If you’ve enjoyed a few Japanese meals, such as sushi, stir-fries or soups, chances are you’ve come across some of the more common Asian vegetables often featured in such dishes. These might include edamame, daikon radish, shiso and shiitake mushrooms, to name a few. But there are plenty of other Japanese vegetables you might have yet to try, and quite possibly have never even heard of.
The following Japanese vegetables might not always be easy to find, but an Asian grocery is definitely a good place to start. Look for these vegetables and discover more about the fascinating healthy ingredients that are a huge part of Japanese cuisine.
You might be more familiar with the common name of burdock root. And what is considered a weed in America is actually a popular ingredient of Asian recipes. When cooked, burdock root is crunchy, with a mild flavor that can be used to complement soups and rice dishes. It can also be enjoyed on its own, shredded and seasoned with soy sauce, mirin and sesame oil.
Although gobo is actually considered more of an herb than a vegetable, it makes a great addition to a vegetarian diet, and is also extremely healthy. From helping to regulate blood pressure to aiding digestion to helping detoxify the liver, gobo is just another reason why residents of Japan are some of the healthiest in the world.
Also referred to as a Japanese pumpkin, kabocha is a winter squash and can be prepared in many ways. Appearing as a pumpkin with green skin (yet orange flesh), kabocha is sweet and flavorful, somewhat similar to a sweet potato in both texture and taste.
You may have already tried kabocha and not realized it, thinking it was pumpkin or sweet potato in a tempura dish. It can also be stir-fried, simmered, baked, roasted and slow-cooked for a stew or curry. You can even roast the seeds!
3. Japanese Taro
Japanese taro often makes an appearance in tempura dishes in many Japanese restaurants. You can also find taro chips in some bags of gourmet potato chips. There are many varieties of taro, and the taste and texture of cooked taro and potato are somewhat similar. However, taro tends to be a bit richer and slightly sweeter in flavor, and is much healthier as well. Packed with fiber, iron, vitamin C, potassium and vitamin A, taro makes a great addition to a regular diet.
Taro can be made in many ways, just like potatoes. Boil it, simmer, roast, fry or mash it. Just be sure to cook it before eating it — raw taro is toxic!
4. Maitake Mushrooms
While shiitake mushrooms are much more common in America, you would be doing yourself a favor by seeking out maitake mushrooms. Also known as “hen of the woods” mushrooms, these frilled mushrooms have a strong woodsy flavor, and are best prepared drizzled with olive oil or sesame oil, salt and pepper, and then sauteed or grilled. They can also be baked or made into a tea, and studies have shown that they have cancer-fighting properties, among other great health benefits!
5. Shishito Peppers
These Japanese peppers are a favorite pepper of Japanese chefs. They are sweet, mildly bitter, and not very spicy (although an occasional hot pepper can surprise you!). The finger-sized peppers are often served as a bar snack in Japan. They can be grilled, fried and baked, as well as added to soups, stews and tempura dishes. You can even make stuffed shishito peppers!
Of course, this is just a small sampling of the many Japanese vegetables that you can seek out to try!