I love Thai and East Asian food and it’s really really easy to cook. I was asked recently
a few months ago what you should get in (fresh, herbs and cupboard) for when you’re first starting out experimenting with Thai cooking. Then a few months later, I decided that it would make a very informative and colourful blog post to create a shopping list of east asian staple ingredients that you can get! I hope it inspires a few of you into experimental cooking with healthy and tasty ingredients. See below for a Thai Red Prawn recipe with many of these ingredients that I have used for years, first established from good old Jamie.
1 – Choy Sum | 2 – Pak Choy | 3 – Fresh Chillies | 4 – Citrus Fruits (Lemons, Limes…)
Choy sum and pak choi are most commonly used in Chinese cuisine but you can get Thai varieties, I often throw them into a stirfry with some oyster sauce. They’re really good in Vitamin C and don’t smell like something has died like regular cabbage! You can throw fresh, red chillies into anything to give it a kick, they really are a good staple to have (and you can use as much or as little as you want). You’ll also find SO many uses for your citrus fruit too, even if you don’t cook with them! Lemon is good for cleaning, and you cant have a rum and coke without lime!
Other fresh ingredients to get: edamame beans (a popular side dish in Japanese izakaya restaurants), eggs (for Pad Thai, or frying with noodles-inspired cooking), morning glory, papaya, mango and/or dragonfruit (you can make an AMAZING papaya salad!). Have a look in your local Chinatown and see if you can find some Gyoza. You can freeze them and use some when you want, but its better than filo pastry for making Sui Mai (My favourite!) and steam in a bamboo steamer.
5 – Controversial Coriander | 6 – Lemongrass | 7 – Ginger | 8 – Kaffir Lime Leaves | 9 – Garlic
Firstly, for those who didn’t quit reading this blog at the sight of coriander, it’s a scientific fact that around 10% of the population have a gene that makes coriander (cilantro) taste like soap. For the other 90%, coriander can be a useful herb to have in the fridge (preferably fresh), you can use it in curries or as a garnish. As you can see I have freeze-dried lemongrass in the photo, I would actually recommend getting it in a paste-form, it would be A LOT easier to cook with. Same goes for ginger, and you can even get cheat garlic and ginger from your local supermarket.
Other herbs and spices to mention would be chives and basil (pictured).
10 – Coconut Milk | 11 – Oyster Sauce | 12 Nam Pla (Fish Sauce) | 13 – Soy Sauce | 14 – Coconut Oil
It may seem like a lot, but often you can create your own marinades or flavours combining a couple of proportionate tablespoons of some of these together (including hoisin sauce!). Coconut oil is, as I’m sure you’re already aware, a healthy alternative and an anti carcinogenic. You can also get sesame oil in the cupboard too as sesame is also a commonly-used staple flavour.
Other things to get: peanuts (for Pad Thai)
Try this recipe!
a load of prawns, as many as you want
2 stalks of lemongrass (or a couple of dollops, I dunno, two tsp?)
2 cloves of garlic (or a few flicks of Lazy Garlic)
Kaffir lime leaves
handful of fresh coriander (unless you think it’s the devil)
1 tbsp Nam Pla (that’s fish sauce)
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
A wee bit of ginger (tsp of the lazy stuff?)
tin of coconut milk
a fresh red chilli, or two, or three. whatever tickles your
Bash the lemongrass, ginger and garlic and chop the chilli and peppers and whack it in your food processor with your kaffir lime leaves, coriander, tomato puree, nam pla, soy sauce and sesame oil. Whizz it up to an almost-liquid consistency, if you struggle, put a bit of the coconut milk in with it*. Cook your prawns in a wok (with whatever other greens you fancy – sugar snap peas?) with a little bit of your curry paste. Once cooked, throw in the rest of your masterpiece with the coconut milk and simmer.
*tasting the thai red curry at this point is pretty rank, it’s stone cold.