12 Most Indispensable Asian Pantry Ingredients
Next to the pasta sauce jar and dried spaghetti in your pantry is an empty space waiting to be filled so you can prepare most Asian recipes at home. Stock your pantry with these 12 Asian ingredients and start adding Asian recipes to your cooking repertoire.
A sweet rice wine made from distilled, glutinous rice and sugar that is used specifically for cooking. A versatile cooking wine, it is used for seasoning Japanese sauces, dressings and for creating a glaze for meats and vegetables.
2. Chili sauce
Most popularly known as Sriracha, this sauce would be considered the Asian version of Tabasco Sauce. It’s made from sun ripened chilies and ground into a very smooth, thin paste with garlic, vinegar, salt and sugar. It’s the mildest of the chili pastes, available in a squeeze bottle and is excellent for adding heat to a dish and using as a table condiment.
3. Chinese rice wine
Clear in color, Chinese rice wine is a spirit distilled from glutinous rice that has been aged. Unlike Japanese mirin, it does not contain added sugar. It is used to flavor marinades, soups and sauces in traditional Chinese cuisine. The closest substitute to it would be dry sherry.
4. Coconut milk
Coconut milk is the liquid from the pressed grated meat of a ripened coconut. It is thin and slightly more watery in consistency than cow’s milk. Naturally sweet, it is used to flavor soups, desserts and sauces. I only use unsweetened coconut milk for cooking. Once opened, you can refrigerate it up to five days.
5. Fish sauce
A staple in a Southeast Asian kitchen, fish sauce is derived from the amber colored, pungent liquid of fermented, salted anchovies. Like soy sauce, it is used as a basic seasoning for meats, seafood and vegetables… as well as to add flavor to soups, noodles and dipping sauces.
6. Light soy sauce
A must in every Asian pantry, light soy sauce is made from fermented soybeans, water and salt. Also called thin soy, but not to be mistaken for “lite”/reduced sodium soy, it is higher in salt content than dark soy sauce, yet lighter in consistency.
7. Dark soy sauce
A staple in an Asian pantry, dark soy sauce is fermented soybeans with water, salt and molasses. Also called black soy, it is thicker and slightly sweeter than light soy sauce. Dark soy sauce is often used to add color to a dish and is frequently combined or paired with light soy sauce in a recipe.
8. Unseasoned rice vinegar
A slightly sweet vinegar made from fermented glutinous rice that is mild in flavor and used for dressings, soups, sauces and pickling. I typically choose plain, unseasoned rice vinegar over “seasoned” which contains sugar and is predominantly used for sushi rice. Its next best substitution is champagne vinegar.
9. Toasted sesame oil
A mahogany brown colored oil that is more flavorful than untoasted sesame oil. Not typically used as an oil for frying due to its low smoke point, sesame oil is used to add a rich, nutty flavor to Asian dressings and sauces. Since it’s highly perishable, you should refrigerate it after opening.
10. Dried rice/egg noodles
Also known as pad thai noodles, thin rice noodles are made from rice flour and are shaped like a narrow ribbon. Popular in Southeast Asian cooking, they are used in soups, stir-fry and braised dishes. Dried egg noodles are made with wheat flour and eggs and come in many shapes and sizes, the most common being a round shaped noodle similar to spaghetti but more yellow in color. Thin dried egg noodles can be used as an alternative to fresh egg noodles.
11. Jasmine rice
A long grain rice primarily grown in Thailand, Jasmine Rice is known for its aromatic scent and mild, nutty flavor. As a substitution, you may use any long grain rice such as basmati or brown rice.
12. Miso paste
Essential to Japanese cuisine, Miso is also referred to as bean paste. Like cheese, the fermented soybeans are injected with a type of mold and allowed to ferment. There are many types of miso — all typically salty, they range from a pale yellow to a reddish-brown color. The most mild is called white or shiro miso and the darkest is red or akamiso. The darker the miso, the richer the flavor. Miso pastes are commonly used for flavoring soups, sauces, braised dishes and marinating meats and vegetables. Miso stores up to four months in the refrigerator.
All of these ingredients are available in Asian markets and most standard grocers and should be stored in a cool dry place unless indicated. So, hopefully I’ve given you a good basic list to get started with building your Asian Pantry.
Featured image courtesy of sparktography via Creative Commons.