Any kitchen neophyte can steam a head of broccoli. Fewer know how to tackle a long-podded cowpea. So we asked Chris Jang, chef at A-OK Foods, to decode eight common East Asian veggies—and tell us what the hell to do with them.
1. CHINESE LONG BEANS
What is it?: A bean that can grow to lengths of three feet, these guys are usually harvested when they hit half a foot.
Aliases: Yard-long bean, long-podded cowpea, snake bean.
Tasting notes: Similar to a regular green bean, with hints of asparagus.
Pro tip: Trim off the stems, boil briefly, then add to a pork stir-fry with black bean sauce or garlic.
2. BITTER MELON
What is it?: A zucchini-sized pale-green melon covered in wrinkles and warts.
Aliases: Bitter gourd, foo gwa.
Tasting notes: Unsurprisingly, it’s bitter, with grassy flavours and a watery crunch.
Pro tip: Cut in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Boil in hot water to mellow out the bitterness, then pair with black bean sauce.
3. WINGED BEANS
What is it?: A protein-rich green bean with frayed edges. They’ve been called a “one-species supermarket,” because the entire plant—roots, seeds, leaves, stems—is edible.
Aliases: Four-angled bean.
Tasting notes: Sweet, crunchy, and a bit grassy.
Pro tip: Cut off the ends of the bean, then toss in boiling water for a minute before rinsing in cold water. Add to a Thai-style salad with shrimp and shredded coconut.
4. SNOW PEA SHOOTS
What is it?: Young, leafy sprouts of the snow pea plant.
Aliases: Dau miu.
Tasting notes: Sweet, refreshing, tender, and delicate.
Pro tip: Trim off the stems and blanch briefly before stir-frying with a light dressing of cornstarch, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and peanut oil.
5. WOOD EAR MUSHROOMS
What is it?: An ear-shaped fungus that grows on dead wood (it’s not the most clever name).
Aliases: Black fungus, tree ear, cloud ear fungus.
Tasting notes: A wet crunch, with a slight earthy quality, though these shrooms will pick up the flavour of whatever they’re cooked with.
Pro tip: Rehydrate them in cold water, then blanch in boiling water. Add to soups, like hot and sour, for texture.
6. FLOWERING CHINESE CHIVES
What is it?: A more mature version of Chinese chives, where flower buds start to appear.
Aliases: Gau choi, Chinese leek, garlic chives.
Tasting notes: Like spicy garlic.
Pro tip: The stronger garlic taste works well when flavouring meats and seafood in a stir-fry. Cut off any woody parts of the stem before cooking.
7. GAI LAN
What is it?: A dark, leafy green with thick stems, flat leaves, and the occasional white or yellow flower.
Aliases: Chinese broccoli.
Tasting notes: Crunchy and tough, with sweet leaves and bitter stems. They’re similar to rapini, but with a much stronger taste.
Pro tip: Chop off any dried ends, add to boiling water to soften, then wash under ice-cold water to maintain crispness. Cook over high heat with ginger and garlic and serve with oyster sauce.
8. CHINESE CELERY
What is it?: Similar to North American celery, but the stalks are much thinner. It’s also eaten cooked rather than raw.
Aliases: Oriental celery.
Tasting notes: More intense and aromatic than regular celery.
Pro tip: Trim off the stem and leaf, then add to a Thai seafood salad with coriander, chilies, and palm sugar.
A-OK Foods, 930 Queen St. W., 647-352-2243.