A-CHOY Looking like Romaine leaves, this vegetable originated from Taiwan, and can now be bought from local supermarkets. They are crunchy and have a slight bitter aftertaste. The leaves bruise easily so buy and stir-fry on the same day. The Taiwanese flash-fry this green – with oil and garlic in less than one minute.
AGAR AGAR A thickener made from seaweed that is used to make custards, puddings, jelly and kuih. It is also used in some commercial flavoured yoghurts, drinks and candy like marshmallow, to add texture and bulk. Tasteless and semi-translucent, agar agar is sold in powder or flake form, and dissolved in hot water. It is suitable for vegetarian and vegan recipes. In South East Asia, it is used to make desserts and can be flavoured with juice, pandan leaves, or pieces of cut fruit.
ANGLED LUFFA (see gua) This cucumber-like fruit has sharp ridges and a rough skin that has to be removed fully before cooking. It holds well even during long periods of cooking and is excellent for braised dishes.
APRICOT SEED (nan xingren). Usually bitter, this seed is used sparingly with other herbs in Chinese soup concoctions to help relive coughs and calm wheezing.
ARROWHEAD It looks like a pale water chestnut and is just as crunchy in texture. Arrowheads are used in curries to give texture and are delicious deep-fried in paper-thin slices as chips. They are better remembered as auspicious Lunar New Year plants as their jade-green arrow-shaped leaves are a symbol of continuous improvement for the Chinese.
ASSAM GELUCOR The dried slices of a sour fruit found in Malaysia (botanical name garcina atnoviridis). This is interchangeable with tamarind pulp and is used to flavor Nonya and Thai curries and soups.