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Aug 25, 2008 11:51 PM

Unfamiliar Veggies - need a reference!!

I've just recently moved to Dubai from Western Canada with my husband. There is a huge variety of food on offer in the supermarkets, but the cheapest (and less environmentally hefty in terms of travel-related carbon footprint) items on offer are from nearby countries - other Middle Eastern areas and the subcontinent.

Most of this produce looks lovely. Unfortunately, I don't have a clue what it is (I did shop quite a bit in the Asian and Indian markets in Edmonton, but most of this stuff didn't get there, or I didn't see it).

I'm ready to start buying and experimenting, but my husband (Scottish) is much less veg-friendly and adventurous than I am. I think that I could sell him on some of this stuff if I:

A. Knew what the heck it was.
B, Knew what the heck I should do with it (use as a seasoning, steam it, boil it, saute it, show it to the kitchen then throw it out, ... ?)

I haven't given any examples because the selection is so vast. What I'm looking for is either an on-line reference to Indian, Arabian, and other Asian vegetables (I know that some will fit into all categories) that will tell me what to buy, what to do with it, how to know if it's fresh or not, etc, or a printed "Bible of things that don't grow or make their way to Western Canada".

Many thanks in advance - I promise to let you know how the cooking goes!!!

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  1. hi - i live in Asia at the moment and we have a lot of local veggies but nothing too unfamiliar - so I am really puzzled that you have so many that you are not sure about - could you give me names of a few maybe? in that case i could try to help? Just about everything we have here is similar to something else we are used to in western world...

    4 Replies
    1. re: twinsmum

      Maybe I'm just vegetable challenged. A carrot is the orange pointy one that comes out of the dirt, right? Or is that a cabbage?

      It's not so much the vegetables, I can likley muddle through those. Fruits, I can take home and look up. It's the herbs!!!! At the grocery stores I've been to, there is a GIANT mound of assorted herbs, all stacked together. The stores have nicely supplied name tags for most of them, but the herb in question is not generally piled on top of the name tag (I know the basic "european" herbs -rosemary, mint, basis, thyme, etc, can figure out kaffir lime leaves, curry leaves, and holy basil in a pinch, but some of the other ones are a complete, possibly misidentified mystery to me).

      I shall seek out someone knowledgeable around here to help. I do have a team of people who are from all over Asia, including the subcontinent. Unfortunately they're back in Canada, and while they've indicated that they're more than willing to help me with my identification and usage quest, they've also indicated that text-messaged photos of unknown herbs with requests for buying, cooking, and storage instructions would not be welcome at 3:00am their time (when I'm likely to be in the grocery store here)...

      1. re: kali_MM

        Hey there and welcome to Dubai, I am here too. Actually, carrots in India and Pakistan are small and RED like beautiful rubies and not orange during much of the year!!! Sometimes you will find these lovely and flavorful red carrots in Dubai in markets that have a heavier South Asian clientele like Maya Laal's, LuLu hypermarket, Choithrams, and those tiny vegetable markets in Karama, Satwa, and Bur Dubai. There are different types of grocery stores, some that import Euro and American veggies (like Spinney's with Jalapenos for 10$ a pound!!!) but have a section for Filipino, Indo-Pak, and Sri Lankan vegetables...such a grocery store would be Spinney's. The veggies there are labled, and the most unusual ones for you as a North American are probably the South Indian and Sri Lankan least these are the most foreign for me. Unfortunately as you may or may not have already discovered, communication can be a problem here as the grocery employee may only speak a pidgin version of whatever language you have in common (a Sri Lankan or Nepali guy weighing your vegetables may have broken English, broken Arabic, and broken Hindi under his belt!!!) and that person might not be knowleadgable about the veggies he doesn't use/eat either.

        The pile of greens in Spinney's also reflects the diversity of the common customers: you identified some correctly. In addition you will find jarjeer (rocket/arugala) and watercress used by the Levantine Arabs, different types of spinach used by the various South Asians such as fresh fenugreek (methi---looks similar to water cress but smells very pungent), desi mustard greens, and some other greens, some Chinese vegetables. The main clumps in the pile are cilantro (used by the various Asians and local Arabs) and flat leaf parsley (used heavily by the non-Gulf Arabs).

        Hopefully you get to know some of the many international people here and you can ask them and also try the large variety of regional restaurants to sample the veg. and become more familiar.

        Don't feel silly asking people. Dubai is a good foodie city and there will be lots of people who are interested in talking about food and recipes with you.

        1. re: luckyfatima

          Thank you so much for your insight! You are correct - we have so far done most of our shopping at Choitram's or Lulu's, with the quick shop done in the Ranches at Le Marche. My husband is lured to Choitram's because of it's non-Muslim section (he likes him his bacon), I'm happy to go there and explore odd (to me) things. (One of my favourite things to do when I'm in a different country is to go on a "tour" to a grocery store, or - if I'm lucky - a farmer's market to see what's on offer.)

          I will definitely lurk around the vegetable section, looking for someone who seems to know what they're doing, and ask for assistance. In the meantime though, do you know of any places in Dubai where one can take cooking classes for different cuisines? I'm very eager to start experimenting, and my load of cookbooks doesn't arrive until October!!

          On another note, I see in your profile that you've been having problems finding good pho in Dubai. Please say it isn't so!!! I miss my plethora of Vietnamese in Edmonton, and "Time Out's" Southeast asian food guide seems only to extend to Thai. What' am I going to do when I get my Pho jones on?

          1. re: kali_MM

            hi kali: if you like you can contact me at luckyfatima at gmail

    2. I use to learn more about unfamiliar veggies, but you would have to know the names of them - if you at least know the general category of veggie, you could always look at the pictures and see if they match!

      I think the easiest thing would be to make a local friend who speaks English and ask them to go shopping with you. That would be the most fun way!

      1. Please have a look at this site, it may be of help.

        1. you might want to order a copy of the "Vegetable Bible" on Amazon...

          good luck!

          1. Fascinating threads for those of us who have never visited the Middle East... please let this thread grow!