I love shopping at the local market. In fact there’s a fabulous one in my hood at Jalan Tua Kong and Raymond, the stall owner is a true connoisseur of local ingredients who takes the time to explain how best to cook it. I’ve made some of best my stir-fries inspired by him!
So next time you go shopping for groceries, why not try the local market instead? Not only is it cheaper and fresher, you may come across some interesting finds that will inspire you to experiment and create new dishes!
Sweet potato leaves
There are so many different types of leafy greens: Chinese cabbage, spinach, bok choy and different kinds of lettuces are out and about in all the markets, all of which are generally great sources of vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, folic acid and potassium. Something I discovered recently is sweet potato leaves, which looks a little bit like baby spinach and is often overlooked with the wide array of greens available here. But apart from being tasty, this simple vegetable is packed with nutrition, being the only vegetable with Iodine, a common substance found in seafood. It’s an excellent source of vitamin A, C and calcium, making it a great food for pregnant women and breastfeeding mums. Try stir-frying the leaves in garlic, chilli and soy sauce for a quick and tasty dish or add some tom yam paste for extra flavor.
Chilli padi (or bird’s eye chilli)
These little babies sure pack in a great punch, and is my all-time favourite ingredient. I use it in Asian as well as Western cooking, and it adds great flavour to a simple aglio olio or penne arrabiata. For an amazing tomato salsa that goes with everything, finely chop cherry tomatoes, coriander and chilli padi, then mix in a pinch of sugar, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a glug of extra-virgin olive oil. As for the health benefits, chillis are loaded with vitamin A, a potent antioxidant and boost to the immune system. Some even claim that tea spiced with chilli is the next new weight-loss program!
Jicama (commonly known as bengkuang)
Jicama is a large, bulbous root vegetable. It has a tough brown skin which should be peeled before eating or cooking. Inside, the flesh is white, wet and crunchy, similar to a raw potato. The flavour is slightly sweet and a little nutty and it tastes good both raw and cooked. In Singapore, jicama is widely used in Chinese rojak, adding a crunchy, sharp bite to this popular salad. Add julienned jicama, carrot and cucumber to some sliced onion and coriander for an Asian coleslaw. Dress with olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice and bit of chilli padi for extra kick!
This vegetable has many nutritional benefits. It’s rich in vitamin C and is therefore a good antioxidant and keeps your immune system healthy. It also helps lower blood pressure, is great for detox purposes, and is said to have a calming effect! Also easy to use, celery tastes great in fresh juices, soups, salads and even stir-fries.
This is a funky-looking piece of ginger that looks like it might be alive! Don’t let its weird appearance put you off; it’s extremely aromatic and a little bit goes a long way. Blend some of this into your regular spice paste to take your curry to the next level. Finely grate it to add some zing to your salad dressing. The benefits are numerous: anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, improves blood circulation, helps cure diarrhoea and a rich source of vitamins A &C, iron and sodium.