Friday, February 20, 2015

A Visual Guide to Asian Vegetables

Asian Vegetable Varietys

Melissa's Asian Essentials

Vegetables are not only fundamental to Chinese New Year but also to Chinese cuisine as a whole. People love to eat green, leafy vegetables at each meal because they’re not only incredibly healthy but also versatile in a vast number of recipes. When it comes to popular green Asian vegetables, we at Melissa’s have the best of the best from top quality growers. Let’s take a look at some of the Asian vegetables we’re offering that would be perfect for Chinese New Year and other Chinese-inspired dishes. We also have a wide variety of essentials for Chinese New Year including vegetables, tropical fruits, noodles and other great items to make tasty dishes for the holiday. 

1.  Petite Shanghai (recipe)
Don’t be confused by how similar Petite Shanghai looks as baby bok choy. Petite Shanghai is part of the bok choy family but are actually smaller than baby bok choy. However, what they do have in common is their delicious hint of sweetness once cooked. Their delicateness allows for them to blanch beautifully in soups and make a nice crunchy addition to stir-fry.
2.  Petite Baby Choy Sum (recipe)
How adorable does Petite Baby Choy Sum look? With a distinctly sweet but delicate mustard flavor, petite baby choy sum is popularly used in stir-fries and can withstand bold flavors such as chiles, garlic, spices and even citrus. And because they’re so small, they can be eaten whole. A great recipe for getting started with this awesome vegetable is our Petite Choy Sum Stir-Fry.
3.  Gai Lan aka Chinese Broccoli (recipe)
Gai lan, also known as Chinese Broccoli, is a favorite in Chinese cuisine. Gai lan has a similar flavor to regular broccoli, only slightly more bitter. It pairs wonderfully with oyster sauce and garlic because the flavors complement and offset the bitterness. For an easy yet flavorful side dish, check out our Gai Lan and Long Bean Stir Fry with Enoki Mushrooms.

Get the whole story about Gai Lan from Melissa's Produce and Chef Martin Yan by clicking HERE
4.  Napa Cabbage (recipe)
Originating from Beijing, China, Napa cabbage is commonly used in Asian cuisine. As a symbol of prosperity in China, what’s not to love about this exquisite vegetable during Chinese New Year? Napa cabbage is used extensively in stir-fry and hot pot and becomes wonderfully tender once cooked. And don’t forget about kimchi! Napa cabbage is the star of the show in the most popular kimchi, baechu kimchi.
5.  Bok Choy Leaves (recipe)
A deep green leafy vegetable that resembles Romaine lettuce on top and a large celery on the bottom, bok choy is a crucifer more closely related to cabbage. The entire vegetable can be used, and is often added raw to salads for a satisfying crunch. In soups, the leaves and stalks should be chopped and added separately, since the stalks take longer to cook.

Did you know; The name “bok choy” originated from the Chinese word for "soup spoon" because of the shape of its leaves.
6.  Chinese Eggplant (recipe)
Chinese Eggplant can be distinguished from other popular oriental eggplant varieties by its color and size. Chinese Eggplant is usually lavender or white and is even longer than the darker purple Japanese Eggplant. Although Chinese Eggplant is botanically a fruit, it’s more commonly used as a vegetable and resembles a small zucchini. Sweeter and more tender than regular eggplant, Melissa’s Chinese Eggplant has fewer, smaller seeds.
7.  Baby Bok Choy (recipe)
Tender and leafy, baby bok choy is an incredibly versatile vegetable. Whether stir-fried, braised, sautéed or steamed, this vegetable becomes more mild to reveal a just hint of sweetness. We love baby bok choy in a number of recipes but we like it simple the best. Sautéed with garlic, soy sauce and lemon juice, our Quick Lemony Baby Bok Choy Sauté is the perfect Chinese New Year’s side dish.
8.  Bitter Melon (recipe)
Grown as a fruit but used as a vegetable, the Bitter Melon is actually a member of the squash family. Resembling a long, bumpy cucumber, Bitter Melon can be found in Asian and East Indian cooking
This bitter or quinine flavor (a bitter alkaloid) is often combined with garlic or chile. Once thought to contain medicinal qualities, in some parts of China, Bitter Melon is still used to purify the blood and cool the digestive system
9.  Bok Choy (recipe)
One of the most famous vegetables found in Asian cuisine, bok choy is used extensively in a number of recipes. With a flavor similar to Swiss Chard or spinach, it’s no wonder this delightful vegetable is so beloved. Though the leaves are a bit spicy raw, once cooked, they release a mild sweetness. Try it with our Bok Choy and Shiitake Stir-fry Yakisoba.
10.  Chinese Long Bean (recipe)
Chinese Long Bean is part of the same plant family as the black-eyed pea. This edible pod actually resembles the green bean, although not as crisp.
In China, the Chinese Long Bean is sometimes left to grow 3 feet in length until peas have matured in the pod. Usually harvested at a foot long, this legume is quite thin with a slight black-eyed pea flavor.

And, if you don't have a Wok to cook these Asian items... no problem, Martin Yan shows you how to improvise!

Friday, February 13, 2015

5 Healthy Kids Lunch Tips & Ideas (Mon-Fri)

Are you on a mission to make lunches easier this year?  To not have lunch be an afterthought?  To not have the same thing over and over again?  To make a healthy lunch every day for your kids?  

Here are 5 Tips to make healthy and easy lunches this year:

Day 1 / Tip 1: 
Plan ahead.  Pre-prepare foods like Chicken and Hard Boiled Eggs that can be served cold and give your kids a shot of protein for their day.

In this Bentgo box:
Hard Boiled Egg
1/2 Avocado
San Marzano Tomatoes
Cubed Jicama

Day 2 / Tip 2: 
Switch things up and offer variety.  Think of the lunchbox as a meal on a plate, with protein, complex crabs, fresh produce and a wholesome treat on the side

In this Bentgo box:
Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich
Crystallized Ginger
Kishu Mandarins
Green Dragon Apples

Day 3 / Tip 3: 
Prep leftovers during dinner clean-up to be ready for lunch the next day. Cut left over vegetables into cubes or strips and put them in your Bentgo Lunch box.

In this Bentgo box:
Diced Red and Yellow Bell Peppers
Sliced and Rolled Ham

Day 4 / Tip 4: 
Bump up the color. Bright colors are the easiest way to increase the “wow” factor in your child’s lunch.  It’s fun, inviting and, better yet, nutritious when the color comes from all-natural foods such as carrots, cucumbers, edamame, cherry tomatoes and strawberries.

In this Bentgo box:
Sliced and Rolled Turkey
Shelled Edamame
Cherry Tomatoes
Kishu Mandarins (could sub for Pixie Tangerines)

Day 5 / Tip 5: 
Try using healthy snacks and dried fruit that you could buy in bulk (or packaged) for quick and tasty sides.

In this Bentgo box:
1 Whole Sliced Bell Pepper
Dried Pineapple Chunks
Dried Blueberries
San Marzano tomatoes

A special thank you to Bentgo for these beautiful and convenient lunch boxes!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Truth About Gai Lan

Kai-lan (also written as gai-lan) is the Cantonese name for a vegetable that is also known as Chinese broccoli or Chinese kale.  Gai lan has dark green leaves, slender stalks and small white flowers. It is leafier, thinner and sharper in flavor than traditional green broccoli.

Gai Lan photo
photo via

Both Broccoli and Gai-Lan originated from the species, Brassica oleracea, which is the species of plant that includes many common foods as cultivars, including cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, savoy, kohlrabi and Chinese kale.  Brassica oleracea is native to coastal southern and western Europe. Its tolerance of salt and lime and its intolerance of competition from other plants typically restrict its natural occurrence to limestone sea cliffs, like the chalk cliffs on both sides of the English Channel. [1]

What you need to know about Gai Lan [2]:

Buying and Storing Gai Lan
Choose heads with full, dark green leaves and fresh stalks. Avoid any brown spots which may indicate decay.

How to Store Gai Lan
Store unwashed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Nutrition Benefits of Gai Lan
Fat free, saturated fat free, cholesterol free, low in sodium, an excellent source of vitamins A and C, and a good source of iron and calcium

How is Gai Lan different from Broccoli?  

We asked Martin Yan and this is what he had to say...

Gai Lan recipe ideas:

Wonton Soup with Gai Lan recipe photo
Wonton Soup with Gai Lan

Garlicky Coconut Gai Lan recipe photo
Garlicky Coconut Gai Lan 


[1]  Snogerup, S., Gustafsson, M., & Von Bothmer, R. (1990). Brassica sect. Brassica (Brassicaceae) I. Taxonomy and variation. Willdenowia, 271-365

[2]  Melissa's Great Book of Produce, Page 188-189

Monday, January 12, 2015

Why We Love Food Facts (And You Should, Too!)

The Super Bowl is more than just a game - it's an experience filled with football, food, beer, music, celebrities, and more. It's the ultimate in entertainment and the single most watched sporting event in the US.  On top of that, it's the second largest day in the US for food consumption!

We've taken the liberty to  share  seven Super Bowl food stats that  can  help you win Jeopardy or simply  impress your friends this Super Bowl.  You're Welcome.

1) Chicken Wings : There may be concerns of a chicken wing shortage, but expect more than 1.23 billion wing portions to be consumed during Super Bowl weekend. 

2) Ranch Dressing : Move over bleu cheese.  Almost 57 percent of Americans who eat chicken wings say they like to dip their wings ranch dressing, according to a new National Chicken Council poll.  Only about 35 percent go for the bleu cheese dressing –unless you live in Northeast, where it’s nearly 50 percent.

3) Pizza : Super Bowl Sunday is the busiest day of the year for pizza restaurants, according to the National Restaurant Association.  In fact, chains Papa John’s, Pizza Hut and Domino’s will sell twice as many pies as they do on any other day.


4) Potato Chips : Wings and pizza are the two most popular Super Bowl snacks, but potato chips are close behind. Some 11 million pounds of chips are expected to be consumed on Sunday, as well as an estimated 4 million pounds of pretzels and 2.5 million pounds of nuts.


5) Avocado : Luckily avocado is a Super Food, because 69.6 million pounds of avocados are consumed on Super Bowl, according to the Hass Avocado Board.

     How to Make Great Guacamole: 

6) Popcorn : Get popping.  Americans will eat about 3.8 million pounds of popcorn while watching the big game, according to the Calorie Control Council.

7) Hamburgers : The Super Bowl is second-biggest grilling weekend of the year --the 4th of July is first.  Some 14 billion hamburgers will be served up at parties across the country.  

Facts source: Fox News

Friday, January 9, 2015

Gluten Free Chicken Pot Pie

Gluten Free Chicken Pot Pie

Broccoli & Cheddar Chicken Pot Pie

This twist on a classic casserole offers a refreshing change from what
usually comes to mind when we think of pot pie. Here, we make use of a
couple of other recipes from the book. First, the “cream of” soup makes
a rich, yet delicate sauce, then, you can choose from a Buttermilk Biscuit
topping, or a flaky pastry topping using my Food Processor Pastry Crust
(minus the sugar for a savory crust). This recipe is a great example of
how a few base recipes can really transform your mealtimes and make
gluten-free living a breeze! Feel free to substitute vegetables or protein
of your choice to make this recipe entirely your own. This is a terrific
way to use leftover roasted chicken.

Recipe on page 144 of The Gluten Free Solution by Gluten Free Gigi

Gluten Free Pot Pie recipe

3 cups broccoli florets, lightly steamed (or one 12-ounce bag frozen
broccoli florets, lightly steamed)
2 cups diced, cooked potatoes (I use Melissa’s Produce Baby Dutch
Yellow potatoes for this dish for extra-creamy texture and buttery
2 cups cooked, diced or shredded chicken
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese (substitute Daiya dairy-free cheddar
shreds for dairy-free)
1 small yellow onion, diced
½ Tablespoon oil
¼ cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
2 Tablespoons clementine or orange juice
1 Recipe Cream of Mushroom Soup*
1 Recipe Buttermilk Biscuits* (prepared and cut into biscuits, but not
Butter (or dairy-free butter substitute), for brushing top of biscuit

*To make this recipe Gluten Free, order the Gluten Free Solution and reference the Cream of Mushroom Soup and Buttermilk Biscuit recipes

Toss broccoli, potatoes, chicken and cheese together in a large bowl;
set aside.
Preheat oven to 375F and lightly grease a large casserole (11x7-inch or
In a skillet, heat oil and cook diced onion until it begins to become
tender, about 3 minutes. Add stock, tarragon, salt, garlic powder and
clementine juice and stir occasionally, cooking until onion is tender.
Add onion to broccoli/chicken mixture, then stir in Cream of
Mushroom Soup gently just until the mixture looks uniform.
Spoon mixture into prepared casserole, then top with biscuit dough
Bake 20-30 minutes, until biscuits are golden brown and mixture
Remove from oven and cool about 10 minutes before serving.

Friday, December 26, 2014

6 Lucky Foods to Eat for New Year's

For many Americans, January 1st offers an opportunity to forget the past and make a clean start. Often represented by promises and resolutions, this year, instead of leaving everything up to fate, why not give yourself a fighting chance with a meal enriched with good fortune?  There are many foods that are believed to be lucky and to improve the odds that next year will be better than the last.  Traditions also vary from culture to culture, but there are some interesting similarities in what's consumed in throughout the world, in relation to good luck/good fortune.

There are six major categories of "Lucky foods," grapes, greens, fish, pork, legumes, and cakes.  Here is our list of the foods people traditionally eat for luck on New Year's Eve, that are believed to bring a year of prosperity and good health.

Fruit: Grapes
On New Year's Eve, Mexicans pop a grape for each stroke of midnight, with each representing a page of the calendar ahead. If one is bitter, watch out for that month!

Supposedly greens are eaten on New Year's Eve because they resemble money. Try this Bruschetta with Swiss Chard, Pine Nuts and Currants recipe

Bruschetta with Swiss Chard, Pine Nuts and Currants

Beans, like greens, resemble money; more specifically, they symbolize coins. Whether you choose black beans, lentils, or black-eyes peas, healthy fiber-filled beans will help soak up that champagne. Try: Blackeyed Pea Salsa Fresca
Blackeyed Pea Salsa Fresca

Noodles and Grains
Noodles are symbols of long life, and grains like rice, quinoa, and barley stand for abundance. Slurp the noodles whole for even more luck. Try: Noodle Pancake with Seafood Sauce

Pigs are a lucky symbol because they root forward, and are rotund. Traditionally, in the American South, pork, beans, and greens are combined in a dish called Hoppin' John for New Year's Eve. Try: Citrus Barbecue Pork Chops

Ring shaped cakes—sometimes with trinkets baked inside—are a symbol of coming full circle. Indulge a little with the delicious chocolate recipe below. Try: Ginger Cake with Apricot Sticky Sauce
Ginger Cake with Apricot Sticky Sauce


We can't forget about Chinese New Year, here are some lucky Chinese foods and what they symbolize for CNY.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Top 8 Food & Beverage Trends for 2015

Featured article from Mareya Ibrahim, The Fit Foodie
"From meals to snacks, veggies to bevvies, the outlook for the 2015 looks cold and colorful, fungus-filled and crawling with crickets"


This isnt a scene out of a 60s hallucination. Mushrooms are getting unearthed for their powerhouse composition, richness in B vitamins, minerals, digestibility and low calories but they are getting more and more popular for their ability to mimic meat texture and possibly help with lower glycemic responses, according to a 2014 study by the University of Buffalo. In 2015, expect to see more mushroom blends on menus and in products, and even in school lunches where pilot programs, like one in Cincinnati, helped prove the case that kids are happy to dig into a shroom burger. Mushroom blend consumption will increase for its deft ability to blend into meat mixtures seamlessly to boost nutrient density while lowering calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium and cost. Youll also see more varieties take the limelight, including shiitake and oyster mushrooms for their culinary contributions and a magical substance called Beta-glucans, which is said to boost immunity and help with allergy resistance.

more mushroom varieties here...


With the ongoing double-digit growth in organics, the trend is also spilling into your cocktail and wine glass, too. Cultivated without the use of chemical pesticides, preservatives or flavors, consumers are becoming just as conscientious about what they imbibe as what they eat. Organic wine is getting better, beer and cider companies are getting on board, and organic spirits are now available in most categories, including vodka, gin, liqueurs, whiskey, tequila and rum.


The trend in bevvies has gone cold, proving that its not just about the product. its the process, too. Cold-pressed juices and coffee are hot no pun intended where flavor and nutrient density rein king. When it comes to juices, cold-pressed varieties claim to keep more of the enzymes and vitamins intact that usually get eradicated with traditional heat packaged varieties. Suja, named #3 in Forbes Most Promising Companies in 2014, is driving a surge in the category with its line of organic & cold-pressured juices, smoothies & teas sprouting up at Whole Foods across the country. Juice Press, which markets its line of cold-pressed juices, smoothies and coffee ships everyone in the US from their website, sprang from the 21+ popular café locations in NYC.


Flesh-free alternatives will continue to show up on menus and in school cafeterias everywhere, but there will be a shift in what those substitutes are made from as the industry seeks ways to satiate the more than 100 million Americans turning to more vegetarian and vegan meals, according to a Harris Interactive Study.

Brands like Beyond Meat make their soy-free “Beyond Beef” crumbles from non-GMO pea protein isolate, among other ingredients. The company has an impressive investor backing, including the one and only Bill Gates, so you know theyre onto something big. I tasted the Beyond Beef crumbles at the California School Nutrition Association Convention this past week and couldnt help but thinking how all those unsuspecting kids would have no idea that their sloppy joes were made mostly from pea protein. More veggies on their plates! adds Ibrahim.



The FDA allows a certain amount of insect parts in your packaged goods, but some manufacturers are featuring them as their star ingredient. The industry is literally hopping with cricket powder, getting popular for their nutrient density, inexpensive nature and low-on-the-food-chain environmentally conscious status. Youll find this in brands like Chapul bars, made popular on the show The Shark Tank, with the selling points that cricket powder has 15% more iron than spinach, 2 times more protein than beef and as much vitamin B12 as salmon.


The Paleo push has given way to a lot of new products that are protein rich, especially snacks. The fact is, with 2/3rds of the US population deemed overweight or obese, manufacturers will keep pushing on better-for-you convenience foods using higher protein content to balance out carbs and sugar.


Weve seen the industry fall in love with one superfruit after another from pomegranates to acai, goji to mangosteen, boasting their ORAC levels like sports team statistics. In 2015, look for the next superhero fruit Baobab pronounced bowbab, which outperformed all of the other tested superfruits in recent ORAC rankings performed by Brunswick Laboratories.


Kale has been the darling of the veggie world for the last few years, graduating from homely garnish to the star of Michelin ranked plates. Now, for 2015, which green will hail queen? Melissas Produce in Los Angeles is predicting a rainbow based on recent year-over-year growth, including mini sweet peppers, Sunflowerchokes, Kalettes (aka kale sprouts) and Romanesco. Colorful veggies, including chard, carrots and cauliflower in vibrant pink, green, purple and peach hues, will also get very popular as they elevate the appearance of finished dishes. We eat with our eyes first, so its no wonder these colorful characters are getting more attention, comments produce guru, Robert Schueller, Director of PR for Melissas Produce.