Asian Vegetables: From Long Beans to Lemongrass, a Simple Guide to Asian Produce, Plus 50 Delicious Easy Recipes


For anyone who has ever been dazzled but daunted at the Asian market, here is an indispensable, easy-to-use guide to identifying, choosing, and preparing these wonderfully unusual vegetables. From Amaranth and Bok Choy to Lotus Root and Lemongrass, food editor and writer Sara Deseran describes clearly the exotic array of Asian produce now widely available, explaining everything you need to know to shop confidently. This lavishly photographed resource is rounded out with 50 contemporary recipes, from Edamame with ...
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For anyone who has ever been dazzled but daunted at the Asian market, here is an indispensable, easy-to-use guide to identifying, choosing, and preparing these wonderfully unusual vegetables. From Amaranth and Bok Choy to Lotus Root and Lemongrass, food editor and writer Sara Deseran describes clearly the exotic array of Asian produce now widely available, explaining everything you need to know to shop confidently. This lavishly photographed resource is rounded out with 50 contemporary recipes, from Edamame with Szechwan Pepper-Salt to Stir-fried Shrimp and Garlic Chives. Asian Vegetables takes the mystery out of these enticing ingredients and puts the flavor in for fabulously healthy and delicious meals.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A guide to shopping for Asian vegetables (which often appear under many different names), this book also helps browsers figure out what to do with them once they're sitting on the counter. Deseran, food editor of the house organ Williams-Sonoma Taste, organizes her recipes according to the types of produce they require: leafy greens (Steamed Halibut with Sweet Miso Wrapped in Cabbage), roots (Crisp Taro Pancakes with Hoisin-Lime Dipping Sauce), squashes (Stir-Fried Luffa Squash with Diced Shrimp and Garlic), beans and other miscellaneous vegetables (Sukhi Singh's Bharta), and herbs and aromatics (Grilled Lemongrass-Tamarind Pork Chops with Chayote Slaw). For each vegetable, she covers alternate names, varieties, uses and storage for example, the many varieties of bok choy, or Chinese white cabbage, are described, along with such recipes as Braised Short Ribs with Hearts of Bok Choy, and Bok Choy, Water Chestnut, and Bacon Chow Mein. Deseran's tone is light (long beans look "like a vegetable out of a Dr. Seuss book"), and she can be charming even in defeat, as when admitting her failure to interest her husband in bitter melon. Richard Jung's color photographs are clear and appetizing, and make identifying the vegetables that much easier. Deseran's book is a handy, practical companion to a shopping trip to Chinatown, and her recipes are terrific. (June 1) Forecast: This attractive paperback will do particularly well in urban areas where a diverse selection of vegetables is more common. Although it may be less comprehensive than the recent The Asian Grocery Store Demystified, it has more recipes and a better layout. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641544064
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books LLC
  • Publication date: 6/1/1901
  • Pages: 132
  • Product dimensions: 8.15 (w) x 8.84 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

Sara Deseran is the food editor of 7x7 magazine in San Francisco. She has contributed to such publications as Saveur and The San Francisco Chronicle as well as serving as food editor for Taste magazine.

Richard Jung is a San Francisco-based food and travel photographer whose previous books include Balsamico.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

leafy and green

15 amaranth
Noodle Soup with Roast Duck and Amaranth
17 bok choy
Braised Short Ribs with Hearts of Bok Choy Bok Choy, Water Chestnut, and Bacon Chow Mein
21 chinese broccoli
Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce
24 choy sum
Steamed Shrimp-and-Greens Dumplings Jap Chae
28 mizuna
Wilted Mizuna and Grilled Steak Salad
30 mustard cabbage
Chinese Pickled Mustard Cabbage Asian Gumbo with Mustard Cabbage and Chinese Sausage
34 napa cabbage
Steamed Halibut with Sweet Miso Wrapped in Cabbage Sesame Pork Skewers with Kimchi Japanese "As You Like It" Pancakes
38 pea sprouts and pea shoots
Salad of Pea Sprouts, Satsumas, and Beets with Ginger-Mint Dressing Big Pea Shoots Stir-fried with Garlic
41 tatsoi
42 water spinach
Hannah An's Water Spinach with Cherry Tomatoes and Shrimp


ALSO KNOWN AS: Chinese spinach, yin choy (Cantonese)

Two kinds of amaranth are found in the market: red and green. Both have a mild taste that recalls spinach. Except for color, they look similar, but the red variety, with its green leaves, the veins stained a beet red, is easiest to spot and can be so striking that it's hard to decide whether to cookit or use it as a centerpiece. Amaranth is by no means unique to Asian cuisine. It's cultivated all over the world. Although it has yet to hit mainstream America, its popularity has increased, and I've spied it at farmers' markets and gourmet grocery stores, as well as Asian markets. It is sold in different stages: in bundles of young stems with delicate leaves that beg to be used that minute, and more mature, when the wide, oval leaves that come to a point are a bit crinkly and have a sharper flavor.

SELECTING AND STORING: Choose bunches with good color and a just-harvested look. Store in a loosely closed plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper. Depending on its maturity, amaranth should be used immediately or within the next couple of days.

HOW TO USE: Older or tough parts of the stems should be removed; otherwise, the entire plant is edible. Rinse well to rid the leaves of any sand. Amaranth is stir-fried, cooked in soups, steamed, and, in its youngest, most tender form, eaten raw in a salad. Although it can replace spinach in any recipe, amaranth will cook a little faster.

noodle soup with roast duck and amaranth

I love the crisp, sweet-salty roast ducks that hang in the windows of delicatessens in every Chinatown. Paired with greens like amaranth, Chinese broccoli, choy sum, or even spinach, these glistening birds are the perfect answer to an easy meal. Don't be shy about stepping inside and placing an order. Duck is sold either half or whole, chopped into pieces, bone and skin intact. As an alternative, you can use a good roast chicken, and use a cleaver or heavy knife to cut it in half then into 1-inch-thick pieces. The process of using chopsticks to eat pieces of duck on the bone—delicately—requires a finesse that I have yet to master (but I kind of relish the bit of mess). If you have squeamish eaters, you can always bone the meat before adding it to the soup.


2 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 cup finely chopped shallot
5 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2-inch piece fresh ginger, bruised
2 star anise
1/2 cinnamon stick
3/4 pound fresh Chinese egg noodles
1 tablespoon fish sauce
Kosher salt to taste
1/2 pound amaranth, tough stem ends discarded
and cut into 4-inch pieces
1/2 Chinese roast duck, about 3/4 pound, cut into
thick pieces (see recipe introduction)

In a large pot over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add the shallot and sauté for about 15 seconds until fragrant. Add the broth, bring to a simmer, and reduce the heat to low. Add the ginger, star anise, and cinnamon stick, then cover, and simmer for 30 minutes to infuse the broth with the spices.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot filled with water to a boil. Add the noodles and allow to cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until tender. Drain and set aside.

Add the fish sauce and salt to the broth and remove and discard the ginger, cinnamon stick, and star anise. Add the amaranth and allow to cook down for about 1 minute. Add the duck pieces and allow to simmer for 1 minute more, to heat through.

Divide the noodles among 4 bowls, and ladle the soup over them, dividing the pieces of duck evenly. Serve at once. Put out a bowl for diners to use for their discarded bones.

bok choy

ALSO KNOWN AS: Chinese white cabbage, pak choy (Cantonese)

Bok choy has become the model Asian vegetable. Its crisp, succulent stems and mild-tasting leaves have been the darling of fusion chefs and an easy sell to the Western palate. Cultivated in China since the fifth century, this venerable green is now stocked by most mainstream grocery stores. A number of kinds of bok choy are sold in markets here. The one known popularly as simply bok choy, its Cantonese name (also sometimes spelled pak choy), is the size of Swiss chard, with dark green, crinkly leaves and broad, smooth white stems. Bok choy sum is almost identical but with the yellow flowers of choy sum (page 24). It is sold in both baby and adult forms. My personal favorite is Shanghai bok choy, with distinctive pale green, spoonlike stems. It's almost always sold in its infant stage and is what most Western markets carry and label "baby bok choy."

SELECTING AND STORING: In many Asian markets, baby versions of Shanghai bok choy and bok choy sum are sold by the dozen, prepackaged in a plastic bag. Large bok choy is rather resilient and can be stored in a loosely closed plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper for up to 4 days. Baby bok choy of any variety can yellow more quickly and should be used as soon as possible.

HOW TO USE: To use the large variety, slice the stems crosswise and add them to a stir-fry or soup before you toss in the leaves, to give the stems a little extra time to cook. When very small, baby bok choy can be cooked whole. If large, halve lengthwise. Bok choy is versatile and is used in everything from stir-fries to braised dishes. The hearts are served as a delicacy.

braised short ribs with hearts of bok choy

As refreshing and light as bok choy can be in a stir-fry, it also lends itself well to slow cooking, as in this winter stew. I like to use the hearts of baby bok choy, just throwing them in at the very end. Instead of cooking this dish on the stove top, I've done it in the oven, which results in less of a mess. Serve a crusty baguette alongside in place of rice. The broth is so good that everyone will want to sop up the last drop.


8 beef short ribs (about 4 pounds total)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 large yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon Korean red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 1/2 cups water
2 carrots, peeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick (about 1 cup)
4 heads baby bok choy, about 1 pound, bottoms
trimmed, leafy tops removed, and hearts
quartered lengthwise

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place the ribs in a Dutch oven or other large ovenproof pot with a lid and sprinkle with the salt. Top with the onion slices. Cover and roast for 30 minutes.

In a bowl, mix together the garlic, ginger, soy sauce, ketchup, rice vinegar, ground pepper, red pepper flakes, and sesame seeds. Remove the pot from the oven and pour the sauce over the ribs. Add the water, and stir to mix. Turn the oven down to 350°F, re-cover the pot, and continue to cook for up to 2 hours longer, or until the beef is fork tender.

Add the carrots and baby bok choy, cover, and cook, turning the vegetables occasionally if necessary to let them cook evenly, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the carrots are tender and the bok choy is more tender than crisp.

To serve, using tongs, transfer the braised ribs and the vegetables to a shallow serving bowl and ladle the hot broth over them.

Chapter Two

roots, shoots, and bulbs

47 bamboo shoots
48 bean sprouts (mung bean, soybean) Pad Thai Soybean Sprouts with Sesame and Garlic
52 daikon
Shredded Daikon and Carrot Salad with Mustard Seeds Barbara Tropp's Steamed Salmon on Daikon with Fresh Cilantro Pesto
56 lotus root
Miso Soup with Lotus Root, Leeks, and Tofu Grace Young's Fragrant Lotus Root Salad
59 taro root
Crisp Taro Pancakes with Hoisin-Lime Dipping Sauce Kasma Loha-unchit's Mashed Taro with Green Onions
63 water chestnuts
Ground Pork and Water Chestnuts in Lettuce Cups

bean sprouts mung bean, soybean

The Asian cook relies primarily on two kinds of bean sprouts: mung bean (usually known as bean sprouts) and the nutritious soybean, identifiable by the yellow head at one end and its larger size. Mung bean sprouts are the smaller white sprouts sold in every Western market. Both kinds are appreciated for their crisp and succulent texture, but nutty-flavored soybean sprouts stand much better on their own. You'll find both types sold in heaping piles and prepackaged in plastic bags.

SELECTING AND STORING: Look for crisp, white bean sprouts that aren't too stringy, an indication that they're old. If the pile of sprouts you have to choose from looks a bit handled and broken into bits, ask the grocer if he or she has fresh ones stored in the back. Bean sprouts are perishable, but you can keep them in an airtight plastic container (it protects them from getting banged up) in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days.

HOW TO USE: The most diligent cooks will pinch off the heads and tails of mung bean sprouts (just the tails are removed from soybean sprouts). Although it does affect the texture slightly, the main reason for this step is aesthetic, and I usually choose to skip it. Mung bean sprouts can be eaten raw, but soybean sprouts are rumored to be slightly toxic uncooked. Either way, I find that blanching both types for a few seconds and immediately refreshing them in cold water removes a faint bitter taste. They are then ready to be used in everything from stir-fries to soups to salads.

pad thai

Present a group with a four-page-long American-style Thai menu, and I guarantee someone will zero in on pad Thai. You'll find that, made at home, this beloved noodle dish yields much lighter flavors than you'll get at a restaurant. Many recipes call for ketchup, but I prefer to use tamarind and sugar for a more subtle sweet-tart taste. To make it vegetarian, replace the shrimp with 1/2-inch cubes of fried firm tofu.


1/2 pound flat dried rice noodles
1/4 cup fish sauce
3 tablespoons tamarind concentrate
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
1/4 cup finely chopped shallot
1 teaspoon chili sauce such as sambal oelek
1/2 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups mung bean sprouts
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup diagonally sliced green onion, white and
green parts
1/2 cup chopped unsalted roasted peanuts
1 lime, quartered

Place the noodles in a bowl with hot water to cover and let soak for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, stir together the fish sauce, tamarind, sugar, lime juice, and chicken broth and set aside.

In a large wok or large, deep skillet over high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the garlic, shallot, and chili sauce and stir-fry for 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the shrimp and continue to stir-fry for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the shrimp are opaque. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the wok. When the oil is hot, add the eggs and stir-fry quickly until barely scrambled. Add the fish sauce mixture and cook for about 3 minutes, or until the eggs have just set. Drain the noodles and add to the pan along with the bean sprouts and the reserved shrimp. Using a spatula or fork in each hand, toss to combine. Continue to cook and toss for another 1 to 2 minutes, or until the noodles are soft but chewy.

Transfer the noodles to a platter and garnish with the cilantro, green onion, and peanuts. Serve with the lime wedges.

Chapter Three

squashes and gourds

69 bitter melon
Bitter Melon with Egg Bitter Melon Stuffed with Pork and Fermented Black Beans

72 bottle gourd
Malaysian Sweet-and-Sour Shrimp with Bottle Gourd Indian-Style Whole Fish Stuffed with Bottle Gourd and Tomato
76 chayote
Chilled Avocado-Chayote Soup
78 fuzzy melon
Sesame Noodles with Fuzzy Melon and Ground Beef Fuzzy Melon and Fresh Corn with Yogurt
81 kabocha squash
Thai Red Curry with Kabocha Squash and Shrimp
84 luffa squash
Stir-fried Luffa Squash with Diced Shrimp and Garlic Bruce Hill's Luffa Squash, Tomato, and Mint Salad
87 winter melon
Chris Yeo's Winter Melon Soup with Meatballs and Crab Claws

bitter melon

ALSO KNOWN AS: balsam pear, bitter cucumber, bitter gourd

Whenever I'm rifling through the piles of bitter melon at my local market, I'm always shot a raised eyebrow or two: What's a white girl like her doing with a vegetable like that? It goes without saying that this wrinkly, green, cucumber-shaped melon is an acquired taste, even among Asians who appreciate bitter flavors. On the tongue it's shockingly bitter, but also delightfully cool because of the presence of quinine. From Southeast Asia to India, it has its devoted followers, and they're probably better off for it: bitter melon is said to purify the blood and boost the immune system. It is also sold in its baby stage, rock hard and extra-bumpy, sometimes still attached to its climbing vine, which is also eaten. It is rarely found outside of Asian markets.

SELECTING AND STORING: Bitter melons are warty by nature, but you should avoid any that are shriveled. Look for medium to small specimens that are plump and firm. Lighter green to yellowish melons are less bitter. Store them in loosely closed plastic bags in the refrigerator for up to a week.

HOW TO USE: Blanching and salting are the typical ways used to lessen the bitterness of this sharp-flavored vegetable, but some believe these efforts make little difference. Tiny bitter melons (which are often pickled in India) can be eaten seeds and all. Otherwise, the seeds should be scooped out with a spoon—no need to peel. Bitter melon is usually paired with bold flavors such as chili or fermented black beans. Thais bravely dip it raw into sauces pungent with shrimp paste, the Chinese often stuff it with seasoned ground pork, and the Indians stew it in curry.

bitter melon stuffed with pork and fermented black beans

In Chinatown delis and dim sum restaurants, a version of this classic dish is often one of the many offerings. Stuffing bitter melon with a savory filling (much like a stuffed bell pepper) and braising it until tender helps to counteract its bitter flavor. Accompany with steamed white rice.

SERVES 4 as a first course

2 bitter melons, about 1/2 pound each
1/2 pound lean ground pork
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 Thai chilies, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon fermented black beans, chopped
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 cup chicken broth

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Cut a slice off the top and bottom of each bitter melon. Cut the melons crosswise into 1-inch-thick slices (you should end up with at least 8 slices) and scoop out and discard the insides. Bring a saucepan filled with water to a boil, add the slices, and blanch for 2 minutes. Drain and immediately immerse in ice water to preserve the color. When cool, drain and place the slices, cut side up, in a baking pan just large enough to hold them all side by side and without touching.

In a bowl, combine the pork, garlic, ginger, onion, cilantro, chilies, salt, black beans, and sesame oil. Mix well to distribute all the ingredients evenly. Spoon a generous amount of pork mixture into each round. The pork should form a rounded top on the melon. In a small saucepan, bring the broth to a boil. Carefully pour the boiling broth over the stuffed slices. Cover the pan with aluminum foil or a lid.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until the filling is cooked through and the bitter melon is tender when pierced with a knife. Lift the stuffed bitter melon out of the broth and arrange on a platter. Serve at once.

INSALATE: Authentic Italian Salads for All Seasons

Photography by Richard Eskite and Manfredi Bellati


Copyright © 2001 Susan Simon. All rights reserved.

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Table of Contents

leafy and green 13
roots, shoots, and bulbs 45
squashes and gourds 67
beans and things 91
herbs and aromatics 115
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