Food Exploration: A Taste of Asia
Asian food is well loved across a broad spectrum of people. In fact, most will have the phone numbers of their favorite go-to Chinese, Thai, or Vietnamese take-out eateries quickly at hand and know exactly what it is they want.
I’m not saying you should stop frequenting your take-put favorites—after all, they are a tasty treat when you’re pressed for time. However, learning to cook your favorite cuisines from around the world is a fun and exciting undertaking.
So, take the challenge and do some food exploring with us here at CHEFS Mix Blog. You might find it fun—as well as tasty!
The basic ingredients
If you’re going to start whipping up your own version of Asian cuisine, whether it’s stir fry or rice noodles, you’ll want to have some basic ingredients on hand to give your meals authentic flavor.
- Soy sauce. One of the most familiar sauces used in Asian foods, soy sauce is a must if you really want to try your hand at cooking these flavorful cuisines. In Asian cuisine, soy sauce is generally used in place of salt and, as a result, is found in a wide variety of dishes throughout Southeast Asia.
- Fish sauce. While this pungent ingredient may not sound appetizing on its own, it is an essential for making Asian cuisines, particularly Thai or Vietnamese. Fish sauce is commonly used in stir-fries, soups, dressings. and dipping sauces.
- Chili sauce. These sauces will give your meals the familiar spicy kick associated with many Asian meals, especially Indian. Sriracha is probably the most well-known example of a chili sauce. Occasionally, some recipes may call for chili flakes or pastes, rather than a sauce.
- Ginger. This medicinal root is common in authentic recipes from Southeast Asia. Its distinctive flavors can be found in stir fries, soups, dipping sauces, desserts, and teas. When shopping for fresh ginger, find a young root for the best flavor. Press firmly on it with your thumb. If the flesh doesn’t give and there isn’t a faint scent, then you’ll want to put it back and look for a different chunk.
- Rice. With so many different varieties available, it can difficult to decide which rice is the right grain to accompany the meal you’re working on. Jasmine and basmati are super versatile and work well for Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Indian meals, whereas you’ll want to stick with a sushi or short-grain rice for Japanese cuisine.
Tools you’ll need
When you’re first starting out, you won’t need many specialized tools for preparing Asian food. However, if you decide you want to make it a more prominent addition to your repertoire, specialized equipment like rice cookers, deep fryers, and steamers will come in handy. To start out, consider these basic kitchen items to enhance your experience.
- A wok is an extraordinarily versatile pan. You’ll find that you end up using it to prepare more than just stir-fry. The rounded shape allows the food to be heated more evenly, which means you’ll be able to cook faster and with less oil, making it much healthier than if you had used a standard saucepan.
- Tongs are highly recommended when cooking Asian cuisine, especially if you are making fried foods such as eggrolls or potstickers. Since you’ll be cooking with a lot of hot oil, tongs will allow you to flip, rotate, and remove hot foods from the pan without burning yourself.
- Chopsticks aren’t an absolute necessity, but they sure make the experience fun! After you’ve finished preparing the meal, set out chopsticks at everyone’s place (along with forks for whoever wants them), and see who can eat with them best.
Where to start?
Once you’ve gathered your ingredients and kitchen tools, you’re all set to try out some new recipes from various parts of Southeast Asia. See several recipes below.
China. There are several styles of Chinese cooking, with Cantonese and Szechuan being the most prominent non-Americanized styles in the United States. All throughout the country, though, you’ll find that traditional stir fries are still popular.
Thailand. Satay is one of the most commonly eaten Thai dishes, however it originally wasn’t even from Thailand. This meal comes from Indonesia and made its way to Thailand and Malaysia, where it has become wildly popular. Thanks to Thai food being more common throughout the world, many people—including the Thai themselves—often attribute this dish to them rather than its first creators.
Vietnam. Because the recipes call for very little oil and rely heavily on vegetables and herbs for flavor, food from this part of Asia is considered to be among the healthiest throughout the world. For a simple Vietnamese dish, try cooking sesame noodles as a side dish.
1-1/2 pounds medium-sized shrimp deveined
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sweet wine
3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
15 fresh shitake mushrooms
6 scallions sliced into 2 inch lengths
6 ounces snow peas
6 ounces baby corn
1/2 medium sized onion
2 broccoli stalks
Preheat wok to medium heat.
Combine and mix soy sauce, sweet wine, and sesame oil in a bowl.
Add chopped broccoli, scallions, snow peas, mushrooms, baby corn, and onion. Mix well.
Transfer vegetables and sauce to wok.
Cook vegetables for 6 to 8 minutes tossing to ensure even cooking.
Set vegetables aside on a serving plate. Add shrimp to wok. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes tossing shrimp to cook evenly.
Remove from heat and serve with vegetables over a bed of white rice or favorite noodles.
Party appetizer or main meal, this chicken satay is satisfying!
1 1/2 pound boneless, skinless, chicken breasts
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons lime juice
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 shallots, peeled
1/4 cup cilantro
1 stalk lemon grass
Peanut Dipping Sauce
1 cup natural peanut butter
4 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons brown sugar
One 1″ knob fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup water
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup peanuts, finely chopped, for garnish
4 green onions, thinly sliced, for garnish
Trim chicken and cut into half-inch wide strips. Place chicken in a non-reactive bowl.
In the bowl of a food processor, blend together soy sauce, oil, brown sugar, rice vinegar, and lime juice. Add the cilantro, garlic, and shallots. Pulse to chop, but do not pulverize.
Place lemon grass stalk on a cutting board. Using a meat mallet, pound the stalk a few times to break the fibers. Cut stalk into 4 pieces. Place the lemon grass and chicken in a mixing bowl. Pour mixture over chicken and lemongrass, stirring to coat. Cover and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.
Peanut Dipping Sauce
In the bowl of a food processor, combine peanut butter, garlic, brown sugar, ginger, red pepper flakes, water, lime juice, and soy sauce. Combine to form a smooth mixture
Thread chicken strips on skewers lengthwise. Grill over medium heat, turning once. Brush with Peanut Dipping Sauce and sprinkle with chopped peanuts and green onions.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups onion, chopped
2 cups green bell pepper, cored, seeded, diced
2 cups red bell pepper, cored, seeded, diced
4 pounds boneless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat, cut into 1” pieces
3 tablespoons soy sauce
4 cups prepared sweet-n-sour or duck sauce
2 tablespoons apple-cider vinegar
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon garlic powder
4 scallions white and green parts, thinly sliced
1-1/2 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely minced
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups cooked white rice
Heat oil in the pressure cooker using the brown setting. Add onions, red and green bell peppers, browning for 2 minutes. Add chicken and soy sauce, cooking for 3 more minutes. Add sweet-n-sour sauce, vinegar, water, cornstarch, and garlic powder. Stir well. Cover and set to high pressure for 10 minutes.
Let the pressure drop using the quick-release method. Unlock and remove lid. Place on a serving dish. Garnish with scallions, serving over rice.
Recipe courtesy of Deni, Reprinted with permission.
A refreshing starter or side for the warm summer months.
2 stalks lemongrass, white part
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup brown rice vinegar
2 pounds cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
3 scallions, thinly sliced diagonally
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, minced
3/4 cup peanuts, chopped
In a blender add brown rice vinegar, sugar, curry powder, garlic, and salt.
Peel the stalk of the lemon grass and then cut the white section into thin slices and add to the blender. Blend.
In a medium bowl, add cucumbers, jalapeno, scallions, and cilantro.
Mix in the dressing and let the salad marinate for 15 to 20 minutes.
Your turn: Have you explored Asian cuisine yet? As a chef?