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Keeping It Simple: A Talk with Martin Yan by Kris Man

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Asian Fruits and Vegetables Reference Guide

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Fruits & Vegetables

| Asian Eggplant | Asian Pear | Bean Sprouts | Bok Choy |
| Chinese Broccoli | Chinese Chives | Chinese Okra |
| Chinese & Japanese Turnips | Chili Peppers | Cilantro | Ginger | Jicama |
| Kumquat | Lemongrass | Mushrooms | Napa Cabbages | Pomelo |
| Snow Peas | Taro Root | Thai Sweet Basil | Winter Melon | Yard Long Bean |

From Martin Yan's book - A Simple Guide to Chinese Ingredients & Other Asian Specialties - your gift with every online purchase of Yan Can Cook books and products.

Asian Eggplant

Aike Gwa; Chieh Tzi
(Japanese) Nasubi

There are several popular Asian eggplants, including the Chinese, Japanese and Thai varieties. Chinese and Japanese eggplants range in size from short and pudgy 3 inches to thin and slender 9 inches in length. Chinese eggplants are white to lavender; Japanese varieties are light purple to purple-black. Thai eggplants come as small as peas to as large as golf balls. Their skin color ranges from white to lime green with some striped and others solid. Under the skin, however, most varieties are pretty much alike, and with the exception of Thai eggplants, can be used interchangeably in most recipes.

Asian eggplants are sweet and relatively seedless, and do not need to be salted, soaked, or peeled. Cut them in half lengthwise or fan cut to grill; for stir-fried or braised dishes, they can be roll cut, sliced, or cubed. Cooked Thai eggplants are used in curries; and also uncooked in chili sauces or pickled.

Choose firm, smooth, unblemished Asian eggplants. They are best when used the day of purchase but can be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to several days.

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Asian Pear

Ah Tzou Suet Lay; Ya Chou Hsueh Li

Juicy like a pear, crisp like an apple, Asian pears, also called apple peas, are the oldest cultivated pears known. They have the squatty look of an apple, a sandy texture, and a speckled yellow green or light brown skin of a pear. Generally they are blander in flavor than European pears.

Most people prefer peeling the edible skin of the Asian pear before eating the fruit. Cut it into wedges, matchstick pieces, or dice and eat as is or in mixed salads and deserts. No matter how you prepare the fruit, it will make a refreshing treat any time of the day.

Asian pears are available from summer through fall. Rather than being stacked as most apples and pears are, Asian pears are nestled in foam nets to prevent the delicate fruits from bruising. Choose firm, fragrant Asian pears. Unlike most other pears, Asian pears are ripe even when they do not yield to pressure. Store at room temperature for up to a week or refrigerate for up to a month.

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Bean Sprouts

Look Dou Ah; Lu Tou Ya
( Japanese) Moyashi

Fresh bean sprouts, both mung and soy, have bright silver white bodies with yellow heads and long tails. Soy bean sprouts have larger heads and are more crunchy.Fancy restaurants typically remove the head and root portion from the sprouts before cooking to give dishes a clean look but both the head and root are completely edible and are quite nutritious.

Asians prefer eating bean sprouts stir-fried or boiled with very little seasoning. Try tossing bean sprouts in noodle dishes and fresh salads. Just rinse them with water to clean and remove any unwanted woody green seed hulls before using.

Choose dry, firm, unbroken white bean sprouts. Mung bean sprouts are available in all supermarkets but soy bean sprouts may be a bit harder to find. Sprouts are best used the same day of purchase but they can be refrigerated in a plastic bag with its end opened for up to a couple of days.

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Bok Choy

Boy Choy; Pai Tsai

Bok Choy is a loose-leafed cabbage with thick white stalks and dark green leaves. The 7 to 9 inch stalks are mildly tangy and crunchy; leaves are peppery and soft. Baby bok choy is a smaller, younger version of bok choy. Shanghai baby bok choy is another variety which is jade green with spoon-shaped stalks and curved leaves. Both baby and Shanghai bok choy are sweeter and less fibrous than regular bok choy.

All types of bok choy are delicious when lightly stir-fried or boiled. Trim the stem end and diagonally slice the large stalks. Leave baby versions whole, or cut in half or quarter. Serve with light sauces that accent the vegetable's natural sweetness.

Choose bok choy with firm stalks, bright color,and no blemishes. Baby and Shanghai boy choy are sold individually or in small bunches. Refrigerate all types for up to a week.

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Chinese Broccoli

Gai Lan; Chieh Lan

Chinese broccoli doesn't look anything like the regular broccoli found in most supermarkets. It has thin, dusty green stems, deep green leaves, and tiny white flowers. When cooked, the tender stems and leaves have a slight bitter-sweet taste.

Steamed Chinese broccoli seasoned with oyster-flavored sauce is a popular Chinese favorite. Unlike regular broccoli, Chinese broccoli stems are usually tender and do not need to be peeled, however, if the stems are thick and appear tough, peel the outer layer before cooking. When stir-frying or boiling, cook the stems first, then add the more delicate leaves.

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Chinese Chives

Gou Choy; Chiu Tsai

There are several varieties of Chinese chives used in Asian cooking. Green chives look like wide, 9-inch blades of grass. Yellow chives have shorter, less fibrous leaves and a mild onion-garlic flavor and aroma. Flowering chives are 11 to 12 inches in length and have firm stalks with small edible flower buds at the tips.

Cut Chinese chives into 1.5-inch pieces and add to any dish. Try combining yellow chives with tossed noodle dishes, flowering chives with marinated beef to make a tasty stir-fry, and minced green chives in steamed dim sum.

Chinese chives are available in bunches only during the spring and summer seasons. To store, wrap the chives with a damp paper, place them in a plastic bay, and refrigerate. The chives will keep for several days; their flavor becomes stronger over time.

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Chinese Okra

See Gwa; Ssu Kua

You can't miss Chinese okra. It is the funny looking vegetable with long, bumpy ridges that flow from top to bottom. It has a dull green color and a spongy zucchini-like inner texture. The taste and texture is similar to common okra, but without the thickening qualities.

Before using Chinese okra, peel the bitter, bumpy ridges, then thinly slice or roll cut. Add to stir-fries, soups, or braised dishes.

Choose small Chinese okra, as larger ones tend to be older and more fibrous. They should be firm and unblemished. Refrigerate Chinese okra for up to a week.

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Chinese and Japanese Turnips

Law Bok; Lo Po
(Japanese) Kabu

Chinese and Japanese turnips look like over-sized carrots. They range in size from 8-14 inches long, 2 to 3 inches wide, and have a grayish white color. The Japanese variety is also known as daikon or giant white radish. Although there are many varieties, they all taste sweet and peppery.

The white turnip is a staple in Chinese, Japanese and Korean cooking. Among other uses, Japanese cooks finely shred the turnip and serve it in salads or as an accompaniment to sashimi. Chinese cooks cut it into small chunks and add it to stews. Korean cooks pickle the turnip to make kimchee and other side dishes. Chinese and Japanese turnips can be peeled before cooking, as the skin can be bitter and tough.

Choose a turnip that is short with a firm, smooth surface. Longer turnips tend to be older and more fibrous. To prevent moisture loss, wrap the turnip in plastic wrap and refrigerate. It will keep for a couple of weeks.

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Chili Peppers

(Fresh) Seen Laut Tziu;  Hsien La Chiao
(Dried) Laut Tziu Gon; La Chiao Kan

Dozens of chilies, both fresh and dried, are an important flavoring agent in many regions in China and in most Southeast Asian countries. Red or green, use whatever variety you like. In general, the smaller the chili, the hotter it is. The tiny 1-1/2 inch Thai bird chili is one of the hottest available. The slightly larger serrano is just a bit milder, followed by the broad shouldered jalapeno and the 5-inch Anaheim which still has a gentle kick.

Whole dried red chilies are small, deep red, and fiery hot. use whole or break into smaller pieces. Crushed red pepper flakes, which are chopped whole dried red chilies, are a bit hotter since the seeds and veins are exposed. Buy whole and crushed chilies that are bright red. Remember to wash your hands after handling any chili; their oils may burn or irritate your skin.

Store fresh chilies in a paper bag.

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Cilantro

Yim Sike; Yuan Chien
(Thai) Pak Chi

Cilantro, also known as fresh coriander or Chinese parsley, is one of the most common fresh herbs used in Asian cooking. It is delightfully aromatic and has a distinct, refreshing flavor. Don't confuse cilantro with wide, flat leaves.

The Chinese use cilantro as a garnish and to flavor soups, salads, dim sum stuffings, and steamed fish. Thai cooks crush cilantro roots and stems into curry pastes and chili sauces and use the leaves in salads. If you find cilantro with its roots intact, use the leaves, stems and roots for a more concentrated flavor.

Choose bright, perky bunches of cilantro with fresh crisp leaves and stems. To store, stand cilantro in a glass of water, loosely cover the tops with a plastic bag, and refrigerate for up to several days.

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Ginger

Geung; Chiang
(Japanese) Shouga

In Chinese and Japanese cooking, there is no substitute for fresh ginger. Its spicy bite and tantalizing aroma enhance almost every kind of dish. Ginger looks like a knobby hand with shiny, smooth, golden skin and a fibrous, yellow-green interior. Young ginger or baby ginger is immature when harvested and has a smoother, more delicate flavor and a less fibrous texture.

For aesthetic reasons, many cooks peel ginger before using, although it is not necessary. Thin-skinned young ginger does not need to be peeled. Slice, julienne, mince, or grate ginger and use it to season meats, poultry, seafood, and vegetables dishes.

Choose ginger that is hard, heavy, and free of wrinkles and mold. Ginger is available all year round, but young ginger is available only during the summer and fall seasons. Store mature ginger in a cool, dry place for up to a couple of weeks or peel, place in a jar of dry sherry, and refrigerate for up to several months. Refrigerate young ginger for up to a week.

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Jicama

Sa Gog; Sha Chiao

Jicama looks like the world's largest turnip, with a tan, leathery skin and crunchy, slightly sweet, white flesh. This root vegetable is quite unique for its ability to retain a refreshing crisp texture even after cooking. Although a bit more fibrous and not as sweet tasting, it is a good substitute for fresh water chestnuts.

Jicama may be eaten raw or cooked, but it must be peeled first. Use a sharp paring knife to remove the tough skin. Cut the flesh into matchstick pieces or small chunks and use in salads, stews, and stir-fried dishes.

Choose small, firm, well-rounded jicama that are free of blemishes and mold. Some supermarkets sell quartered or halved jicama wrapped in plastic -- a real convenience if you don't need a large piece. Refrigerate uncut pieces for up to several weeks. Wrap cut jicama in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to a week.

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Kumquat

Gum Quat; Kan Chu

You probably have seen kumquats in the supermarket and didn't even know what they were. They come in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes from bright orange to golden yellow, round to oval, and 1 to 1.5 inches in length. The kumquat is completely edible with most varieties having a sweet peel and sweet-tart pulp. Some of the Japanese varieties have a sour tasting flesh.

Garnish a platter with whole or sliced kumquats or use them to top sweet desserts. Use the kumquat peel as you would orange and lemon peels. Kumquats are also available preserved in syrup and candied. These sweet treats, found during the Chinese New Year, symbolize good fortune.

Kumquats are seasonal and are available only from October through May. Choose those that are firm with a smooth, shinny, even color. They are best when fresh, but they can be refrigerated for up to a couple of weeks.

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Lemongrass

Heung Mao; Hsian Mao
(Thai) Takrai

Lemongrass looks like a very long, woody green onion that's pale yellow-green in color. When cooked, lemongrass imparts a delicate lemony flavor and aroma. It is a classic ingredient in many Southeast Asian countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Only the moist portion of lemongrass, the bottom 6-inches, is suitable for cooking. Discard the top and remove the fibrous layer on the bottom portion if it looks dry. Use lemongrass to flavor soups, stews, curries, and stir-fries. For soups, gently crush the stalk and add it whole; slice, dice or mince it for other cooking. When used whole or in large piece, it is best to remove lemongrass before serving as it tends to become stringy during cooking. When using dried lemongrass, soak it in warm water until softened. If lemongrass is not available, substitute 1 teaspoon fresh lemon peel for one stalk lemongrass.

Fresh and dried lemongrass are available in Asian markets. Wrap fresh lemongrass in paper towels and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks or freeze for up to a month.

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Mushrooms

Seen Gu; Hsien Ku
(Japanese) Nama-Shiitake

Mushrooms have long been considered a delicacy in Asian cuisines. There are several types of mushrooms that are especially popular: the delicate, shell-shaped oyster mushroom, the long-stemmed, tiny-capped enoki mushroom, and the fir, golden brown shiitake mushroom. Oyster mushrooms and enoki mushrooms have a mild, delicate flavor; shiitake mushrooms have a rich, meaty flavor. All are smooth and velvety in texture.

Before using the mushrooms, trim off the knobby, woody stem ends. Stir-fry whole oyster or shiitake mushrooms with vegetables or thinly slice and saute. Garnish light soups and fresh salads with a small bunch of enoki mushrooms.

Most mushrooms are available in plastic packages and in bulk. Choose mushrooms that are firm, dry, plump, and free of blemishes. They are best used the day of purchase but will keep for several days if removed from their packages, placed in a paper bag, and refrigerated.

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Napa Cabbage

Siu Choy; Shao Tsai
(Japanese) Hakusai

Two types of napa cabbage are commonly available: the short, football-shaped Chinese napa cabbage, and the tall, bouquet-shaped Japanese napa cabbage. Both have sweet, creamy white stalks with frayed, ruffled, pale green edges.

Napa cabbage, also called celery cabbage, can be used in the same way as regular cabbage, but because it is more tender, you need to decrease the cooking time. Cut the stalks into small pieces and stir-fry until crisp-tender. Add thinly sliced napa cabbage to soups and cook until translucent and silky textured.

Although the Chinese and Japanese napa cabbages are seasonal, one of the two is likely to be available throughout the year. Choose cabbages with moist, pale green leaves with no browned edges. Ignore the black spots found on the base as they are the result of unpredictable growing conditions. Both varieties of napa cabbage will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.

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Pomelo

Sa Tin You; Sha Tien You

If you've seen a very large, pear-shaped, yellow grapefruit, then you've seen a pomelo, also know as Chinese grapefruit. It has a thick, fragrant peel, and a sweet, dry pulp that is much different from other citrus fruits. the thick membrane surrounding the pulp is inedible and must be removed.

To eat a pomelo, remove the thick peel and membrane and pull apart the sweet pulpy sections. Eat it out of hand or add it to crunchy salads. Dry the peel and use it in soups to add a light citrus fragrance. During the Chinese New Year, you may see pomelos in window displays as they symbolize continued good fortune and prosperity.

Pomelos are available from January through March. Choose fruits that are fragrant and heavy. Refrigerate ripe pomelos for up to a week; let the unripe ones sit on the counter until slightly softened.

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Snow Peas

Hor Lan Dou; Hsueh Tou

Snow peas are flat pea pods with a sweet sugary flavor and crisp, crunchy texture. Unlike English peas which must be shelled before cooking, bright green snow peas are completely edible. They are excellent in stir-fries, salads, and soups.

To use, snap off the stem ends and remove the fibrous strings that run along the sides. Boil, steam, or stir-fry until crisp-tender, and add to any dish that needs green accents or texture. To make snow peas more decorative, cut them in half diagonally or cut out a tiny triangle from the stem ends.

Be sure to pick young snow peas which are bright green, flat, crisp, and free of blemishes. Avoid wilted, thick-skinned, overly plump, and discolored peas as they are too mature and more fibrous. Snow peas will keep in the refrigerator for a week. Frozen snow peas are available but are not recommended.

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Taro Root

Woo Tou; Yu Tou

There are many types and sizes of taro root including the large melon-sized taro and the small golf ball-sized taro. All are somewhat hairy, dark-skinned, and rough textured on the outside. The flesh of some varieties turns from white or grayish to light purple when cooked. Starchy in texture, cooked taro root is sweet and nutty in flavor.

Before using, taro root must be peeled and cooked to become edible. Wear rubber gloves when peeling taro root, as the juices may irritate your skin. Use the root as you would use potatoes. Shred taro root and deep-fry to make an edible basket. Boil or steam taro root and blend into stuffings. Cut it into chunks and add to stews and braised dishes. As with potatoes, taro root goes well with rich seasonings and sauces.

Look for firm taro roots that are free for dents, wrinkles, blemishes and mold. Store taro roots in a cool, dry place. They will keep for a week.

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Thai Sweet Basil

Tai Guok Tim Law Log;
Tai Kuo Tien Lo Le
(Thai) Bai Horapa

For those of you who enjoy the slightly strong, yet sweet lingering flavor of anise, you must try this fresh herb. It plays an important role in Thai and Vietnamese cuisines. Thai sweet basil has bright green leaves with purplish green stems and flowers. It has an aromatic anise fragrance and flavor.

Use Thai sweet basil as you would other fresh herbs. Toss whole leaves into salads or add to stir-fried dishes. Stack a few whole leaves on top of each other and roll into a bundle. Turn the bundle sideways and thinly slice to make fine shreds. Use shreds to garnish soups and sauces. Pound chopped basil into curry paste, or serve whole trimmed bunches as an accompaniment to Vietnamese noodle soup. Just pluck the leaves from the stem and drop them into the fragrant hot broth.

To store Thai sweet basil, place stem ends in a glass of water, cover with a plastic bag, and refrigerate. It will keep for several days, but it is best when used the day of purchase.

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Winter Melon

Doan Gwa; Tung Kua

If you ever saw a winter melon, you might have thought it was a dusty, old green pumpkin. It is a pretty interesting looking vegetable with the entire surface covered with chalky white bloom. Inside is a tangled web of seeds which must be removed before cooking. The inner flesh is pale green to milky white in color with a faint sweet-peppery taste.

Winter melon is never eaten raw. Remove the seeds and rind, thinly slice, and steam or simmer in soups. Because it has a relatively bland flavor, winter melon is typically paired with flavorful ingredients, such as dried shrimp, and dried black mushrooms in soups and stir-fried dishes.

Winter melons can weigh from 8-10 pounds and be 12-15 inches tall. Because of their huge size, most Asian markets cut them before selling to their customers. Store an uncut melon in a cool, dry place for up to a month. Wrap cut melon in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to several days.

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Yard Long Beans

Dau Gog; Tau Chiao

The yard long bean isn't one yard long, but it can grow to a length of 18 inches. It's sort of like the story about the fish that got away. They are pencil-thin beans with smooth, somewhat bumpy surfaces. Their color ranges from pale green to dark green. When cooked, long beans have a sweet flavor and a dry, crunchy bite unlike other string beans with are juicy and crisp.

Trim the stem ends of the beans before cooking -- notice there's no fibrous strings to remove. Cut long beans into 1/2-inch, 1-inch, or 2-inch pieces and stir-fry. For a fancier presentation, cut long beans into 6 to 8 inch lengths, blanch until softened, and tie each into a knot. Serve the long bean knots as a side dish with roasted meats and poultry.

Yard long beans are found tied in bunches. Although they are available all year around, they are at their best during the summer season. Buy young beans which have few blemishes and wrinkles. Older beans, which tend to be longer, are tough and fibrous. Yard long beans will keep in the refrigerator for a week.

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