It took me years before I discovered that there is an Asian market right in the heart of Rome. Exactly 13 years if I can be precise. All those years, my cravings for the Philippine dishes I grew up with had to be completely ignored because I had no other choice but to get on with life without looking back. I looked forward and that was where I had a total immersion with Italian food. It's what my family eats and it is what I prepare at home. Sometimes, I push it substituting ingredients that I find at the supermarkets but it's never the same.
Whenever a plan to visit the Philippines comes up, my restrained gastronomical cravings for Filipino food take on an intense new life. That only means one thing - I would bother my Mom (when she was still around) and my siblings to prepare some Filipino dishes that I had been craving for months, sometimes even years. It takes patience and understanding to deal with my insistent requests. Yes, I can be a handful when I put my mind into food, especially the ones that I miss. And the good news is that in about 6 months, I will be back in the Philippines to chomp on what else? Filipino food and more Filipino food.
While my list of food to eat while I am there is growing (incredibly, yes, I do have an active list in my computer now), my appetite is also growling. If pictures and thoughts can make me gain weight, I would be very big by the time I arrive there in June.
When I was asked by my editor to make a big salad showcasing as much Asian vegetables as I can, I was both excited and overwhelmed. My husband offered to pass by the Asian market and buy the ingredients. He was armed with my list with some vegetables that he can barely pronounce. I wrote them in 3 languages - Filipino, English and Italian, to be sure that he gets them right.
With a little bit of help from fellow shoppers, he got everything in the list stuffed in 3 plastic bags. Apparently, he was so keen in getting everything in the list but without thinking much of the amount that he took home. We had three full bags of vegetables to finish. Now it's time to show you what I came up with.
Asian Vegetable Salad
Mostly blanched, these vegetables can be enjoyed with their true flavors without any coverup of other ingredients that can overpower their tastes. Usually, the vegetables that I used in this salad are used for different kinds of vegetable dishes but since this is a recipe about getting to know the different kinds of Asian vegetables, I think that this is the best way to get to know them well.
Shrimp Paste Dressing
Shrimp paste is made of fermented krill or tiny shrimp and it is very pungent both in taste and in smell. Its saltiness is very prominent too so mixing it with calamansi lemons, regular lemons or lime is a must. You can also add chilis too if you want it on the hot side. This dressing doesn't go well with the plantains and peanuts so don't use them in the salad if using this dressing.
Asian Dressing / Sweet Soy-Lime Asian Dressing
Both Asian and Sweet Soy-Lime Asian Dressing are similar to each other with slight differences in ingredients. Both feature the main sauces common in Asian cooking which are soy sauce and fish sauce.
Banana Heart Salad with Coconut Milk Dressing
There is a traditional Filipino dish with the banana heart cooked in coconut milk and it is one of my favorite vegetable dishes. Banana hearts are not everyday ingredients so the classic vegetable dish is not always present on the tables. It is one of the dishes I ask my family to cook whenever I am visiting. In this case, I made it into a salad dish by blanching the banana heart and cooking the coconut milk separately, but still sticking to the original flavors of the classic dish and making it into a rich salad.
Green Mango Salad
This is probably the king of all salads in the Philippines. It's a super classic that always leave everyone salivating. Green mangoes (not necessarily green sometimes) are unripe mangoes thus they are very sour. It is mixed with shrimp paste to give contrast to its sourness. Like most dishes in the Philippines, flavor contrasts play a big role making them all tasty. This is usually paired with grilled seafood. And if you want to know, this is my favorite salad.
To get all the recipes of these 3 Asian Vegetable Salads and 3 Kinds of Dressings, please go to She Knows where I create different kinds of recipes. Check out my Profile Page there to see what can interest you in cooking. I hope I enlightened you a bit about some of the Asian vegetables. Next time you encounter them in the Asian market, try them out.