Herbs, Spices and Other Ingredients Used in Asian Cooking
Bean Sprouts: Adding crunchiness to dishes, bean sprouts are found in kitchens all over Asia. They can be eaten raw or cooked. The water content of sprouts in general is high and therefore ideal for any diet. Bean sprouts can be substituted with other sprouts if not available.
Black Soy Sauce: Containing Molasses and Soy Bean Extract. This sauce is used primarily as a flavoring agent but also to improve the visual appeal of certain dishes. Soybeans contain the most protein of any vegetarian food. However, they are high in unsaturated fat.
Chilli Paste: A peppery condiment that varies in intensity depending on the brand. Test before adding to food.
Chinese Five-Spice Powder: The Chinese have long believed that the number five has special curative and healing powers, which is why this light cocoa-colored powder originally contained five specific spices. Often used in marinades or as a seasoning for soups, stews and stir-fries.
Today, five-spice powder contains quite a few more spices including cinnamon, star anise, fennel, clove, ginger, licorice, Sichuan peppercorn, and dried tangerine peel.
Chinese Hot Mustard: A condiment with a pungent, horseradish-like fieriness. Chinese hot mustards are available already prepared or in powdered form.
Chinese Mushroom: Also known as jelly mushroom, it is found in various dishes of Asian origin. Thais use it for its particularly crunchy texture. It can be used in soups, salads or stir fried vegetable dishes.
Corn flour: Starch, which is used to thicken sauces in Asian Cuisines.
Dried Shrimps: Available in most Asian shops, made from small shrimp tails. These shrimps are usually sun dried and can be stored for weeks in an airtight container. Some recipes might call for dried shrimps in powder form. If that’s the case, they have to be blended finely.
Ginger: This pale golden, knobby, hand-shaped rhizome (it’s not actually a root) has the perfect combination of enchanting aroma, spicy bite, and natural sweetness. Choose ginger that is hard, heavy, and free of wrinkles and mold.
Hoisin Sauce: A dark, thick, sweet and salty sauce made from fermented soybeans. Use it in stir-fries and as a condiment served at the table.
Long Eggplant: This elongated vegetable is renowned for its usage in Asian cuisine and often referred to as Japanese eggplant. Its meaty texture makes it a perfect alternative for vegetarian diets. It is low in vitamins, and valued for its low content in fat and calories.
Kaffirlime Leaves: The leaves of the kaffirlime are very aromatic. They are used in soups, curries and salads and are an essential ingredient in Thai cuisine. By breaking or cutting the leaves it is ensured that flavor can unfold in the cooking process.
Kale: Asian Kale is very similar to the western Collards. Thicker stems are peeled and cleaned like asparagus. Both leaves and stems are used in Thai cooking. Kale is very high in Vitamin C and Calcium. If not available, stems of broccoli can be substituted in the recipes given.
Palm Sugar: Throughout Asia, palm sugar is used as natural sweetening agent. The difference from conventional sugar is the distinctive flavor which is reminiscent of caramel. Palm sugar is available in the form of little cakes and also as a thick paste. It is not recommended to substitute palm sugar with any other sweetener.
Sesame Oil: Light sesame oil has a slightly nutty flavor; add it sparingly at the end of cooking. Dark sesame oil is fragrant and intensely flavored. Nut oils tend to turn rancid in a hot environment so store in a cool place.
Sichuan Peppercorns: Black peppercorns are no substitute for these dried, reddish brown berries with a unique woodsy fragrance and pleasantly numbing tang.
Get the most flavor out of your Sichuan peppercorns by toasting them in a dry frying pan over low heat until they become fragrant, and then add them to your recipe. You can work with either whole peppercorns or ones that are crushed to a powder.
Soy Sauce: The most important and commonly used seasoning in China and all of Asia, this salty sauce made from fermented soybeans comes in several varieties. Light soy sauce is thinner and saltier. Dark soy sauce is thicker and less salty. Chinese black soy sauce and Japanese tamari are very dark and sweet.
Spring Onions: Cut away wilted outer parts. Both white and green portions are used in cooking. Used in the preparation of Thai salads, and also as condiment for fried rice or noodles. Chives should not be used as substitute because of their extra strong flavor.
Star Anise: These approximately 1-inch, star-shaped pods have points, each containing a shiny, mahogany-colored seed. Star anise has a licorice flavor. Use in soups and stews.
Sticky Rice: Also referred to as glutinous rice, it’s used widely in recipes originating in the northern regions of Thailand. It is very versatile and can be used for both savory and sweet dishes. When used, it is generally soaked overnight in water and steamed rather than boiled.
Straw Mushrooms: Its delicate meaty texture and fine flavor is used for many soups and vegetable dishes. If not available, they can be easily substituted with champignon mushrooms, which are very similar in taste.
Sweet Plum Sauce: Contains Salty Chinese Plums, which are boiled in a mixture of sugar, tamarind, salt and water. The thickness is obtained by the sugar, which reduces the liquid into syrup. Commercially sold products are high in quality and we recommend them.
Cooking Terms When Cooking Asian Food
Blanch: Dip food into boiling water for a few seconds. When blanching vegetables; put them directly into ice water after blanching to preserve their natural color.
Deep Fry: Cooking food by immersing it in a large pan of cooking oil. If large pieces of food are to be cooked, the temperature of the oil should be lower.
Reduce: Lessening the amount of liquids, to improve overall taste.
Season: Adding different ingredients to dishes according to one’s taste, using the ingredients stated in the recipes.
Skim: Removing particles and fat from the surface of boiling stocks.
Soak: Immersing dried ingredients in water, for them to soak up liquid prior to preparation.
Stir Fry: Frying of smaller cuts of seafood and meats at high heat while constantly stirring.
Wok: Asian frying pan, perfect for stir frying food.