how do I whip up asian food at home like it’s nobody’s business? the simple answer is, I keep most of my ingredients on hand (see my gf pantry for a list of refrigerated and shelf stable ingredients).
add a short trip to the market or butcher shop for just a few items, and bam! you’ve got a meal. it’s my favourite way to shop since I can pick out what looks fresh that day instead of working around an ingredient list, with produce that is out of season.
being a-z-n by blood and having more jungle asian* in me than I even knew (confirmed by 23andme), nothing gets me salivating like southeast asian flavours! *if you know, you know
and since I don’t live in a tropical climate where I can machete chop fresh lemongrass growing from the ground, freezing my precious imported ingredients is the best way to preserve them here in the true north strong and free.
the following 6 ingredients can be found at your local asian supermarket, however, the actual kaffir limes may be hard to track down - please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you find them somewhere! we’ve only seen them in montreal in a small store in chinatown. for optimal flavour, store these ingredients in the freezer for up to 3 months.
similar to the taste of lemon balm and the smell of fruit loops (reid’s observation), this stalky, fibrous ingredient is utilized all over southeast asia. I actually find lemongrass a lot better to work with from frozen as the cells break down easier in a food processor or mortar and pestle. after a couple of minutes defrosting at room temp, trim off the end and starting from the bottom up, thinly slice until you no longer see an inner purple ring (this is the most fragrant part). the rest of the upper stalk can be tied into a knot and tossed into whatever you are simmering on the stove for added flavour.
Kaffir Lime (Leaves)
these wrinkly looking fellas are used for their rind. once zested, it will release the most delightful, citrusy perfume you’ve ever smelled. the actual fruit itself is quite dry and is not often used for its juice as it can be bitter and overpowering. leaves are the easiest to use and come by - just toss a couple into your curry and its distinctive lime-y fragrance will shine through.
Bird’s Eye Chili (+ All Chili Peppers)
tiny and mighty, bird’s eye chilis hold a kick! use sparingly, as 1 will often be enough. since they come in such absurdly large quantities, storing them in the freezer will save you the pain of having to throw them out. store all of your chilis this way (even jalapenos!) if you often find yourself with moldy peppers hidden in your crisper drawer.
: earthy, peppery, and slightly bitter. has anti-inflammatory properties, loves colouring things yellow, and bathing in hot tubs of broth. wear a white shirt at your own risk when dealing with this ingredient. I use fresh and powdered for different applications as fresh is good for pastes, and dry for rubs. make sure the powdered stuff you get actually smells like something, because man does it make a difference! if your turmeric doesn’t smell like anything, buy new turmeric.
ginger’s very distant cousin that smells like cherry chapstick. takes about 10 minutes to defrost from frozen before you are able to slice through it. no need to peel and easier to pound from frozen. has notes of lemon and cardamom.
the easiest way to describe pandan is by calling it ‘asia’s vanilla’. this grassy green leaf gives a complex, nutty flavour to desserts and is often paired with coconut. gives many southeast asian desserts its characteristically green hue.