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Chinese Culture >> Asian Food

The Asian Pantry: Asian Food

by: Chef Vanda

In addition to tasting great, Traditional Asian cooking is one of the healthiest cuisines around. Studies have shown that the traditional Chinese, Japanese and Thai diet is lower in cholesterol and saturated fat than American menus. Don't confuse the traditional Asian cuisine with the fast food take out "Sweet and Sour Pork" or the "General Tso's Chicken". Healthy Asian meals use lots of high fiber fresh vegetables, which are loaded with vitamins and antioxidants. The best place to start understanding their cuisine is in the Asian Pantry.

Soy Sauce - (shoyu, tamari and teriyaki) is a dark brown liquid made from fermented soybeans. Specific types of soy sauce are shoyu, tamari, and teriyaki. A staple condiment and ingredient throughout all of Asia, if you are watching your salt intake, try the low- or reduced-salt soy sauces on the market. (These may still be too high in sodium for some people who are on low-sodium diets.)

Peanut Oil - a clear oil pressed from peanuts; it is used for salads and, because it has a high smoke point especially prized for frying. Most American peanut oils are mild-flavored, whereas Asian peanut oils have a distinctive peanut flavor.

Sesame Oil - The darker, Asian sesame oil has a much stronger flavor and fragrance and is used as a flavor accent for some Asian dishes. Arrow Root / Corn Starch - a thickening agent for sauces.

DashiDashi - a Japanese soup stock, which becomes the base of many Japanese dishes, such as soup and simmered dishes. the basic stock that provides the underlying flavor for most Japanese dishes, used as dipping sauce for tempura or when cooking vegetables.

Sake - a beverage fermented from rice, used in sauces and for marinating.

Panko - used in Japanese cooking to coat fried foods made from dried rather than toasted bread, lower in salt and calories than breadcrumbs and is much crunchier.

Mirin - the secret ingredient in authentic Japanese cuisine, rice wine but very sweet and used exclusively for cooking, used in grilled and simmered dishes.

Wasabi Powder - the Japanese equivalent of horseradish, not just for sushi, one of the cornerstones of Japanese cuisine, often enjoyed with sushi, use with caution.

Sushi Rice - short-grained, sweeter variety rather different in consistency from the long-grain and Indian rice strains it is cooked with rice vinegar and is cooled before being used to make sushi.

Rice Noodles - made from rice flour and water, available in various shapes and sizes, often fried and added to soup. They should be soaked in cold or lukewarm water before being boiled or stir-fried.

Dried Mushrooms - Many different varieties are available including morels, ceps, chanterelles, shiitake and oyster mushrooms. Their flavor is highly concentrated so even a very small quantity will add richness and depth. They need to be reconstituted (soaked in warm water) before use.

Canned Water Chestnuts - actually roots of an aquatic plant that grows in freshwater, water chestnuts have a tender crunch, and a mild, slightly sweet flavor, adds texture to soups and stir-fries.

Roasted Sesame Seeds - sesame seeds provide a nutty taste and a delicate, almost invisible crunch to many Asian dishes, besides having a distinctive flavor, they are widely believed to have anti-aging effects.

These ingredients are usually available at most upscale supermarkets but for hard to find Asian ingredients, go to a local Asian grocery store rather than supermarket chains. Not only will the selection at the Asian grocer be larger, the products sold there are often less expensive.

Asian Cooking can be a great way to eat healthy.

About the Author:

Chef Vanda is owner of Shilloh, a Long Island Personal Chef Service specializing in in-home cooking parties, one on one cooking instructions and healthy-eating meal planning