The Thai cuisine is an amalgamation of flavours and ingredients from around Asia. The vegetables used in Thai cooking are unique and lend distinct flavours to any dish. But, with a wide variety of vegetables to choose from, how do you figure out what goes well with what?
We’re here to help you discover the different Thai vegetables, their uses and benefits so that you can take your Thai dishes up a notch.
Also known as silk gourd, silk squash or Chinese okra, this dark green vegetable has angular ridges down its length. It has a very mild taste, similar to cucumber, and can be used in its place in most cooked dishes. The gourds are eaten young, while they are still sweet. They become unpleasantly bitter as they mature. Loofah is used in stir-fries and soups or served lightly steamed as a relish accompaniment. It is often boiled and eaten with Nam Phrik.
Tip: While purchasing buap liam, check for freshness by snapping the fin with your fingers. A crisp snap implies freshness, while a soft fin is older and can be avoided.
Bamboo shoots are the crisp, mild-flavoured, ivory shoots of the bamboo plant. This is a popular ingredient in Thai cooking and can be purchased from general stores and markets. They are sold in various processed shapes, and are available in fresh, dried, and canned versions and can be used in stir-fries, soups such as Tom Kha Kai, curries such as Kaeng Tai Pla, as well as Thai salads. Bamboo shoots are not only delicious but are also rich in nutrients, and rank among the five most popular healthcare foods in the world. In Japan, the bamboo shoot is called the King of Forest Vegetables.
Tip: Before using, the skin is peeled and the inner white part is boiled for 30 minutes. The canned variety needs to be boiled for only 10 minutes.
Also called banana blossoms, these are the tender hearts of unopened banana flowers, which have been stripped of their purple petals. They can be found fresh, canned or dried in some Asian markets and are used in northern Thailand to make a tasty, squash soup. They are also a popular salad ingredient, tasting similar to artichokes.
Tip: Fresh banana buds discolour rapidly once they are sliced or shredded. Brush them with lemon juice to prevent this.
These delicate, sweet flavoured mushrooms acquired their name due to the method of cultivation – on beds of straw. They are the most popular variety of mushroom in Thai cooking and are used extensively in soups, salads and curries, and taste particularly good with prawns and crab meat. Canned straw mushrooms are widely available in Asian stores and many supermarkets. They have neither the exquisite flavour nor the texture of the fresh mushrooms, but work well as a substitute.
Tip: Fresh straw mushrooms are highly perishable and so are not often available in the West. If you do locate them, use them soon after purchase.
Lotus root is an underwater root that grows to about four feet. The root is dark reddish brown and needs to be peeled prior to using. The flesh is a creamy white and tastes similar to coconut. Lotus root is available canned, dried or candied and can be used as a vegetable or in dessert dishes. Almost all the parts of the plant: root, young flower stalks, and seeds are employed in Thai cuisine.
Tip: To preserve the snowy white color of lotus root, drop the cut slices in an acidulated water bath and let them soak for a while. This has the added benefit of removing any potential bitter aftertaste.
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