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Experience the real Asia with these delish salad recipes

Rowena Dumlao-Giardina resides in Italy, cooking and photographing her family's interesting meals on Apron and Sneakers. After moving to Italy in 1999 from the Philippines, she has traveled extensively around the country and the rest of ...

These Asian salad recipes made with special vegetables are your healthy dinner tonight

If you ever find yourself in the vegetable section of an Asian market, then you probably feel lost in a different world. We're here to help you get to know these vegetables, complete with delicious recipes to use them in.

Being away from the Philippines and seeing a vegetable stall in Italy exploding with familiar vegetables is such a novelty. Very hard to come by, these vegetables are imported from different parts of Asian countries, and like all imported items, they cost as much as gold too, so I always make the most of what I buy. I am guessing that if you are not familiar with any of these vegetables, then you're wondering how they are cooked and what they taste like. They are usually used in different kinds of vegetable dishes, but here, I've put them all together into three healthy salads.

These Asian salad recipes made with special vegetables are your healthy dinner tonight

You can expect intense flavors that are not usual in Western food:

  • The bitter melon is, as the name suggests, bitter, but with the help of salt, rinsing and squeezing, the bitterness goes away.
  • Taro is like potato but slightly on the sticky side and is used primarily in tamarind soup dishes.
  • Green papaya is usually cooked with a sweet and sour sauce and then used as a side for different meat and fish dishes.
  • Green mangoes are very sour and always accompanied with something salty, the most popular of which is shrimp paste but sometimes fish sauce.
  • Banana heart, the most curious of all, is cooked with coconut milk and eaten as a vegetable dish. It has a light banana flavor that goes so well with the coconut flavor.

Now let me show you three simple salad recipes in which you can use these vegetables. Except for the green mango salad, they are not typical Asian vegetable recipes. Since the vegetables are blanched, it's a good way to taste each one alone and get to know their characteristics.

These Asian salad recipes made with special vegetables are your healthy dinner tonight

Asian vegetable salad recipe

This is one of the most interesting salads I have ever made, because it features most of the Asian vegetables I grew up with. They are simply blanched, so you can taste each vegetable well and then try them dressed with different dressings.

Serves 4

Prep time: 45 minutes | Cook time: 45 minutes | Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 plantain, peeled and sliced
  • 1 teaspoon sunflower oil (or any other mild-tasting oil)
  • Ice
  • Rock salt
  • 1 small bitter melon
  • 1/2 banana heart
  • 4 ounces winged beans, ends discarded, chopped
  • 4 ounces yard-long beans, ends discarded, chopped
  • 1 chayote, peeled and chopped
  • 4 ounces Chinese cabbage
  • 4 ounces water spinach
  • 2 medium taro, peeled and diced
  • 4 eggs, hard-boiled
  • 1/2 small green papaya, peeled, seeded and grated
  • Shrimp paste dressing (see recipe below)
  • Asian dressing (see recipe below)
  • Sweet soy-lime dressing (see recipe below)
  • 1/2 cup peanuts, chopped

Directions:

  1. In a saucepan with high sides over high heat, bring some water to a boil.
  2. In another saucepan over medium heat with sunflower oil, toast the plantains, and then set them aside.
  3. While waiting for the water to boil, prepare an ice bath (lots of ice and water) in a large bowl for blanching the vegetables. Set it aside.
  4. Prepare the bitter melon by cutting away both ends and then slicing it in half vertically. Using a spoon, completely scrape away the white pith and the seeds. Next, thinly slice the bitter melon into half-moons. In a bowl, mix the bitter melon with 2 tablespoons of rock salt. Leave it for 10 minutes or more, as this should help to eliminate the melon's bitterness. Rinse away the salt under the faucet, and then squeeze the bitter melon between your hands. You will have to repeat this process if the bitterness isn't completely gone after the first rinsing.
  5. Prepare the banana heart by peeling off the maroon bracts and the blossoms. In some Asian cuisines, the blossoms can be cooked in other dishes, so you can save them for other recipes. Peel until you reach the ivory-colored bracts, and then thinly chop the banana heart. It's normal that they turn brown.
  6. When the water is boiling, add some salt, and then blanch the vegetables one type at a time. Blanch the winged beans for 3 minutes, and then immediately transfer them to the ice bath to stop the cooking. Strain them in a colander, and then place them onto a serving plate.
  7. Follow the same process with the other vegetables with these times: Yard-long beans, 3 minutes; chayote, 5 minutes; Chinese cabbage, 1 minute; water spinach, 1 minute; taro, 8 minutes or until tender; and the banana heart, 6 minutes.
  8. Arrange the vegetables by kind on the serving plate.
  9. Serve the salad with the salad dressings.
Note: The shrimp paste dressing has a strong and pungent flavor because it is made with fermented shrimp, or krill. Try a little amount first before using it as a dressing for the whole salad. The shrimp paste dressing doesn't go well with the peanuts and banana chips. The banana chips can be used in the salad or eaten alone.

Shrimp paste dressing recipe

Yields 1/4 cup

Total time: 3 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons bottled cooked shrimp paste
  • 4 tablespoons fresh calamansi or lemon juice
  • 1 chili, seeded and finely chopped

Directions:

  1. In a small bowl, mix together all the ingredients.
  2. Serve in small dipping sauce bowls.

Asian dressing recipe

Yields 3/4 cup

Total time: 3 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice (from 1-1/2 limes)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 chili
  • 3 tablespoons saffron oil (or other mild-tasting oil)
  • 2 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

Directions:

  1. In a small bowl, mix together all the ingredients. Adjust the amounts according to your taste.
  2. Serve in small dipping sauce bowls.

Sweet soy-lime Asian dressing recipe

Yields: 1/2 cup

Total time: 3 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil

Directions:

  1. In a small bowl, mix together all the ingredients. Adjust the amounts according to your taste.
  2. Serve in small dipping sauce bowls.

These Asian salad recipes made with special vegetables are your healthy dinner tonight

Green mango salad recipe

This is a very popular classic Filipino salad that pairs well with grilled fish and meat. It also has the strangest flavors put together in one dish, because shrimp paste (fermented krill) is pungent and salty. Imagine salty and sour together, and get to know the unique flavors of this salad.

Yields 2 cups (quantity depends on size of the mangoes)

Total time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 3 unripe small green mangoes
  • 1/4 cup onions, minced
  • 1/2 cup tomatoes, minced
  • 2-1/2 tablespoons shrimp paste (adjust the quantity according to the amount and tartness of the mangoes)

Directions:

  1. Peel the mangoes, slice them lengthwise along the seeds on both sides, and then mince.
  2. Get as much pulp as you can from the mangoes, and then mince them.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix together the mangoes, onions, tomatoes and shrimp paste.

These Asian salad recipes made with special vegetables are your healthy dinner tonight

Banana heart salad with coconut milk dressing recipe

From the classic Filipino dish — banana heart cooked in coconut milk — I put a little twist in this recipe by making it into a salad instead but still using exactly the same ingredients as you would in the classic dish.

Yields 2 cups (quantity depends on size of the banana heart)

Total time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon shrimp paste
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 chili, seeded and minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 banana heart, chopped and blanched for 6 minutes (see Asian vegetable salad recipe above)

Directions:

  1. In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the coconut milk, shrimp paste, lime juice, brown sugar, chili, salt and pepper. Simmer until slightly thick.
  2. Mix the coconut milk dressing with the blanched banana heart.

More Asian vegetable recipes

Asian vegetables and pot stickers
Stir-fried bitter melon
Asian meal: Fried whole fish, adobo water spinach and steamed rice

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