Every now and then, actually quite often, I crave some rich but light and flavorful the Asian Pantry . How does one ensure that all ingredients are on hand when such a craving hits? If you love Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese or Indian foods, then you know there are key ingredients that you must have in the dish to make it as it was meant to be. Has it been a while since you’ve stalked your pantry for Asian eats? Write these items on the grocery list.
Curry Paste – unless you are well-versed in the kitchen and you know all the ingredients you need for a great base for your favorite Thai or Indian mean, it is just easier to have some store-bought jars of this stuff in the pantry. Here are the base ingredients for a good curry paste: fresh chilies, galangal, garlic, lemon grass, shallot, cilantro roots, shrimp paste and shallots. It’s nice to keep a variety of pastes to suit whatever heat and flavor profile you are craving from simple and aromatic to some serious fire.
- Yellow Curry
- Thai Red
- Thai Green
- Panang Curry
- Red Curry
Fish sauce—this is probably by far one of the most foul-smelling stuff you can add to your food, but Chinese and Vietnamese foods would not be the same without it. You just need a small splash to add it to your stir fry, noodles or fresh vegetable salads. I recommend storing the bottle it in a well-sealed plastic bag. If this stuff spills out or falls over, you might not be able to invite any guests over for quite a while until the place airs out.
Mirin—Use this sweet sake as a cooking condiment to add to a hot wok for deglazing or add it a couple tablespoons to any vinaigrette for a sweet, but unique tangy touch. Replace a bit of water you use to make sticky rice with Mirin and your sushi rice will be the best you’ve ever had.
Sesame oil—You can’t have stir fry without it! For just a small amount of sesame flavor you only need a small bit. Some are stronger than others, typically depending on the price you pay, but it can be easily cut with vegetable oil or mild olive oil. The toasted kind is the best.
Sesame seeds—white or black, they make a great finish for anything from sushi to stir fry. Toast the white seeds over low to medium fire in a dry sauté pan to bring out their intense and toasty aromatics and flavor.
Soy sauce—not much to explain there, you can add this to pretty much anything. You need no salt and it has so much more flavor.
Coconut Milk—for awesome, comforting chicken or vegetable Thai for those chilly nights! Coconut just turns up the aromatics and creates a seductive texture along with any curry paste added to the mix.
Teriyaki—if you don’t want to buy too many ingredients, you can easily make some quick teriyaki sauce on your own if you just mix in a bit of honey or brown sugar until it is dissolved in soy sauce. A touch of pineapple juice is good too.
Seasoned Rice Vinegar—You can get regular rice vinegar, but I find the seasoned vinegar much flavorful with a more refined softness. Use for vinaigrettes or as a finishing splash over rice dishes. Add a little of this too along with the Mirin to your sticky sushi rice recipe.
Noodles – for lighter dishes, glass rice noodles are quick to make. Place the noodles in a bowl and pour over boiling water and cover. They will be ready to drain in a matter of two minutes with a quick rinse of chilled water. Then there are your classic Udon noodles and Soba noodles made of buckwheat for more hearty dishes.
Rice—jasmine rice and short brown rice go well as a base for a number of dishes. Of course if you like something with more substance, sushi rice is versatile too.
Miso—this is not just for warm-your-heart, delicious soups. Use it for marinades too.
I think that is about all of your pantry basics for any Asian cuisine craving. Did I miss anything?