It is so easy to get into a dietary rut, relying on the same foods and recipes day after day. The danger of a dietary rut is not just boredom. We need to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, and other foods to get all the micronutrients we need. The Asian vegetables on our list below are healthy, rich in flavor, and adaptable to any cuisine.
Fortunately, you don’t have to visit Shanghai to find fresh Asian vegetables! We are seeing more and more different veggies making their way to American markets, including many healthy Chinese greens, peas and pea shoots, white radishes, and unique melons that are bursting with flavor and nutrients.
13 Asian Vegetables and Recipes
Here are our 13 favorite Asian vegetables and recipes you must try!
1. Bok Choy
Bok choy is perhaps our favorite low-carb veggie! For thousands of years, this Chinese vegetable has been cultivated for culinary purposes and for use in traditional Chinese medicine practices. If you don’t love leafy greens, bok choy may just change your mind—it is much more tender than more robust American greens and other cruciferous vegetables.
Here’s a fun fact about bok choy—it is an excellent source of beta carotene! One cup of cooked bok choy contains 40% of the daily value (DV) for vitamin A, 64% of the DV for vitamin K, and 59% of the DV for vitamin C. Sautéed baby bok choy is one of our favorite preparations, and this quick and easy recipe from the New York Times can be on your table in minutes!
2. Choy Sum
Choy sum looks similar to Chinese broccoli with lots of delicate yellow flowers. In grocery stores, you may find it listed as Chinese flowering cabbage, but don’t let the name fool you. Choy sum is not a “head” vegetable but rather a gathering of tender stems, leaves, and flowers. It can be challenging to find in the U.S., but when you see it, grab enough for a couple of meals.
Like bok choy, choy sum is loaded with beta carotene, vitamin C, and lots of dietary fiber. When sautéed, choy sum is similar in texture to broccoli rabe or mature rapini. We love a quick sauté with a kick of heat from red pepper flakes and fresh ginger, and dotted with a touch of rice wine or sherry.
3. Napa Cabbage
Chinese cabbage is a broad category, and the easiest one to find in the U.S. is Napa cabbage. Napa cabbage is available year-round and a perfect addition to any salad or slaw recipe. If you are wondering about the differences between cabbage and lettuce, typically cabbage rules the roost in the nutrition department. And Napa cabbage doesn’t disappoint. It is low in calories and an excellent source of folic acid, vitamin C, vitamin K, dietary fiber, and essential electrolytes.
Next time you’re in the produce department, grab a head of this Chinese cabbage and try this sweet, savory, salty, umami-rich Stir-Fried Napa Cabbage recipe from Food & Wine magazine. To make this delicious dish soy-free, swap out the soy sauce for an equal amount of coconut aminos.
If you yearn for more probiotics in your diet, whip up your own batch of kimchi! In addition to Napa cabbage, carrots, Daikon radish, scallions, garlic, ginger, red chili flakes, fish sauce, brined fish, and a touch of sugar transform a crunchy slaw into a probiotic-rich sweet/hot/salty/tangy delight.
4. Bitter Melon
If you’re into cooking competitions, chances are you’ve watched chefs be puzzled by bitter melons. It is a shame really because bitter melon is a super healthy vegetable that’s been used for generations in Asian cuisine to treat intestinal and stomach problems, diabetes, and other disorders. Bitter melon is low in calories and carbohydrates and a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron.
The name, bitter melon, is not by mistake—it is bitter and sharp. But don’t let this frighten you away from this underutilized veggie! Dice it small and toss it into your favorite stir fry recipe for an added crunch. Once your palate is accustomed (and enjoys!) bitter melon’s unique flavor, try this traditional Chinese Bitter Melon (Gourd) with Egg recipe that combines bitter melon with eggs, garlic, and fermented black beans.
5. Chinese Broccoli
Chinese broccoli is also known as Chinese kale, Kai-lan, and gai-lan. This Asian vegetable has a stalk similar to broccoli. The big difference between “normal” broccoli and Chinese broccoli is that instead of bunched florets at the top of the stem, hearty leaves similar to young collard greens live.
Gai-lan is a cruciferous vegetable loaded with vitamins, iron, calcium, and potassium. While Chinese broccoli does have a touch of bitterness, it is a fantastic complement to Indian curry dishes like this Garlicky Coconut Gai Lan recipe from Cooking on the Weekends. Don’t skimp on the chiles, and the lemongrass is a must!
6. Japanese Eggplant
Japanese eggplant is a nightshade vegetable. If you have an autoimmune disease, talk to your physician before eating any nightshade vegetable. Japanese eggplant is skinnier than traditional eggplant but similar in nutrition, although it is less bitter and milder. Be warned, it is extra “spongy” in texture, so it will absorb any oil it is introduced to—cook it at the right heat to keep it from being greasy.
Bobby Flay’s Grilled Japanese Eggplant takes the guesswork away. You marinate it for an hour in a sweet and savory Asian-inspired sauce and then throw it on the grill to cook it through. Bon Appetit’s Vegan Ginger-Miso Glazed Eggplant is equally as delicious and perfect for the winter months—it bakes up beautifully in 20 minutes, and then a quick broil chars it perfectly.
7. Lotus Root
Lotus root is an unusual looking white vegetable that from the outside looks like a potato or a large radish, but the insides form a beautiful flower. When this veggie is eaten raw it is similar in texture and flavor to jicama, and when cooked, it takes on a sweeter, more aromatic taste. Lotus root is low in calories and high in vitamin C, fiber, vitamin B6, copper, potassium, and manganese.
When you want to show off lotus root’s beautiful structure, this recipe Kung Pao Lotus Root from China Sichuan Food is perfect. If you are vegan and love the vibrant flavor of Kung Pao, it hits all the beautiful sweet, tangy, tart, and salty notes. Remember, the secret to a great stir-fry is a well-seasoned wok!
8. Daikon Radish
The Daikon radish is an incredibly versatile Asian vegetable. It can be eaten raw, pickled, stir-fried, or added to your favorite kimchi recipe. Daikon radishes are snowy white and shaped like huge carrots. The flavor is sharp and spicy. The texture is crunchy, so it’s ideal for slaws, salads, and noodle dishes.
Platings + Pairings has developed a delish Daikon Radish Salad that captures the essence of Asian cooking in a fresh, chilled slaw. The vinaigrette calls for white sugar, but you can use coconut sugar or even a drizzle of honey if you prefer. Use a mandolin or a julienne peeler to get uniform strips of the Daikon radish.
Next time you’re craving french fries, try this inspired Spicy Roasted Daikon Radish French Fry recipe from Cooking on the Weekends. The recipe calls for traditional Asian spices, but you can swap those out for other savory options like rosemary, thyme, and paprika! These delicious and healthy fries can be on the table in less than 45 minutes, start to finish.
9. Snow Peas
Not all peas are created equally! Snow peas are flat and tender, with very petite peas inside. This variety of pea doesn’t require shucking like English garden peas do! Snow peas are eaten pod and all. These sweet peas are loaded with vitamins, including C, K, and folate, as well as essential minerals like potassium, iron, and calcium.
Snow peas are a staple in stir-fry recipes, but their texture and flavor lend themselves well to other culinary endeavors like these Snow Peas with Toasted Almonds from Bon Appetit. Lemon juice, shallots, almonds, butter, and salt—that’s it—ready in less than 5 minutes!
In Indian cuisine, snow peas are often stir-fried with curry leaves, coconut, chilies, aromatics, and loads of spices to create tons of flavor. If you want a side dish to accompany your favorite korma or curry, you must try the Snow Peas Poriyal recipe from Simple Indian Recipes. The flavors are complex, and you need a well-stocked spice cabinet to pull it off properly.
10. Yardlong Beans
Yardlong beans aren’t quite 36 inches long—but they are substantially longer than other green bean varieties. Yardlong beans taste similar to green beans, but their texture is different. This variety can become waterlogged when steamed or boiled. They are really better when sautéed or stir-fried quickly.
This Braised Long Beans with Tomatoes, Garlic, and Mint recipe from Serious Eats breaks the rule. Sometimes, a long braise in a flavor-packed stew is just what a green bean needs! The key here is that the yardlong beans are stir-fried just until they begin to sear to preserve their beautiful texture.
If you want more traditional Asian flavors for your yardlong beans, these Stir-Fried Chinese Long Beans from Steam Kitchen are fantastic. This recipe comes together so quickly, be sure to have all of your other dishes prepared and ready for serving before heating up your wok! The key ingredient to this recipe is the use of oyster sauce—it adds a rich umami flavor that can’t be beat.
11. Chinese Mustard Greens (Gai Choy)
Gai Choy, aka Chinese mustard greens or Indian mustard greens, is a tender leafy green with a hint of heat. Beware of the red Chinese mustard greens because they really pack a punch of heat similar to wasabi that can be overpowering for Western palates. Gai Choy is rarely eaten raw and instead typically enjoyed pickled, stewed, braised, or stir-fried. Because it is bitter, it is often blanched in boiling water before it is added to recipes.
To celebrate this veggie’s bitterness, try this Stir-fried Chinese Mustard Greens recipe from The Woks of Life. This is an important recipe to keep on hand—the author details cooking techniques to maintain the vibrant and fresh hue.
12. Pea Shoots
Pea shoots are the curly tender tendrils of baby pea plants, and they are considered a microgreen. Pea shoots have a fresh and mild pea flavor and offer just a bit of texture to whatever dish they are added to. Don’t let these little green spirals fool you—they aren’t something to be left behind—they should be celebrated! Pea shoots are nutrient superstars. They are loaded with all of the essential amino acids, plus vitamins and minerals.
In early spring when the earth is just beginning to push shoots from the ground, Lemon Pasta with Parmesan and Pea Shoots is a lunch or dinner must. If you grow your own peas, be sure to plant enough seeds to harvest for this beautifully simple and delicious pasta dish that complements grilled vegetables and fish.
13. Garlic Chives
If you’ve ever visited China, you’ve undoubtedly been exposed to the delicate freshness of garlic chives. Are they really different from the chives found in grocery stores in the U.S.? Yes. Garlic chives are flat and produce a more garlicky than oniony flavor—but garlic chives aren’t nearly as sharp as a clove of garlic.
Buchujeon or Garlic Chive Pancakes are a staple in Korean cuisine. These pancakes are undoubtedly savory and tender with just the right amount of “chew.” Their unique flavor profile comes from the combination of fresh garlic chives, chili pepper paste, onion, and fish sauce. They are often rolled and then served with a sweet and salty dipping sauce.