5 Delicious (& Nutritious) Asian Veggies You Have to Try!

Article By: Maria Tucker, MPH, RDN, LDN, CDCES

Maria Tucker is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator with over 20 years of experience assisting patients with diabetes, obesity, and nutrition-related conditions. Maria is also the Founder of MyBiyaya.com, a site dedicated to healthy recipes and kitchen shortcuts.

Today we're recognizing and celebrating the many contributions of Asians and Pacific Islanders to this country and to the world. When Asians migrated to the United States, they brought with them not only their talents and culture but some of the most nutritious and tasty vegetables around. Here are some examples and reasons why you should try them!

1) Bitter melon. A popular vegetable in Indian and other Asian cuisines, this vegetable (also known as bitter gourd) is packed with nutrients and fiber. It is high in Vitamin C and Vitamin A. It also contains folic acid, zinc, potassium, and iron. Bitter melon comes in light or dark green varieties and is shaped like a cucumber with a pointy end and bumps all over its skin. Bitter melon, as the name implies, has a bitter taste, but if prepared or cooked properly, can be a tasty addition to stir-fries, soups, or even salads. One way to decrease the bitterness is to soak the sliced bitter melon in brine for at least 30 minutes, squeeze the slices, and then strain before cooking. When pickled, bitter melon tastes less bitter and makes for a crunchy alternative to traditional cucumber pickles. After all, it is closely related to cucumbers.

2) Bok choy. Bok choy is probably the most popular Asian vegetable most people are familiar with. Bok choy (also known as pak choi) is native to China and has been grown and consumed in China for over one thousand years. It is a member of the Brassica family, but unlike it cousins (think broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts), it does not form a head. Instead, bok choy has broad leaves and thick white stems similar to lettuce. Bok choy is rich in antioxidant nutrients such as beta carotene, Vitamins C and E, as well as folate and selenium. Studies have shown that these antioxidants help prevent free radical cell damage that can lead to aging.

3) Ichiban or Japanese eggplant. This vegetable is the one of the most popular vegetables in Japan. In Asian cuisine, Ichiban eggplant is used in soups, stir-fries, and stews. In the Philippines, it is even used with eggs or boiled, mixed with shrimp paste, and served as a side dish. Ichiban eggplant has a milder and sweeter taste compared to the globe eggplant found in most grocery stores. Japanese eggplant contains Vitamin B6, thiamin, copper, manganese, fiber, and polyphenols (compounds that act as antioxidants).

4) Tatsoi. A relative of bok choy, tatsoi is similar to spinach in texture and can be used raw or cooked. It has a darker green color than bok choy with thinner stems, spoon shaped leaves, and a mustardy, sweet taste. It is rich in Vitamins B, C, folate, and Vitamin K, as well as the minerals calcium and potassium. Tatsoi is grown as microgreens, added to salad mixes, and can be sautéed with other vegetables.

5) Water spinach. Also called kangkong, water spinach is a tropical, semi-aquatic plant that grows in water or moist soil. It has tender leaves and a hollow stem which is also surprisingly tender. Water spinach can be eaten raw or cooked, used in soups, steamed, or sautéed with a spinach-like, slightly sweet taste. Water spinach is a nutrient powerhouse containing fiber, protein, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, magnesium, and iron.

**Here are a couple of my recipes to help you enjoy some of these amazingly nutritious Asian vegetables:

Recipe #1 - Japanese Eggplant Caviar Dip


  • 2 medium Ichiban or Japanese eggplants
  • 1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 ounces fire roasted red bell peppers
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tbsp. minced fresh basil
  • Pinch of ground white pepper


  • Pre-heat oven to 400F.
  • Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise, brush the cut side of the eggplant halves with olive oil, and sprinkle each half with a pinch of salt. Place them cut side down on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Place in the oven and roast the eggplants for about 30 minutes or until thoroughly cooked and tender.
  • Cool the cooked eggplant to room temperature. Peel the eggplant, discard the peel, and place in a food processor along with the fire roasted bell peppers and garlic cloves. Pulse eggplant, bell peppers, and garlic until finely chopped.
  • Transfer the mixture into a bowl. Mix in the olive oil and rice wine vinegar. Season with salt, basil, and ground white pepper.
  • Serve as dip for cut up fresh vegetables, whole wheat crackers, or use as topping for broiled fish.

Recipe #2 - Healthy Chicken Pad Thai


  • 2 fresh medium-size zucchini
  • 2 fresh medium-size yellow squash
  • 1 bunch tatsoi leaves, sliced into thin strips
  • 2 tbsp. sesame oil, divided
  • 1⁄2 cup thin, match-stick carrot strips
  • 1 skinless chicken breast, cubed
  • 2 shallots or 1⁄2 small yellow onion, minced 1 tbsp. chopped garlic
  • 2 large eggs beaten
  • 3 cups bean sprouts
  • 2 green onion stalks
  • 1⁄4 cup chopped peanuts (optional)
  • 1⁄4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
  • Lime wedges for garnish

Sauce ingredients:

  • 1⁄2 cup stevia or monk fruit sweetener
  • 2 tsp. low sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tsp. fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp. lime juice
  • 2 tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. peanut butter
  • 1 tsp. chili paste or sriracha
  • 4-6 fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1⁄2 tsp. coriander powder
  • 1 tsp. fresh ginger, finely chopped
  • Black pepper to taste


  • Spiralize zucchini and yellow squash using blade for thicker “noodles”. Set aside.
  • Mix all sauce ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
  • Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large wok or non-stick skillet. Add chicken breast pieces and toss until cooked thoroughly. Remove from skillet and set aside.
  • Add the other 1 tablespoon oil to the pan and sauté carrots for about 1 minute. Remove carrots from pan and set aside.
  • Add onions and sauté until transparent. Add garlic and continue to sauté until fragrant. Add bean sprouts.
  • Pour beaten eggs to pan and cook until scrambled.
  • Add spiralized veggies and sauté until tender crisp, about 3 minutes. Add chicken back to pan, add green onions, tatsoi strips, and peanuts.
  • Mix sauce ingredients in a bowl and pour sauce over the veggie noodles. Continue to toss until thoroughly heated.
  • Serve with a sprinkle of chopped peanuts and cilantro on top if desired. Garnish with lime wedges.

Recipes created by: Maria Tucker, MPH, RDN, LDN, CDCES

BariMelts provides general recommendations, not to be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor.

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