves. You don't want the leaves to be wrinkly or have any brown on them - that's usually an indication that they are not fresh. Be careful when you handle them as well. The stems on the kaffir lime leaves have thick thorns on them.
There is no true substitute for this ingredient but if I was to substitute it I would substitute it with a mix of lemongrass and lime zest.
These can be stored in the fridge for a few weeks if they are fresh. After a week or so, store them in a well-sealed ziploc bag or container and store them in the freezer.
Lemongrass is a stalky grass-like herb used predominately in Thai, Laotian and Vietnamese cuisines. This herb has a strong lemony and refreshing citrus scent and is used for marinating meat, flavoring broths, or steeping in teas. Lemongrass has no acidity to it, and it doesn't taste like a lemon.
It is a very fibrous and wood herb and if you are using them in a marinade, you want to finely chop it as fine as possible.
In a broth, I like to keep them whole and bruise the thick bottom stalk with a blunt object to release some of the oils. Keeping it whole allows you to remove and discard them from the broth easily when it is done.
Regardless of what method you use, you only use the bottom white parts of the stalk. This is the part that contains the oils and the most flavor. Cut off the top 2-3 inches of the dried tips and discard them. If the outer leaves are dried, those are usually peeled off and discarded as well. You also want to smash it or bruise it to release the oils before you use it as well.
When you are shopping for fresh lemongrass, look for green tips with a milky white bottom stalk that is firm. The bottom of the stalk should not look dried out, that being said, it's normal for the green tops to be slightly dried out. They are about 1 foot long. If you cannot find fresh lemongrass, you can also buy frozen lemongrass as well. It is usually pre-chopped and packaged in plastic containers in the freezer aisle. You can also find lemongrass powder, but I don't recommend using that. The flavor is completely different.
You can store lemongrass in the fridge temporarily for a week or two before it dries out. To keep it for longer than a week, cut 2-3 inches off the top (the dried tips) and discard them, and keep the white stalk at the bottom. Put it in an air-tight freezer bag and store it in the freezer.
This section is where all the Asian ingredients that I can't easily categorize. You will find information on ingredients like Vietnamese fermented sausages, salted duck eggs to something as simple as genmaicha tea!
Genmaicha (Japanese Roasted Brown Rice Tea)
Tea made from Genmaicha is most commonly referred to as popcorn tea from its popcorn flavor thanks to the roasted popped brown rice mixed into the green tea leaves. It has a nutty flavor that tastes like you're drinking a popcorn flavor tea. The popcorn flavor comes from the roasted brown rice. During the roasting process, the rice will occasionally get 'popped' and produces little white fluffy bits that actually look like popcorn!
Genmaicha is most commonly used as tea, however, you can also use it in brines and marinades as well but the process still involves it being steeped into a tea before using it as a brine or marinade.
You can find genmaicha at Asian tea stores and Asian supermarkets. Now that tea is getting more and more popular you can almost always find them at almost all tea stores as well. This green tea comes in either tea bags or in loose leaves. I personally prefer using loose leaves because you have a bit more control over how strong you want your tea by putting in the amount you need.
Store any type of teas in an air-tight container away from sunlight in a cool dark place.
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