Asian cuisine is a specialty with recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation. A truly authentic Asian dish is possible to make yourself if you know what you are doing of course, but more importantly if you have the right ingredients and spices. Using substitutes will make an immediate impact and anyone eating your dish will know immediately that something is amiss.
But sometimes it gets tricky with spices as it is not so much as picking one or two well-known spices off the shelf, it is all about the blend. And it is all those subtle flavors and the gentle nuances that together will make your dish a mouth-watering success. Understanding which are the basic spices used in Asian cooking will be a great base – a bit of a spice introduction – to work from. Once you have found the flavors that you like it will get easier to blend your own.
But before you rush out and spend a fortune kitting out your kitchen with hundreds of different items you think you may need for Asian cooking; here is a selection of the fundamental ones you should think about getting in.
This is simple yet unusual five spice power pack, and there is no substitute for the real deal. And it just needs a small amount of the spice to give your dish – meat, fruit, veg or starch – that punch that it needs. The unique aromatics of fennel seed, star anise, cinnamon/cassia, cloves and Szechuan pepper bring intoxicating flavors that are just never found in Western dishes.
Ginger is a superhero spice when it comes to Asian cooking and when used correctly can add heat or subtle tones of powerful yet delicate flavors to any dish. Fresh ginger is always a winner and once you have used it you can even freeze the rest- just seal it properly in a zip lock freezer bag. Or, you can drown it in white wine or sherry and pop it in the fridge until you need it again.
Pure cinnamon is an integral component of Asian cooking and is usually purchased rolled up in quills. A basic component in many sweet dishes and desserts, cinnamon can be flaked into any dish and then easily removed later. Cassia bark is from the cinnamon family, but it is not the same thing – even though it is often mistaken for cinnamon.
This delectable citrus like flavor adds a unique kick to dishes in a sour, mouth-watering kind of way. An essential Asian note in any dish, it can be tricky to find, you may need to head out to your local Asian market or specialty shop.
You get both white and black cumin. White cumin is readily available in both ground powder and in the whole seed form. The white variety is commonly used in Southeast Asia and is generally roasted, ground up and made up as part of curry paste. Black Cumin is used the same way but more preferential in Indian cooking.
Whole coriander or ground coriander is another ingredient that is easily available. You can dry roast the seeds for use in dishes, but only dry roast what you need as you need it. The ground variety loses its punch and flavor so it doesn’t store too well. Fresh coriander is hugely popular and provides a sweet tang to any dish, look for it in the fresh herb section in your local supermarket.
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