Asian Cooking Ingredients - Glossary

Asian Cooking Ingredients - Glossary

The following Asian Cooking Ingredients' Glossary entries cover basic recipes and key Southeast Asian ingredients called for throughout this website. All of the ingredients can be found in Asian markets or in the Asian section of well-stocked food stores.

Annatto Seeds - The Spanish introduced these triangular seeds of a Latin American tree to the Philippines. They impart a reddish brown color and fragrant flavor to meat dishes.

Bamboo Shoots - The ivory to white shoots of the bamboo plant are sold sliced, chopped, shredded, or whole in cans. Some Asian markets sell the same processed shoots in bulk, usually displayed immersed in water in large plastic buckets. Fresh shoots, only rarely seen outside of Asia, are toxic if not properly pre-boiled, a lengthy process. Drain and rinse the canned shoots well before use.

Bean Sauce - Made from crushed soy beans, barley, sesame oil, sugar and salt. Do not confuse with ground bean sauce or chili bean paste which are sometimes labeled as bean sauce - read the ingredients list to make sure you are buying the right thing.

Black Beans - A type of soy bean, available dried, fermented, salted and canned in brine. Do not confuse with turtle beans used in South American cooking, which can also be called black beans.

Chile Paste - Cooks in Southeast Asia make use of pastes that combine roasted fresh or dried chiles with a variety of other seasonings. Various commercial chile pastes are sold, but a good chile paste is also easy to make at home. How to make and prepare Thai Roaste Chile Paste

Chinese Broccoli (gai larn) - A green vegetable with slightly leathery leaves and thick, green stalks. Both the leaves and stalks are used.

Chinese Five Spice - A common seasoning used in Chinese cooking, containing star anise, fennel, cinnamon, cloves and Sichuan pepper.

Chinese Rice Wine or Cooking Wine (Shao Hsing) - Made from glutinous rice in Shao Hsing in southern China. This amber-colored liquid has a rich sweetish taste. Use dry sherry if unavailable.

Coconut Cream and Coconut Milk - Extracted from the flesh of fresh coconuts. The cream is thick and almost spreadable. The milk is extracted after the cream has been pressed out and is thinner. Good-quality unsweetened canned coconut milk, with an excellent ratio of cream to milk, is a welcome shortcut when time is at a premium. Do not shake the can before opening. Once open, first scrape off the thick mass on top, which is the cream. The next layer is an opaque white liquid, which is coconut milk, and finally there is a clear liquid, which is thin coconut milk.

Crisp Fried Shallots - Deep-fried red Asian shallot flakes used as a garnish in South-east Asia. Available from Asian food stores in packets or tubs. Store in the freezer.

Dashi - A basic Japanese stock made with dried kelp and dried bonito (a fish). Available in flakes or granules. Add hot water to make a stock.

Dried Mushrooms - One of the most popular dried mushrooms is shiitake. Dried Chinese mushrooms are also popular (whole or sliced).

Enoki Mushrooms - Tiny white Japanese mushrooms on long, thin stalks growing in clumps. Do not cook for long.

Fish Sauce - A brown, salty sauce with a 'fishy' smell. Small fish are salted and fermented - the run off is fish sauce.

Galangal - A rhizome available fresh, sliced in brine, dried slices in packets, and powdered. Soak the dried slices in warm water for 30 minutes before use.

Hoisin Sauce - A sweet, thick sauce made from fermented soy beans flavored with garlic and five-spice powder.

Kaffir Lime Leaves - Fragrant leaves from the kaffir lime tree. The dark green, double leaves are available fresh or dried.

Kecap Manis - A thick, sweet soy sauce used in Indonesian and Malaysian cuisines. If unavailable, use soy sauce sweetened with a little soft brown sugar.

Lap Choong (Chinese sausage) - Dried sausages with a sweetish smoky flavor. Made of pork meat, they are not to be confused with a similar sausage, gum gun yuen, which contains duck and pork liver. Do not eat raw: stir-fry or steam. Keeps for 3 weeks in plastic wrap in the fridge. Can be frozen.

Mirin - A mild, low-alcohol form of sake, this rice cooking wine lends a sweetness to sauces, grilled dishes and glazes. Often used in Japanese cuisine.

Miso - A protein-rich paste made from cooked, mashed, salted, fermented soy beans and grains, usually barley or rice. It varies in color, texture and saltiness. The color can range from brown, light brown, yellow and white. The darker pastes have been matured longer and are saltier and more pungent than the lighter ones.

Mizuna - A Japanese, leafy vegetable with juicy well-flavored leaves. Suitable for salads and stir-fries.

Nori - Dried seaweed that comes in sheets or soft shreds, plain or roasted. Quick toasting over a naked flame freshens the nori and produces a nutty flavor. The sheets are usually used for making sushi rolls.

Palm Sugar - A rich, aromatic sugar from the boiled down sap of several kinds of palm tree. Thai palm sugar is lighter in color and more refined than the Indonesian or Malay versions. If unavailable, use soft brown sugar.

Polygonum Leaves - Known also as Vietnamese mint and in Malaysia as laksa leaves or daun kesom, these slender green and purple leaves have an exotic, herbaceous flavor. They are added fresh to noodle dishes in Malaysia and to salads in Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, where they are called rau ram.

Pickled Ginger - Fresh, thin, pink slices of ginger preserved in brine. Used in Japanese rice dishes and as a garnish. A good palate cleanser with a very sharp flavor.

Rice Paper Wrappers - These round or square thin sheets made from rice flour, water and salt are bought dried in sealed packets and will keep indefinitely, but handle with care as they are very brittle. Briefly soak them in warm water before use. Dried Rice Papers (Banh Trang)

Rice Vinegar - A clear, pale yellow, mild and sweet-tasting vinegar made from rice.

Sake - A Japanese wine made by fermenting cooked ground rice mash, used for cooking and drinking, depending on the grade.

Sambal Oelek - A hot paste made from fresh red chilies, mashed and mixed with salt and vinegar or tamarind.

Sesame Oil - A concentrated oil from toasted white sesame seeds used sparingly for flavor. Keep in a cool, dark place.

Shrimp Paste - A pungent paste made from fermented prawns. It can be pink and soft or dark and hard. Keep wrapped in plastic and stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container to reduce the smell. Always fry or roast before using.

Sichuan Peppercorns - A Chinese spice made from the red berries of the prickly ash tree and sold whole or ground. The flavor is woody and it has a strong, hot, numbing aftertaste. Often the powder is dry-fried to bring out the flavors.

Star Anise - A star-shaped Chinese fruit made up of eight segments. They are sun-dried until hard and brown and have a pronounced aniseed aroma and sweet aniseed flavor.

Straw Mushrooms - These small, unopened, button-shaped mushrooms are very high in protein. They are most commonly found canned - drain and rinse them well before using.

Tamarind - A large, brown, bean-like pod with a fruity, tart flavor. Available as a dried shelled fruit, a block of compressed pulp (usually with seeds), or as a puree or concentrate. It is often added to curries.

Thai Basil - The leaves of Thai basil are smaller and darker than regular basil and are used extensively in Asian cooking. The stems and younger leaves have a purplish tinge and the flowers are pink. The flavor of the leaves is a blend of aniseed and cloves.

Tofu - Once opened, tofu will keep for up to 5 days in the refrigerator covered in water which should be changed every 2 days.

Fried tofu puffs - Tofu cubes which are deep-fried until puffed and golden. Can be frozen.

Silken firm Tofu - It has a smooth, custard-like texture and is quite firm. When blended, the texture is similar to a heavy cream or yoghurt. Can be deep-fried and used in soups.

Silken Tofu - With a custard-like texture, when blended the texture is similar to cream and typically acts as a substitute for milk, cream, mayonnaise and eggs. Due to its delicate consistency, silken tofu does not stir-fry well as it breaks down easily when handled. Often used cubed in soups.

Sriracha Sauce - Named for the seaside Thai town in which it originated, this bottled, hot or mild, sweet-tart all-purpose sauce is made from red chiles and resembles a light-colored ketchup. Keep in mind that even the so-called mild Sriracha saue is quite hot.

Firm Tofu - holds its shape when cooking. Suitable for stir-frying, pan-frying and baking. Can be crumbled, sliced and cubed. Often used as a meat substitute. Blending is not recommended.

Wasabi Paste - A pungent paste often used as an accompaniment in Japanese food. Most often, wasabi paste is made from horseradish powder, mustard powder and other ingredients for color. It is extremely hot, so use sparingly. Also available as a powder.

Water Chestnuts - Small, rounded, crisp vegetables, usually sold canned. They give a crunchy texture to many Asian ditches. Any unused water chestnuts will keep fresh for four days if immersed in water in the fridge: change the water daily.

Water Spinach - A leafy vegetable with long, pointed leaves and pale, hollow stems.

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