Asia and the Pacific islands have given so many food plants to the world, it is almost impossible to count them all. The cooking process usually makes use of the freshest ingredients that are often cooked quickly to retain the best color and nutrition. Presentation is as important as the method of cooking and some of the prettiest plates are often Asian foods. Cooking is considered an art form in these regions. The area is so vast that there’s a wide range of climates and of course that means there is a wide range of fruits and vegetables that are considered Asian.

sliced taro root

The Pacific Islands gave many familiar foods to the world

Some of the well-known island foods would be papayas, coconuts, sweet potatoes, taro and bananas. The Pacific Island peoples had so many fresh fruits and fish from the sea, that the original diet was an extremely healthy one. Today, the island diets tend to consist of commercial, salt and fat-laden processed foods that contribute to a high diabetes and heart disease rate. There is a grass-roots movement among the people to return to the original, healthy foods of their ancestors. However, a number of agricultural companies are pushing genetically modified seeds and plants. Papayas and bananas are probably the most problematic, so searching for a clean source of plant material is sometimes difficult. Sow Exotic is a tropical plant and fruit nursery that specializes in all sorts of island goodness. You can even grow your own coffee or cashews, along with bananas, papayas, mangoes and star fruit. If you have the climate, or a way to keep these tender plants from freezing each winter, it is worth checking out. Taro only needs 200 frost-free days to mature, so with careful handling, it can survive further north. If you choose to plant it in a container, be aware that it needs a large one and constantly moist soil.

Get 10 pounds of taro roots to use in island recipes

pak choi

Asian vegetables are popular and full of nutrition

Asian vegetables have become increasingly popular over the past few years and most supermarkets carry at least a small selection. However, growing your own is healthier and much more gratifying. India gave the world eggplants and cucumbers. China gave the world peaches, mustard greens and bok choi. Japan gave the world radishes and the long, slender eggplants. Southeast Asia gave us lemongrass and bitter melon. All of these have spread throughout the area and are enjoyed by millions of people around the globe now. Many of these are easy to grow and if you wish to add some cultural authenticity to your table, why not give some of them a try. There are several small seed companies that specialize in Asian vegetables and they have been around for years. Kitazawa Seed company has been family owned for generations and offers many unique Asian seeds. I’ve been a customer of theirs for years and they always give great service. The Oishii Nippon Project offers unique Japanese seeds. Baker Creek Seeds offers a good Asian selection along with some unique and hard to find heirlooms. Seeds of India is a great place to start your collection of seeds popular in that country. There are many small seed vendors that offer unique seeds for many cultures, so do a little research to find the best ones for your family.

Grow lemongrass for an authentic taste of Asia

purple japanese eggplants

Asian greens and vegetables can be grown just about anywhere

Asian greens can be grown just about anywhere, even apartment balconies. Many vegetables are quite happy in containers. Eggplants do well in containers too. Just make sure you give them some sturdy support once the fruits appear. Some of the larger ones can overbalance a container and tip it over. Bitter melons are a popular vegetable in southeast Asia and do well in containers when a trellis is used. Just pinch the growing tips when they reach the top of the trellis to encourage branching and more fruit production. Lemongrass and basil flavor so many dishes and are both easy to grow. You can make an authentic vegetable stir-fry in just a few minutes and roasted eggplant is delicious. To roast eggplant, cut in small two inch chunks and toss with a liberal amount of olive oil and fresh ground black pepper. Roast at 450F for about 20 minutes and flip the vegetables, returning them to the oven for another 10 minute or so. They should be nicely browned around the edges and soft when forked. It is an extremely simple way to prepare eggplant and the vegetable goes well with chicken or pork.

Cook authentic recipes with this made in USA wok

bitter melon

Do a little research into your culture to see what fruits and vegetables are significant

However you connect with your eastern heritage, there are plants and seeds that can give you authentic meals. Whether you hail from Northern Asia, Indonesia, Southeast Asia, or even India could be included in this group, they share so many vegetables in common. The Pacific Islands have so many good fruits and if you can’t grow taro, there are all sorts of products you can purchase to enhance your meals. It is truly a treasure-trove of culturally significant foods that are healthy and easy to prepare. Educate your children so they are familiar with the foods of your ancestors. This will ensure that the chain of knowledge remains intact and available for future generations.

Taro chips, grown and processed in Hawaii make a great alternative to potato chips.

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