When it comes to Asian-inspired cooking, the ingredients you have on hand and the methods you use to cook them play a massive role in the cuisine's authenticity. While we all know Asian food to be delicious; what many individuals don't often realize is that it is also full of tradition. While the ingredients have primarily remained the same, Asian cooking methods have been passed down for centuries changing slightly over the years. To ensure that your Asian-inspired meals are as authentic as possible, we've put together a list of 10 Asian ingredients that you should always have on hand, along with the most popular methods used to cook them.
Top Asian Ingredients
Curry Pastes and Powders
If you're a fan of Asian food, then you've likely tried delicious curry before. Curry paste and powders are a crucial ingredient in Asian-cuisine, and the flavors often vary depending on the region the dish is from. Southeast Asian curries are commonly based on curry pastes made from several fresh and dried ingredients ground together to make a paste. If you're cooking curries regularly, then creating a paste from scratch is recommended. A homemade paste will be fresh and flavorful. However, it's important to note that curry paste does have a limited shelf life. So, if you're not making curry as often then, purchasing a curry powder or adding in the fresh ingredients later on are the best options.
For a curry recipe that you can make time and time again, try out this Curried Lentil and Sweet Potato Stew. Made with fresh curry paste, it's vegan, gluten free and the perfect addition to your cold-weather recipe collection.
Chili Powder or Paste
Much like curry paste, chili paste can be made at home or purchased at a store. Fresh chili paste is made by grinding fresh chilies in a food processor and adding a bit of salt and vinegar to the mixture. The color and flavor of the paste depend on the chilies used to make it. If you're making a red curry, be sure to use red chilies to make your paste. Likewise, if you're making green curry, use only green chilies.
For a dish that brings the heat, make this Curried Carrots and Sorghum Recipe. Made with curry powder and chili powder, it's an Asian-inspired meal loaded with flavor.
Many Asian recipes will call for coconut milk as one of the main ingredients. When choosing which coconut milk to use, opt for canned coconut milk with no dilution. This ingredient is a vital part of making curry, and the coconut milk used should be skimmed off the top of the can. It's important that you do not shake the can first.
Tamarind liquid can easily be made by mixing a few necessary ingredients. While there are a few different Tamarind types available, the two main kinds are bitter and sweet. Which type you should use boils down to the recipe at hand and your taste preferences.
Possibly the most well-known Asian ingredient, soy sauce is an essential ingredient that you likely already have stocked. Used in countless Asian-inspired dishes, it's a shared table condiment used by Asians and Westerners alike. However, not all soy sauce is created equal. The variety you choose can vary in taste, saltiness, color and flavor.
Sesame oil is a flavor that shines throughout Asian dishes. Like soy sauce, there are different types of sesame oil. Sesame oil featuring a dark color has likely been toasted and will have a rich aroma. A clear or yellow-colored sesame oil usually has not been toasted and will have a more mild taste and smell. Adding sesame oil to your favorite Asian dishes, like stir fry, will help give your meal the authentic taste you know and love. That being said, a little goes a long way, and too much sesame oil can quickly overpower the flavor of a meal.
Are you a fan of sesame oil? If so, you'll love these Sesame Noodles With Tofu and Almond Sauce. Fresh ginger, soy sauce and toasted sesame oil are used to flavor this delicious Asian-inspired meal. Or, try our sesame crackers for a satisfyingly crunchy snack!
Everyone knows what garlic is, but did you know it's one of the most used ingredients when cooking Asian food? When cooking Asian-inspired meals, you can never have too much garlic sitting around. Garlic is used in the foundation of many recipes and will give the dish that traditional flavor you're hoping to achieve. When cooking with garlic, it's essential to cook it properly. Too much heat and your garlic will become overcooked, and the bitterness of burned garlic can quickly ruin any dish.
Ginger has a very recognizable flavor that's often featured in Asian recipes. Used in everything from oils to sides, ginger will give your meal a citrusy, warming flavor that can carry the entire dish. A great ingredient to use alongside seafood recipes, ginger can be added to everything from soups to eggs
Looking to incorporate more ginger into your recipes? Try out these Roasted Asian Style Vegetables with Quinoa. A dish that's both sweet and spicy, it's the perfect recipe to add to your weekly rotation.
Scallions, a.k.a green onions, are used heavily in Asian cooking. An easy-to-find ingredient, scallions are a must-have ingredient when making stir fry. Easy to cook, they're a great way to flavor any Asian meal.
Rice vinegar has a fruity and slightly sweet flavor that is loved by many cultures. While rice vinegar isn't used as often as ingredients like soy sauce, it is a must-have ingredient when making dishes like sweet and sour pork and orange chicken—some of our favorites!
The way you cook Asian inspired dishes matters. In fact, it matters so much that cooking equipment has been designed specifically for specific ingredients and meals. Ensure your kitchen is fully stocked with the equipment necessary to cook all of your favorite Asian dishes.
The wok is hands down the most critical cooking equipment needed when recreating Asian meals. Used primarily in SouthEast Asia and China, investing in a good wok is crucial if you plan to do a lot of Asian cooking. While a cast iron fry pan can be substituted for a wok in certain recipes, it won't provide the range of cooking temperatures that the wok's rounded button allows—something fundamental when stir-frying.
While there are many woks available, the most traditional is a hand-beaten, steel wok with a round bottom and two handles. Steel is preferred for its heat transfer properties. The rounded bottom is placed directly on the burners or in a wok ring. That being said, if you have an electric kitchen, a flat bottomed wok will work best.
The most important rule when using a wok for the first time is to season it first. Scrub your new wok well with soap and water, rinse and dry. Once ready to use, place the wok over low heat and season it with vegetable oil and heat for ten minutes before wiping clean. Repeat this process several times until the paper towels come away clean. After properly seasoning your wok, it should no longer be washed with soap. Instead, clean your wok with a wok brush and water only—Dry and oil before storing.
Now that you know what kind of wok to purchase and how to season it properly, it's time to buy the tools necessary to use it! When cooking with a wok, an essential tool is a long-handled shovel-shaped scoop used when stir-frying. Additional tools to purchase include:
- A brass or steel strainer
- A ladle
- A strainer with a bamboo basket
- A wok brush
- A bamboo whisk
- A wok rack
A large stainless steel or aluminum steamer is often used when cooking Asian dishes. However, the most common type of steamer is the bamboo steamer. Bamboo steamers work directly with a wok and often double as serving dishes.
Clay pots are a staple when cooking Asian cuisine. Also known as "hot pots," the clay pots used are often glazed on the inside and unglazed on the outside. They are used for baking or stewing. Available in various sizes, the size of the clay pot you choose will largely determine the meals you make most often.
As we mentioned, rice is a prevalent Asian ingredient, and adequately cooking rice is crucial to your meal's authenticity. If you plan on cooking rice often, then a rice cooker is necessary kitchen equipment. Worth the investment, a rice cooker makes cooking rice a snap. Simply place the desired amount of rice into the cooker with water, plug it in and press the on button. The result? Perfect rice each and every time.
And there you have it, a complete guide to ten Asian cooking ingredients to always have on hand as well as the equipment to cook them with. From more familiar ingredients like soy sauce to learning how to properly oil a wok, we hope this guide has prepared you with the information needed to make your next Asian-inspired meal a success. From everyone at Bob's Red Mill, happy cooking!