Las week I had to buy some Yanang leafs as I was cooking authentic Isaan food for this weekend. It struck me that I have come a long way since that first trembling attempt at buying fresh imported vegetables a few years back.
On the subject of import I must say that I am not really one of those organic and locally produced health nuts that demand local dirt on their local vegetables- But I do enjoy locally sourced vegetables. Sustainability is important and I urge all of my visitors to but local and buy fresh if you have the privilege to do so.
Let’s just get one thing straight before we go any further. Asian vegetables or not, you will never be able to replicate the dish you had in Asia or Southeast Asia when you get back home. I guarantee that even countless attempts will end up in utter failure. My theory is that it has a lot to do with the ambience and vibe you had when you first tried your dish of choice in e.g. Thailand.
I remember when I tried countless times to recreate that 20฿t Papaya salad with fermented fish sauce I had in Bangkok. Let’s just say I spent 20 times more and almost had a personal crisis, totally not worth the effort.
However staying safe when cooking with Asian vegetables and herbs is way more important than rambling about prices. Remember that the vegetables you are buying may require special attention or preparation in order to be safe for consumption. I have a few brief pointers, but you are best off asking the staff at your local Asian food market for advice.
1. Clean your vegetables, fruits and herbs before consumption
Why? You need to remove pesticide residue and rehydrate your product. Vegetables, fruit and herbs produced in Asia are highly likely to contain a lot more pesticide than products grown in the west. There have been cases where banned pesticides have been used to produce vegetables destined for export in certain Asian countries, so practice caution!
The best way to clean your product is to fill a large tub with water and leave you vegetables for 20 minutes. Next, rinse a couple of times with fresh water. Your final step is to submerge your product in cold water for another 20 minutes.
Some vegetables and herbs will also require that you wipe them thoroughly with a white vinegar and water solution before consumption. Again this is to remove pesticide residue, bacteria and dirt.
If your product still has a unnatural waxy surface layer or if your product has got what appears to be white semi-translucent stains I would advise you to discard it. Strange stains are usually a sign of pesticide residue.
2. Peel your fruits and rinse them under cold water before consumption
This statement comes with a saving clause though- Some products can actually be toxic if consumed uncooked also some products can be bad for you if you are on certain medications. Remember to do some research, ideally before your purchase is made.
I personally stay away from imported fruit and vegetables from Asia unless I can peel them before I eat them. The peel will protect your product from being exposed to contaminated water, bugs and pesticide.
Remember hearing about flooding in Asia with sewage water leaking out onto the streets? Some of it could possibly end up on your vegetables so make sure that you check which country your product was grown and processed in. Certain fruits and vegetables are not suitable to consume raw depending on season. This statement especially applies to aquatic vegetables.
3. Cook your vegetables over high heat before consumption
Never try to make a fresh raw salad or snack using imported Asian vegetables. Some vegetables require cooking in order to kill off bacteria such as salmonella which has been found over and over in bean sprouts imported from Asia. Parasites also present a reason for concern, therefore all aquatic vegetables must always be cooked.
For instance Thai people will always cook certain types of vegetables. There are some products which are never consumed raw or semi-raw. Do your homework before trying out a new vegetable for your salad. Once again, ask at your local Asian food market.
4. Keep the original packaging if you are handling an unfamiliar product
This is a bit overkill, but to stay on the safe side you would be best off keeping the original packaging. If experience symptoms of food poisoning or sickness you can at least show the label to the doctor so they know what you have consumed and how to trace it back to its source.
5. Use common sense
Check the labels for country of origin, special conditions, cooking advice, cleaning advice, customs stamps, parcel id’s and such. Always make sure that the product is traceable back to its source and origin.
If something smells of ammonia, has got weird looking stains or smells of chemicals you should discard it. If you are not certain about the smell or taste you should consult your point of purchase.
Finally, remember to stay safe out there.
…But do not remember to explore and have fun in the kitchen!