November 27, 2021

The Essential Ingredients of an Everyday Asian Pantry

There isn’t much to be different between an “everyday” and an “Asian” pantry in many ways.

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I use many of the same ingredients in Asian cuisines, as I do in other cultures. These ingredients provide umami, spice, deep, resonant flavor and allow you to make satisfying, comforting meals that require little effort.

These are my essentials for an Asian pantry.

Chilli Sauces, Oils, and Crisps

You will find many varieties of chilli oils and sauces at Asian grocery stores. Each country or region has its variety. Sriracha is an excellent all-purpose chilli sauce that has a healthy dose of garlic. Lee Kum Kee Chow Chilli oil and chilli crisps from Fly By Jing are also favorites of mine.

Dried Shiitake Mushrooms

They are a staple pantry ingredient and a key ingredient in Chinese cuisine. These can be used in soups, stews, broths, and dumplings.

For rehydration, soak them in warm water for between 20-30 minutes. However, if you have the extra time, you can leave them longer to make them plump. Don’t forget to strain the rehydrating water to get rid of any sediment.

Fermented black beans

Fermented black beans (dou-chi) are a great addition to salad dressings and stir-fries. Fermented black beans, especially for vegans, are a great umami bomb. They deliver a rich, intense flavor that is delicious and satiating. They can be stored in an airtight container in your pantry at home and will last for many months.

Commercial black bean sauce can be substituted if you are unable to find fermented beans. However, it has many more additives.

Gochugaru

Gochugaru, a Korean chile powder, is a mixture of flake and powder. It has a mild heat with a touch of sweetness, smokiness and fruitiness. It’s used in kimchi, as well as soups, stews, and chile oils.

Gochujang Paste

Gochujang, a bright red spicy paste, is both salty and sweet. It is made with chile and glutinous rice, fermented soya, salt, and sugar. It has a thick, sticky texture and is used to flavor rice, soups, and broths.

When diluted with olive oil, yoghurt, Gochujang is a great spice rub for vegetables or as a condiment with roasted veggies, fried eggs, and rice.

Kimchi

Kimchi is a Korean staple made of fermented and salted vegetables, usually napa cabbage or red radish. It’s usually seasoned with ginger, gochugaru and scallion.

This versatile ingredient is great to keep in your refrigerator. I use it in tacos and fried rice. According to an article by Harvard Medical School, kimchi contains lactobacillus, which is good for digestion.

Miso

The essential source for salty, earthy, and funky flavors is miso. Miso is made from soybeans and koji (a mould also used in the making of sake). There are many types of miso. The flavors of miso vary depending on how long they ferment. The darker the miso gets, the more complex the flavor.

You will find two types of miso in regular supermarkets: the white (aka) variety is milder and is suitable for daily use. The red (aka) version is more robust and has a stronger flavor. You can also find miso made from chickpeas and barley, as well as brown rice.

Mirin

Sweet rice wine is an essential ingredient in Japanese cooking. It can be used to make marinades and teriyaki sauce or finish Japanese soups, including miso soup. It is essential for Asian-inspired salad dressings. Mirin is similar in alcohol content to sake, but it has a higher sugar level and less alcohol. Mirin is sometimes called “sweetened sake”.

Rice Vinegar

It is used in Asian salad dressings as a key ingredient. It is slightly less acidic than white wine vinegar, and has a mild, delicate taste with a slight sweetness. Seasoned rice vinegar is a low-sugar, salt- and sugar-free condiment that can make salad dressings or sushi rice.

Sesame Oil

Sesame oil can make almost any dish taste better. It imparts an umami-rich flavor that makes every dish even more delicious. Untoasted sesame oils are made from unprocessed seeds. They can be used for cooking, but toasted sesame oils has a stronger flavor and is more commonly used when cooking and serving.

Sesame Seeds

Sesame seeds bring an earthy, nutty flavor to dishes. While white seeds are more delicate in flavor, black sesame seed have a stronger smell that works well with desserts. You can choose to toast or not toast the seeds.

Shaoxing rice wine

Shaoxing rice wine ferments from glutinous rice. It does contain some wheat. Shaoxing rice wine is a great way to enhance sauces and marinades with a rich, aromatic flavor. You can substitute dry sherry for it or omit it.

Soy Sauce, Tamari and Liquid Aminos.

I can use liquid aminos, liquid aminos, and soy sauce interchangeably. All three of my liquid aminos, including coconut aminos, are gluten-free. They make great options for people with wheat intolerance. Traditional soy sauce is made with wheat, and it’s slightly more salty and darker in color.

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