The Chayote is native to Mexico and Central America but is embraced by Asians. Inside it has a white flesh similar to an apple, with a refreshing mild taste which is close to a cucumber. It has a slippery quality when first peeled and although usually eaten cooked, is nice to eat raw. The chayote is like a blank slate which can be paired with almost anything.
The Luffa Squash, aka Chinese okra, silk squash or sponge gourd, is more spongy than most squahes or gourds. It should be peeled as the skin is bitter. The pale green flesh inside can be eaten raw.
Look for luffa squashes that are relatively small and are firm and unshriveled. As it is literaly a sponge it soaks up other flavors easily.
A smooth variety is more uncommon to find but can also eaten (and in its mature stage is dried to use as a scrub for the bath, hence the name!)
The Eggplant is native to India but has been cultivated in Asia since prehistory. They are found in many shapes and sizes and ranging in color from green to white to purple. There are too many varieties to name them all. The common Chinese and Japanese eggplants are both long and slim; the Chinese ones have a pale lavender skin and the Japanese are darker purple. The Thai green and white striped small hard golf ball sized eggplants are commonly used in curries. Thais also love bitter pea egglants, which grow in clusters and are eaten raw.
Galangal Root is a member of the ginger family (as is turmeric), but is stockier and more fiery, almost bitter, in taste compared to ginger. It has a unique combination of bitter, spicy and sour and has a cedar and lemon smell to it that ginger doesn’t. In the Middle Ages Europeans used it an aphrodisiac and it’s still used to treat stomach aches and nausea in much the same way as ginger is. Different varieties of galangal have different taste profiles and smells. The two main varieties are lesser galangal and greater galangal. Lesser galangal is smaller, sweeter and hotter with a reddish brown flesh. It is more difficult to find. Greater galangal has yellow-toned flesh and is a bit more common. Young galangal can look a lot like ginger, but it’s paler and more expensive. Most chefs favor young galangal over older and darker galangal, but some of the more old-school Thai chefs enjoy the more mature, full flavor and aroma of older galangal. At the oriental grocer, you’ll find galangal in three basic forms: fresh, dried and powdered.
There is no need to peel galangal, but look for smaller pieces which slice easier. It should be used in small doses. Galangal is crucial to many Thai dishes.
Lemongrass has a bright citrusy flavor without the sourness of lemon. The flavorful stalks are the part usually sold, but in many supermarkets it's often emanciated and dry.. However, in Asian markets, where there is a good turnover, there are often many fat fresh stalks. Lemongrass can be used all the way up to where the leaves grow but the most flavorful part is the last 4 inches or so of the stalk, from the root end. Trim off the bottom and the outer, more fibrous layers of the stalk. This inner part can be sliced lengthwise and then minced and added to recipes and salads. It's delicious in fresh lemonade!
Curry Leaves are used in Sri Lankan and Malaysian cooking and are an integral part of South Indian cuisine. They are not always available fresh so enjoy them while they are. Dried leaves are always available but can't measure up to the fresh. Fresh leaves can be frozen in a zip-lock bag and kept for a few months. The leaves can be chopped and added to recipes or ground with coconut, tamarind and chilies into a chutney.