4 Asian Ingredients to Add to Your Cooking Arsenal

Gomen Ramen’s Yuoko Yamamoto handpicks her top four health foods to scout for at Asian markets.


If the sheer volume of interesting and enticing ingredients leaves you at a loss when you get to the markets, you’ll want to keep this short produce guide handy. Yuoko Yamamoto of Kingston’s forthcoming Gomen Ramen has provided loose cooking instructions, and notes that all of these ingredients qualify as ‘Yakushoku’ (medicine food).


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Nira (Chives)

These are wide, flat chives with a mild garlic taste. Yamamoto sketches out a recipe for the Japanese dish Reba Nira: “Cut up chicken livers into small pieces and marinate with ginger juice, chopped garlic, soy sauce, sake, and salt for about an hour. Then cook the livers for a moment before adding the marinating juice. When the livers are about done you add chopped nira chives, soy sauce, sake, and just before removing from heat, sesame oil and rayu (chili oil).

Nira was known in ancient Chinese herbal medicine for boosting energy levels, regulating hemorrhages, and aiding ailments of the liver, kidneys, and digestive tract, among other uses. They are high in vitamins A and C, fiber, carotene, riboflavin, thiamine, iron, calcium, and potassium.


Daikon Radish

This long, white, pungent radish is used widely in Japanese and other Asian cuisines. Yamamoto recommends making Furofuki Daikon. She describes the process: “Peel the daikon and cut it into one-inch pieces, then boil it for ten minutes in water with about ten grains of rice. Then dump that water and simmer it again with fresh water and a piece of Kombu (about 2”x5”). On the side, make a miso sauce from miso paste, sake, and dashi (the base for many Japanese soups and sauces) from the Kombu. Serve the miso sauce over the daikon radish with rice.”

Daikon aids digestion and protects against cancer, strengthening the immune system and cleansing the blood. It is high in vitamin C, potassium, and phosphorus.

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Shiitake Mushroom

Adobe Stock / Gresei


Dried Shiitake Mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms can be found in just about any grocery store these days, but these Asian grocers have a large selection of dried ones that can be used in a variety of soups, stir fries, and more. Yamamoto recommends rehydrating them and using the resulting umami-filled liquid as dashi. The rehydrated shiitakes can be sliced and used in stir fry, or diced and cooked with scallions and ginger in a fried rice, she tells us.

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Shiitake mushrooms contain an ingredient that is known to have cancer-preventing properties. It is also said to abate the symptoms of HIV and inhibit the spread of leukemia cells.


Gobo (Burdock Root)

This arm’s-length, skinny, pale root vegetable doesn’t fit easily into any shopping bag that has been invented yet, but when you get it home, it pays off. It is mild and earthy-tasting. Yamamoto recommends scrubbing it with a flat knife or steel wool (her usual method) rather than peeling it, as it oxidizes quickly. Once cleaned, julienne it alongside carrots for a stir fry with vegetable oil, soy sauce, sake, roasted sesame oil, sesame seeds, something sweet like apple cider, and a meat if you like.

Burdock root has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial properties. In Chinese medicine, it is used to treat sore throats and colds and has high levels of fiber, minerals, and potassium.

Related: Everyone Should Know These 5 Vegetarian Cooking Tips

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