Asian vegetables are pleasing to the palate, nutritious yet often overlooked as ingredients in American menus. Here is a glossary of some of the most popular Chinese edibles and herbs, and how they might be prepared:
Bok choy (also known as pak choy, celery mustard, Chinese chard and spoon cabbage). The mild, slightly sweet flavor of its leafy white stalks complements strong flavors and is popular in stir-fry and soups. Younger or "baby" versions often are cooked to bring out their tenderness in a side dish.
Mustard greens (gai choy, takana, Chinese or Indian mustard). Nutritious and fast-growing with a pleasantly spicy taste when eaten raw. Young leaves are good in salads; older leaves have a stronger taste, which becomes sweeter when steamed or stir-fried.
Snow peas (shid dou, ho lan dou, sugar peas). Tender, sweet, and taste best when eaten young in their flat pods or before the peas mature. The flavor breaks down quickly after the peas are picked. Use fresh in salads; saute briefly and serve as a side dish.
Chinese cabbage (wong bok, hakusai, Napa cabbage). You've eaten Napa cabbage if you've sampled kimchi, the pickled (and fiery) national dish of Korea. A vase-shaped cabbage with dark, curly leaves and white stem. Has a mild bite when eaten raw; cooking sweetens it.
Flowering kale (wu tou gan lan, hwa choy, flowering cabbage). Makes a colorful salad and an even better garnish.
Chinese radish (daikon, winter radish). Large leaves and huge roots. Generally cooked, although also popular pickled or raw. All parts are edible.
Chinese eggplant (aubergine, gie zi). Creamy texture and nutty flavor. Generally smaller and more colorful than its European counterparts. Can be grilled, like zucchini, or sauteed with other vegetables. Add unpeeled to stir-fry.
Chinese broccoli (kalian, gai lan, white flowering broccoli). Tender stalks and flavorful leaves. It's eaten stems and all when cooked up in stir-fry, steamed or tossed into salads.
Garlic chives (jiu cai, gow choy, Chinese leek). Combines the taste of onion with garlic. Sprinkle fresh over salads; strengthens flavors in soups, pasta, eggs or casseroles.
Cilantro (coriander, Chinese parsley). Adds zest to salads or eggs; makes a great seasoning when added toward the end of the cooking cycle to stews. Seed can be crushed and used in breads and soups. Let the plant flower and it will attract pollinators and beneficial insects to the garden.
Asian cucumber (burpless cucumber, huang gua). Grows thin and long and is slightly sweet. Becomes a delicious relish when sliced and marinated in a sweet vinegar. Also a fine side dish when stuffed and baked.
Edible soybeans (edamame, da tou). A great appetizer or snack when cooked in the pod; nutty and buttery when eaten fresh from the garden. Pick before the pods turn yellow. An excellent fresh vegetable in winter when eaten as a sprout.