Ingredient Insights: Daikon, Lemongrass, Garlic, and Fish Sauce


It’s Sunday, it’s early (at least, for me), I’m still feeling wine-drunk from last night, and it’s time for Ingredient Insights.

As you may have noticed by now, we’re doing a month full of Viet-Chinese dishes that I’ve grown up eating, but with a modern twist, NEOH-style. Here’s where the daikon, lemongrass, and fish sauce come into play. Garlic’s such a broad and versatile ingredient that it’s just a nice touch to all the dishes.

Kick off your shoes and get comfy, because we’re about to find out how daikon keeps the doctors away, how to get rid of hangovers with lemongrass, chuckle over some vampire jokes, and learn how fish sauce is made!


Daikon:

If you’ve ever had daikon, chances are, it’s pickled and served as a side dish (like this one) or as a garnish – rarely would you find it cooked within a dish.

Daikon is a pretty large white radish that grows in Southeast and East Asia during the winter. It eliminates bacteria and pathogens, which helps keep the respiratory system well-functioning, it helps detoxify and keep the kidneys clean, and it contains two very important enzymes:

  1. Diastase – helps improve digestion and relieve heartburns and hangovers
  2. Isothiocyanates – helps improve the circulation of blood and prevent clots from forming. Also supplies the daikon with its slight peppery flavor.

Tired of eating oranges for vitamin C? Eat the daikon’s leaves. It may not taste as sweet and yummy as oranges, but it’s one of the richest sources of vitamin C, and it’s just another option for… ya know… whenever you get bored.

You’d think that daikon originated from Asia, but it’s actually from the Mediterranean, but spread to Southeast & East Asian countries around 500 B.C. because of how highly valuable it became.

Now guess what this big root’s name is translated into in Japanese…
Big root.
Yeah, daikon = “big root.”
Shocker!

You would usually find daikon already pickled alongside carrots in many Vietnamese dishes, hence, we made this easy recipe. But if you want to try to conquer and devour the radish your own way, your best chance would be to check a local Asian market.

As an old Chinese proverb goes, “Eating pungent radish and drinking hot tea, let the starved doctors beg on their knees.”


Lemongrass:

Let me set this straight, Lemongrass and Lemongrab are two completely different things. One is a tall, medicinal herb, native to India, that carries a unique, citrusy smell and flavor. And the other screams “UNACCEPTABLEEE!!!

(huge props to those who got that joke – give yourself two pats on the back)

To be honest, I hated lemongrass growing up. It’s tough to chew, it gets stuck in your teeth, the flavor’s too strong, the list goes on. And then I grew up; I started to learn that lemongrass is a popular ingredient in Vietnamese cooking and that my taste buds have developed to enjoy its unique flavor. Maybe my grandma’s been sneaking it into every dish she’s cooked.

Now I’ve learned that lemongrass is an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal herb that’s full of, not just essential vitamins (i.e. A, B1, B2, B3, B6), but also minerals, zinc, iron, copper, potassium, and calcium! Lemongrass was actually used to treat fevers in India for hundreds of years. Don’t sleep on lemongrass!

These days, you could easily find lemongrass oil or make lemongrass tea (so you don’t have to deal with its woody texture), and use it to calm down nerves and help you get a good night’s sleep. You could use lemongrass oil as a preservative or as a mosquito repellent, and you could drink lemongrass tea – which contains diuretic properties – to pee out all the body’s toxins, boost recovery in spasms & muscle cramps, and prevent/cure anemia.

Head over to either a local Asian market (where you’ll find whole lemongrass stalks) or a major grocery store (to find prepped and packaged lemongrass stalks), bring those babies home, finely chop it up and cook it into your next lunch or dinner for a kick in the health.

And you know that throbbing in your head when you get headaches or when you’re hungover? I know, late night drinks and early morning shifts. Brew up some lemongrass tea and that should do the trick! You’re welcome.


Garlic:

What do you call a person with a fear of garlic?
A vampire.
Just kidding, it’s a person with alliumphobia.

Garlic’s family is quite large, being that it’s related to onions, shallots, and leeks. You know who’s family isn’t very large? A vampire’s. One garlic bulb could range anywhere from having 4 to 20 cloves and most of the health benefits of garlic are exposed when the cloves are crushed, chopped, or chewed, as the sulfur compounds are formed.

You may not realize it, but there are many health benefits to garlic, starting with its ability to keep you from dying. It’s almost like a cheat code for immortality. Maybe vampires hate it because they’ve been eating garlic ever since they were born and now, they’ve been immortal for so long that they want to experience death so badly. Garlic contains antioxidants that protect against cell damage and aging, and it’s linked to preventing four of the major causes of death worldwide: stroke, cancer, heart disease, and infections. Garlic also helps control blood pressure, reduce lead toxicity, and remove plaque build-up in the arteries – good bye heart disease!

In ancient history, garlic was originally used for medicinal and health purposes. It was even fed to the people who helped build The Great Pyramid in belief that it gave them strength and endurance! Ever seen a vampire work out? They probably don’t need that strength and endurance anyway.

90% of the garlic grown in the U.S. comes from California, but on a worldwide scale, China produces 66% of it – pro tip: you’ll be safe from vampires in California and China.

Rub some fresh raw garlic on your toast, mince it up and add it to your next stir-fry, or rub it on that annoying pimple you’ve been trying to get rid of! Both Ryan and I are huge fans of garlic so it’s not at all difficult to find a recipe on the blog containing garlic, but if you don’t like garlic, you’re definitely a vampire and I’m impressed at how fresh your breath probably is.


Fish Sauce:

Yes, there is a vegan fish sauce. And yes, we’ve even created our own one. But I’m not here to talk about vegan fish sauce, I’m here to talk about real fish sauce – the ones that come from fermenting fish for a long period of time.

Now, what is fish sauce and how is it made? Well, I’m glad you asked! Fish sauce is both a condiment and an ingredient – you can dip things into it and you can cook with it! This salty, sweet, and pungent sauce is known for adding a great depth of flavor to literally any dish. It’s a miracle ingredient, in fact, adding fish sauce to dishes as a salt substitute reduces your sodium chloride levels by 10 to 25 percent! Not just that, but it’s also high in protein and contains all essential amino acids. Just remember that a little goes a long way.

Although fish sauce is popular in Southeast Asian cuisine, it actually originated in ancient Greece, where they called it garos, and ancient Romans called it garum. Check any Asian market, they’ll 100% have fish sauce and maybe (just maybe) they’ll have vegan fish sauce as well, and trust me, it’s way cheaper to buy it in Asian stores versus online.

Traditionally, as soon as fishing boats return to dock with their catch, the fishes (usually anchovies) are rinsed, drained, and then mixed into sea salt. Once they’re coated in salt, they’re packed into large barrels for 12 to 18 months, then natural bacteria breaks down the fish, leaving behind a fishy, savory liquid aka the fish sauce. The less time it spends fermenting, the fishier the flavor whereas the more time it spends fermenting, the nuttier the flavor.

I’ve read from cooks that a general consensus when it comes to using fish sauce is to use it as you would Worcestershire sauce to incorporate into dishes. Like I’ve said, a little goes a long way.


I hope you guys enjoy this Viet-Chinese month as much as Ryan and I have been!

Eat more garlic,
Kimberly

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