Annatto Seeds : Small red triangular-shaped seeds with a subtle flavour and vivid colour.
Used extensively in Latin American cooking, they were introduced to the Philippines by the Spanish traders.
Once they have been fried in oil, the seeds are usually removed and the coloured oil is used in the dish.
Annatto seeds are used by the Chinese to colour their roast pork.
Asian Shallots : Small reddish purple onions, commonly used in Asian cookery.
These grow in bulbs, like garlic, and are sold in segments that look like large cloves of garlic. They have a concentrated flavour and are easy to slice and grind.
If necessary, use red onions as a substitute : one small red onion to 4-6 Asian shallots.
Banana Leaves : Large, pliable green leaves from the banana tree.
Used throughout Asia as disposable plates and platters, as well as for wrapping food that is to be baked or steamed.
Before use, remove the centre stalk, rinse the leaves in cold water and then blanch briefly in boiling water, to soften.
Available in packets from Asian food stores if you don't have access to fresh.
Basil : See Lemon Basil or Thai Basil
Bean Sprouts : Used mainly in salads and as a stirfry vegetable, soya bean sprouts are crunchy, white, short sprouts.
Discard any that are limp or brown.
They are highly perishable, so use within three days of purchase.
Traditionally, the scraggly ends are removed.
Belacan : See Shrimp Paste
Bird's Eye chilies : Bird's eye are the hottest chilies of all.
From 1 to 3 cm long (1/2 to 1 1/4 inches), they are available fresh, dried or pickled in brine.
Blachan : See Shrimp Paste
Candlenuts : Large, cream-coloured nuts. Similar to macadamias in shape but with a drier texture.
They cannot be eaten raw as the oil is thought to be toxic. They are ground and used to thicken curries and sauces.
Chilies : chilies are a common ingredient in Asian cuisine, although not all dishes are hot.
chilies come in a great variety of sizes, shapes and colours, and are available fresh and dried,
as flakes and powder.
The most commonly used fresh chilies are bird's-eye chilies : small, thin, green, or sometimes red chilies.
Generally, the larger the chili the milder the flavour : the very tiny red chilies can be very hot.
To avoid skin irritation, take great care when seeding or chopping chilies : wear rubber gloves. After handling chilies don't touch your face, eyes or any tender part of the body and always wash your hands thoroughly.
If you like a hot curry, leave the seeds in, but if you prefer a milder flavour, the seeds can be removed to lessen
Whole chilies freeze well in plastic bags and can be chopped frozen.
Some chilies are available dried and are usually soaked in water, to soften, before use.
See also : Small Red chilies, Medium chilies and Large Red and Green chilies
Chinese Dried Mushrooms : These impart a very distinct flavour to the dish and are used in Asian dishes that have a Chinese influence.
Store them in a sealed container in a cool place. They need to be soaked before use.
Coriander : Also known as cilantro and Chinese parsley, coriander is the most common herb used in Asian cooking. The whole plant is used : the root, stem, seeds and leaves.
The seeds are roasted and then ground in a spice mill and used in curry pastes.
Fresh coriander is available from Asian food stores, greengrocers, or in pots from plant nurseries. The leaves are used for their fresh, peppery flavour, and as a garnish.
For storage, wash and dry the fresh herbs before placing them in plastic bags in the refrigerator — they will keep for 5 to 6 days.
Dried coriander is not a suitable substitute for fresh coriander.
Chinese Parsley : See Coriander
Cilantro : See Coriander
Curry Leaves :
Curry leaves are used a lot in Asian cooking, especially vegetable curries, to impart a distinctive flavour.
They are small, pointed leaves with a spicy fragrance and are available fresh from greengrocers, or dried from Asian grocery stores.
Use as you would bay leaves and remove before serving. (The taste can't be compared to bay leaves though...)
Dried Shrimp : Tiny, salted shrimps that have been dried in the sun.
These are used for flavour, especially in sauces.
Duan Limau Purut : See : Kaffir Lime Leave
Fish Sauce : This brown, salty sauce with a characteristic 'fishy' smell is an important ingredient in Thai and Vietnamese cookery.
It is made from small fish that have been fermented in the sun for a long time.
Galangal : Related to ginger and quite similar-looking, but it is pinkish and has a distinct peppery flavour.
Used in curry pastes, stir-fries and soups.
Use fresh galangal, if possible, and be careful when handling that you don't get the juice on your clothes or hands, as it stains.
Dried galangal must be soaked in hot water before use.
Galangal powder is also known as Laos powder.
Ginger : A delicious, aromatic ingredient, important in Asian cooking.
Fresh ginger is readily available : buy firm, unwrinkled rhizomes and store them in a plastic bag so they don't dry out.
Kaffir Limes and Leaves : A knobbly, dark-skinned lime with a very strong lime fragrance and flavour.
The leaves are finely shredded for use in curry pastes and salads, or added whole to curries.
The rind is also very pungent and is grated over salads, soups and curries.
The leaf is a must in Tom Yam soup!
Kunyit : See : Turmeric
Laos : See : Galangal
Large Red and Green chilies :
Around 15 to 20 cm (6 to 8 inches) long, these thick chilies are used in Northern Thai cooking.
The ripe red chilies are fiery.
Lemon Basil : As the name implies, Lemon Basil has a mild lemon flavour.
It is sprinkled over salads and soups.
The leaves resemble Thai Basil, but don't have the purple tinge.
Lengkuas : See : Galangal
Limau Purut : See : Kaffir Lime
Lemon Grass :
An aromatic fresh herb that is used in curry pastes, stir-fries and soups.
The stems can be up to 60 cm (2 feet) long.
Trim the base, remove the tough, outer layers and finely slice, chop or pound the white interior.
For pastes and salads, use the tender, white portion just above the root.
The whole stem, trimmed and washed thoroughly, can be added to simmering soups and curries and removed before serving.
Dried lemon grass is available under the name serai and needs to be soaked in water for half an hour before use. However, the flavour of fresh is superior.
Medium chilies : Approximately 10 to 15 cm (4 to 6 inches) long.
They are most commonly used in Indonesian and Malaysian cooking.
They are a thin chili and are hot, but not overpowering.
The seeds are the hottest part.
Nam Pla : See : Fish Sauce
Pandan Leaves : Also known as Screw Pine Leaves.
The long, flat leaves are used for flavour and colour in Asian cooking.
Before adding to the dish, partly shred and tie in a knot to hold together.
Available in dried form but fresh leaves give a more intense flavour.
Essence is used to flavour Asian desserts.
Screw Pine Leaves : See : Pandan Leaves
Serai : See : Lemon Grass
Shallots : See : Asian Shallots
Small Red chilies : Approximately 5 cm (2 inches) long.
They are the chilies used to make chili powder and chili flakes.
Most commonly used in Thai cooking.
Shrimp Paste : Also known as Blachan, Belacan : an important ingredient in Thai cooking.
Shrimp paste is made from dried, salted prawns and has a very pungent smell.
Wrap in plastic, or wrap and store in a sealed container in the refrigerator or freezer (the refrigerator
reduces the aroma, but the actual paste does not need refrigeration).
Thai Basil : Thai Basil has a strong aroma and is used extensively in Asian cooking.
The green and purple serrated-edged leaves branch from a purple stem. The flowers are
The leaves are added to Thai curries and stir-fries at the end of cooking.
The Vietnamese use it as a garnish for soups.
Tamarind : A tart-flavoured pulp that comes from the tamarind tree.
It is an important ingredient in Thai cooking, and is available as a bottled puree, crystals or a pulpy solid that has to be soaked, kneaded and seeded.
Turmeric : Also known as kunyit : a bitter spice used for its intense, bright yellow-orange colour.
If you use the fresh root, peel away the skin and finely grate the flesh.
It is readily available in powdered form.