Westerners know that eating common fruits and vegetables, such as apples, oranges, and celery, is great for your health. However, if you are wanting to step out of your comfort zone and broaden your taste buds, pop into an Asian grocery store and try some of these commonly used Asian vegetables and fruits. You may like them so much that you will add them to your diet.
Oriental giant radish (daikon)
There is a popular Chinese proverb about the daikon that goes like this: “Eating pungent radish and drinking hot tea, let the starved doctors beg on their knees.” This proverb rings true given all the health benefits of the oriental giant radish, commonly known in Asia as daikon.
This super radish has the ability to prevent certain types of cancers, can boost the immune system, improves digestion, strengthens the bones, reduces inflammation, is good for respiratory health, and aids in weight loss.
In Japan, China, and certain other Asian countries, the daikon is mainly pickled and eaten as a vegetable. The top part of the daikon that is closer to the leaves has a milder flavor and is more suitable for salads, and the bottom part is more spicy/tangy, so it’s preferable to cook it.
There are many ways to eat daikon:
- Shred it and add it to salads.
- It can be substituted for rice if you want to eat fewer carbs.
- Sliced and deep-fried like chips.
- Cubed and roasted instead of potatoes.
- Used in stir-fries.
- Stewed in a soup.
- You can even add it to smoothies if you are feeling adventurous.
Here is a Vietnamese pickle recipe (Do Chua) using daikon and carrot. Give it a try if you ever purchase a daikon:
Dragon fruit (pitaya)
This exotic beauty is quite pleasant to the eye; however, its flavor doesn’t match its appearance as it is quite bland. The dragon fruit’s texture is similar to a kiwi fruit, and it is eaten the same way as a kiwi fruit — cut in half and scooped out.
Dragon fruits are low in cholesterol, high in fiber, full of antioxidants (even more than goji berries), and contain healthy fats due to the high amount of seeds.
Here are some other uses for dragon fruit, other than eating it:
- Face mask: Combine the dragon fruit with honey and apply to your face. Leave for 30 minutes, then wash off with warm water.
- Treating colored hair: Put the juice of the dragon fruit on your hair, leave on for 15-20 minutes, then wash hair with shampoo.
- Acne: Mash up a slice of dragon fruit and apply it to your acne, and then rinse off with lukewarm water once it dries.
- Sunburned skin: Combine one tbsp dragon fruit juice, one tbsp cucumber juice, and one tbsp honey. Mix well and apply to sunburned skin, and leave on for at least half an hour. Rinse off with lukewarm water, and then use cold water.
Winter melon (Wax gourd or ash gourd)
Winter melon need a warm climate to grow, but they can be stored for months and eaten during winter, hence their name “winter melons.” They are also good to eat during summer as they eliminate heat from the body. Winter melons help to detoxify the body, clear out mucus and phlegm, aid in digestion, and are a diuretic.
Winter melons have no taste and are never eaten raw. They are used in soups and absorb and enhance the flavors of whatever they are cooked with.
Examples of soups with winter melon are:
- Winter melon soup with barley and goji
- Winter melon soup with shrimp
- Winter melon soup with crab meat
- Steamed winter melon soup
- Winter melon soup with coix seeds and pork
- Eel soup with winter melon
- Winter melon soup with straw mushrooms
- Winter melon soup with konbu
The Chinese yam has earned the nick-name shan-yao, which translates as “mountain drug” due to its many pharmaceutical properties. In Chinese herbalism, the Chinese yam is used mainly to treat the stomach, spleen, lungs, and kidneys. It is also used to treat fatigue, certain types of insomnia, lack of appetite, chronic coughs and wheezing, loose or unformed stools, sweating without apparent cause, frequent urination.
Chinese yams can be eaten fresh, baked, boiled, fried, mashed, or in soups. Some yam recipes include:
Or try one of these Chinese yam soups:
- Clear soup with yams;
- Soup with carrot and yams;
- Pork bone soup with yam and red dates; and
- Pork soup with yam and goji berries.
White jelly fungus
White jelly fungus is part of the mushroom family and is also known as snow ear fungus, silver ear fungus, white wood ear, and white tremella mushroom. It has a jelly-like flesh, hence the name “white jelly fungus,” and a rubbery-firm texture.
White jelly fungus is commonly used in soups for soothing purposes, such as nourishing the body, dry coughs, and removing heat from the lungs. It is also good for keeping the skin young, as it contains collagen. White jelly fungus is mainly available dried rather than fresh, so it has to be soaked, trimmed, and washed thoroughly before use.
The most common way to eat white jelly fungus is in a sweet soup with rock sugar, or as a savory version using chicken.
Here are some recipes containing white jelly fungus:
Researched by Audrey Wang