While the idea of whipping up some of your favorite Asian meals at home may seem daunting, you can totally do it with a few simple ingredients on hand. That elusive beef and broccoli stir-fry can be yours without having to tip anyone. You can customize an Indian curry, or make a flavorful sauce to coat a heap of noodles like it’s no big deal.
Since there are some ingredients that work across various Asian culinary traditions, you don’t have to search for every last obscure item in order to make dinner. And other ones add just enough of the flavor that’s unique to the meal you want to recreate. Below is a pared down pantry list of oils, spices, and condiments to help you prepare warm, aromatic Asian dishes in your own kitchen. Experiment and have fun!
Canola oil: Canola oil has a neutral flavor that makes it ideal for all manners of Asian sautéing, searing, and frying. Unlike olive oil, it doesn’t overwhelm the flavors of the food.
Coconut milk: Often a main ingredient in both Thai and Indian curries, coconut milk gives these brothy dishes a creamy texture and tons of fragrance.
Curry powder (or garam masala): Curry powder is actually a blend of spices—most of which include cumin and turmeric—sometimes referred to as garam masala. It’s used to enhance the flavors of Indian curries as well as other South Asian meat and vegetable dishes, making it a very versatile ingredient.
Hoisin sauce: With a sweet and salty flavor, hoisin sauce is often used to make dipping sauces or to season meats, vegetables, or noodles. Think pork buns.
Miso paste: This subtly spicy condiment of fermented soy beans is a must-have for making umami-rich Japanese broths, soups, and dressings. Use just a little bit to add incredible depth of flavor to dishes you love.
Peanut butter: If you’re ever hankering for pad Thai or other peanut-forward dish perfected by the Asian diaspora, peanut butter is your go-to shortcut ingredient. Whisked with a touch of Sriracha or other hot sauce and a splash of soy, it’ll take your noodle game to the next level.
Sesame oil: Sesame oil is the Chinese cooking equivalent of olive oil in Western food preparations. Deeply fragrant and versatile, you’ll want to have it around for sautéing vegetables, seasoning sauces, and dressing salads.
Soy sauce: Soy sauce is a common seasoning used in Asian cooking, including Chinese and Vietnamese dishes. It adds a dark color and salty flavor. It’s also a common component of dipping sauces for dumplings, egg rolls, and the like.
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