Asian Herbs Spices Cooking Ingredients

Asian Herbs Spices Cooking Ingredients

The rich spices and herbs and distinctive ingredients of Asian cooking are familiar to most of us from restaurants and travels but can become daunting in our own kitchen. This can quickly be overcome with a little knowledge on how best to recognize and prepare them.

Bamboo Shoots - These are sold canned in water. Store the unused portion in water for up to one week, changing the water daily. These are available in Asian food stores and in the Asian section of large supermarkets.

Bean Curd (Tofu) - This is available fresh, dried and deep-fried, in firm and soft varieties. Made from soy beans, tofu is an excellent source of protein. Store fresh bean curd in water in the refrigerator, changing the water each day for up to 5 days. Fresh bean curd, even the firm variety, is quite soft and care needs to be taken when stirring or stir-frying so as not to break it up too much. Deep-fried bean curd has been fried to a golden brown color and has a spongy texture. This needs to be used within 2-3 days of purchase and stored in an airtight container. It is available from Asian food stores, health food stores and supermarkets.

Bean Sprouts - The crisp sprouts of mung beans, bean sprouts deteriorate very rapidly and should be stored in water in the refrigerator for 1-2 days. Cooking time is very quick and bean sprouts will give a dish a crisp freshness. Traditional Asian cooks will always pick off the thin, scraggly tail.

Besan Flour - Made from ground chick peas and used in Indian cuisine, besan flour has a distinctive flavor and texture. It is available from health food shops and some larger supermarkets.

Black Beans - These heavily salted, fermented soy beans must be well-rinsed before use. Available in cans or packets from Asian food stores, they keep indefinitely in an airtight container in the fridge.

Black Fungus (Cloud Ear Fungus) - This member of the mushroom family is sold dried in packets. To use, it must be soaked in hot water until soft. The fungi will reconstitute to many times their dried size. They are included in dishes for their texture rather than flavor, which is quite mild. Available dried in packets from Asian food stores.

Cellophane / Dried Vermicelli Noodles - These are fined dried transparent noodles which are usually soaked in hot water until soft or may need to be boiled. They are available from Asian food stores and most supermarkets.

Chinese Sausage (Lup Chiang) - This spicy pork sausage needs to be steamed or baked before eating. Sold in the refrigerator section of Asian supermarkets, or in an airtight unrefrigerated packet in Asian food stores or butchers, it will keep up to 3 months in the refrigerator.

Coriander - This aromatic herb is used to flavor Asian food or as a garnish. The whole fresh plant is used - roots, stems and leaves. The seeds can be roasted whole but more often they are ground to a powder. Available dried in most spice sections, fresh coriander is also available from larger greengrocers.

Cumin - This aromatic spice is available in seeds and ground. The flavor is more fully developed if the dish is dry-fried. Cumin is one of the important flavors in curry paste.

Fenugreek - These are aromatic seeds which are dry-fried and ground, then added to curry paste or used in Indian dishes. Use sparingly as the flavor can be bitter.

Fish Sauce - A pungent flavored salty sauce, used widely in Thai and (in a darker variety) Vietnamese cooking. Available from Asian food stores and large supermarkets, fish sauces keeps indefinitely once opened. Store in the refrigerator.

Five-spice Powder - This aromatic ready-mixed ground spice mixture is used extensively in Chinese cooking. It should be used sparingly as it can overpower lesser flavors. Five-spice powder is available in the spices section of supermarkets and Asian food stores.

Flours - Asian rice flour is a finely ground short-grain rice flour. It has a fine light texture and gives a characteristic crunch to fried foods if used in a batter or as a coating. Tapioca flour can be used as a substitute for cornflour. It is also used in doughs for many Asian treats. Chinese wheat starch flour is an essential ingredient in translucent gow gee and dumpling dough. Flours are available from Asian or some health food stores.

Garlic Chives - The garlic chive is a wide and flat-leafed chive with a subtly flavored stem and an attractive, edible flower. These are available from Asian and good fruit and vegetable specialists.

Hoi Sin Sauce - This is a thick red-brown sauce with a sweet-spicy flavor. It is made from soy beans and spices and is available from Asian food stores and supermarkets.

Mushrooms (Dried Chinese) - These are unique woody-flavored mushrooms, which are sold dried. They are reconstituted in hot water until soft and spongy and should then be sliced or chopped and the hard stem discarded. Dried Chinese mushrooms are available in packets from Asian food stores and supermarkets.

Oyster Sauce - This is a rich smooth silky sauce and, although it is made from oysters and soy sauce it does not have a fishy flavor and is compatible with many foods. Keep refrigerated once the bottle is opened. Oyster sauce is available from Asian food stores and supermarkets.

Rice Pepper Wrappers - Rice paper wrappers are made by forming a mixture of rice flour and water into very thin crepes and then drying these in the sun. The wrappers are very brittle in their dried form and they must be brushed with water to soften them up before use. Rice paper wrappers are available in Asian food stores.

Sesame Oil - This highly fragrant oil is made from sesame seeds. It is widely used in Chinese cooking. Sold in bottles, it is available from Asian food stores and most supermarkets. Sesame oil should be used sparingly.

Shaosing Wine (Chinese Wine) - This inexpensive Chinese cooking wine is available from Asian food stores. If you cannot find it, dry sherry can be substituted.

Soy Sauce - So sauce is made from fermented soy beans and is rich and salty in flavor. It is available in three varieties: light (standard) soy is most commonly used; dark soy is used for heavier meat and chicken dishes when a thicker darker color is needed and mushroom soy has mushrooms added during the last stages of processing. All are available in bottles from Asian food stores and good supermarkets. Soy sauce keeps indefinitely.

Preserved Turnip - This is a salted and preserved turnip which adds a delicious flavor, but must be used sparingly. It is available in packets format. Once the packet has opened it must be kept refrigerated.

Wasabi - This highly pungent green horseradish paste is used in Japanese cooking. It is available in a paste, dried or powdered from Asian specialty stores and is used sparingly.

Water Chestnuts - These sweet vegetables are very crunchy and crisp in textures. They are available canned. They should be stored in water, which needs to be changed daily, and they will keep for 3-4 days. They are occasionally available from Asian fruit and vegetable shops.

Won Ton Wrappers / Spring Roll Wrappers - These thin dough portions are sold in squares or rounds, both fresh and frozen. They can be kept in the freezer until needed. When filling, work with one at a time and keep the others covered with a damp tea towel to prevent drying out.

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