Creating an Asian Pantry: Key Ingredients to Cooking

If you love Asian cuisine and love to cook, you can save money and time from getting takeout and create your own Asian dishes on a regular basis by creating a well-stocked Asian grocery pantry in your house. If you ever followed a recipe and cooked your own meals, then you certainly are capable of creating fine Asian meals from soups, stir fry, dips, sauces, noodles and other marvelous entrees. The following items are key staple items for a well stocked Asian cooking pantry.

Shoyu

Shoyu is the Japanese word for “soy sauce.” Soy sauce is used as a seasoning for many Asian dishes. Soy sauce, a salty brown liquid seasoned sauce in a jar, is actually a made from fermented soybeans, wheat, water and salt. There are two basic kinds of soy sauce – -light and dark. The dark soy sauce generally is thicker in consistency and has a sweeter taste than the light soy sauce. The dark soy sauce is used frequently in Japanese cooking. Light soy sauce, which is lighter in color than dark soy sauce, is used frequently in Chinese cooking. Light soy sauce is saltier than dark soy sauce and has a longer shelf life than dark soy sauce. There are companies, however, that also sell reduced sodium soy sauce of both types.

Wasabi

If you ever had sushi, you have probably seen and tasted a green pasty dip which was ultra hot to the taste. You may have also tasted Wasabi peas, with are a popular Japanese snack made from crispy, salted roasted hot and spicy peas, with Wasabi kicking off the hot flavor. Wasabi is basically the Japanese version of horseradish. Wasabi is sold in 2 forms, either paste or powder. If you buy wasabi powder, the package directions will tell you how much water to add to create a wasabi paste. Wasabi paste should be covered and wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated. Wasabi is often used for raw fish dishes such as sushi or sashimi, but it is also often used as a key ingredient for dips and sauces. Asian cuisine lovers often enjoy mixing a small amount of wasabi paste with soy sauce to create a less intense but still very hot sauce used for dipping noodles and tempura. Tempura is a deep-fried food such as fish or vegetables which is popular in Japan and served either as an appetizer or main dish.

Rice Wine Vinegar

Rice Wine Vinegar is a light and flavored vinegar made from rice wine, which has experienced some fermentation. There are different varieties of rice wine vinegar which range from sweetened and seasoned and unsweetened. It is mildly flavored Asian vinegar which is often used as salad dressing on raw vegetables and salad greens and is a staple ingredient for creating vinaigrettes. It is also used in many Asian recipes from creating sushi rice to various seaweed dishes.

Water Chestnuts

Water chestnuts, which are often sold as a canned food item, are sold sliced, or whole and are a popular ingredient in Asian cooking and frequently used in salads, entrees and appetizers. They can be eaten raw or cooked and add crisp meaty texture to Japanese and Chinese meals.

Bean Sprouts

Bean sprouts are also often sold as a canned food item and are a popular addition to cabbage salads and stir fry dishes. They add crisp texture and unused portions should be stored refrigerated, and preferably in ice water. Because of their delicate nature, they should not be heated too long or they become soggy. So, you’ll want to add them at the very end of any cooking to maintain their crispness. Bean sprouts are highly perishable once exposed to air, and you’ll want to use them as soon as possible.

Udon Noodles

Udon noodles are sold both in dried form and in fresh form. They are a frequently used staple item in many popular Asian dishes. They are basically a thick white noodle made from wheat flour and water. They are starchy when cooked and generally are best when rinsed after cooking and draining. They work great in both cold and hot dishes. If you like cold sesame noodles, then Udon will be at the heart of your recipe.

Rice Noodles

Rice noodles which are a Chinese noodle made from rice flour and water have a chewy texture and subtle flavor. They add great body and texture to soups, salads and stir fry dishes and are often referred to as Asian noodles. They are sold in various lengths and widths from very thin and brittle to long and thick almost like fettuccini noodles. They only require a few minutes cooking time and are generally presoaked and boiled . You can partially cook the rice noodles and add them to the end of the stir fry where they pick up the moisture and heat of the dish for the remainder of the cooking time. Many Chinese soups and noodle dishes are centered around the rice noodle.

Sesame Oil

Sesame oil is an oil that has actually been pressed from sesame seeds. It is often sold in both dark and light versions. Pure sesame oil, which is generally sold in smaller bottles than our American vegetable oils, is the best sesame oil when used in Asian dishes. Very little is needed in recipes calling for sesame oil because of its intense and nutty flavor. In fact, using too much sesame oil can ruin the flavor of a dish because the taste can be overwhelming. Pure Sesame oil is a popular ingredient in many Asian dishes as a small flavoring seasoing in marinades and salad dressings and some noodle and stir fry dishes.

Sesame Seeds

Sesame seeds which come in black or white, roasted and unroasted, are a popular garnish in Asian cuisine. They often are used in baked goods such as breads and crackers as well as toppings to add texture and nutty flavor to Asian stir fries and noodle dishes.

Pickled Ginger

Pickled Ginger, which is often sold in jars or plastic packaging, is ginger that has been sliced thin and preserved in sweet and salty vinegar or brine. It is generally used in small portions but makes a great accompaniment to sushi and garnishes for meats and fish entrees and also makes a great addition to making a zesty asian vegetable sandwich.

Teriyaki Sauce

Teriyaki Sauce is made from a micture of soy sauce, sugar, ginger, sake and seasonings. It makes a flavorful marinade for for meats that are grilled or broiled. It also makes a great dipping sauce for egg rolls or Asian tempura. Teriyaki Sauce also enhances the flavor of stir fry.

Baby Corn

Baby corn, which is also called cocktail corn, is generally sold as a canned food item, and looks like miniature ears of corn. It really is immature corn that has been harvested early and is generally 1 to 3 inches in length. They are usually packed in water or a pickling ingredient and are often served in salads and Asian Stir Fry dishes. They add crisp vegetable texture and have its own unique mild flavor.

Tempeh

Tempeh, which can be made from soy beans or other beans or grains is a tofu-like product that is generally flat and sold refrigerated and is available in many natural food stores. It is a popular meat substitute for vegetarians and often used in Asian cooking. It adds texture and nutty yeasty flavor and can be served cold in salads cut into cubes or added to stir fry and many other Asian dishes.

If you stock your pantry and refrigerator with these Asian items, they will provide a multitude of creative and tasty Asian meals. Have fresh or frozen vegetables on hand, and the sky is the limit when it comes to making great meals and salads with an Asian flair. Don’t be intimidated with cooking Asian food if you have never done it before. If you think you can cook, then you certainly can cook great Asian cuisine customized to your own taste and special diet and you won’t have to say “hold the MSG”. Now get shopping and checking out recipes for your favorite restaurant dishes! You can do it and have fun in the process too!

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