Craving udon, edamame, or wontons? How about a comforting bowl of chicken korma? Toss out those takeout menus – we’re here to show you how to stock (and cook with!) the ultimate Asian pantry, full of items you can find right at your local ShopRite!
When we think of Asian or Middle Eastern cuisine, we often go straight for our favorite takeout meals like Chicken with Broccoli or sushi. But there’s so much more to the region’s cuisine than what we order for takeout! China, Japan, Korea, Thailand and India all bring unique cultures, flavors and cooking methods to the table.
Although beef makes appearances in Asian cuisine, many in Asia and the Middle East avoid red meat (cows are sacred in certain Eastern religions, like Hinduism, for example) or meat altogether. Chicken, as we mentioned in our discussion on Mediterranean diets last month, is prominent in nearly all diets across the globe, due to it being such an easy animal to domesticate. Pork is also a go to protein source for those not adhering to a vegetarian Asian diet.
Fish is plentiful, with countries like China and Japan having ample access to the Pacific ocean. Fresh shrimp, scallops, eel, crab, octopus and tuna make appearances in many traditional dishes, though vegetarianism is vastly more popular in this region than in the Americas.
Tofu, made of soybeans, along with mushrooms and legumes, also provide a large supply of protein in Asian diets. Read on for more details on the go-to grains and produce to stock your Asian pantry!
You may have thought to yourself “I know the answer to this one: rice!” But did you know that cooking Asian recipes can mean you are using over half a dozen different rice products throughout the course of the week?
Though white rice is what we have all come to know and love when we order chinese takeout, for your pantry you’ll want to expand your horizons to options like jasmine, basmati and more! Rice noodles will also be a major staple in many of the recipes you cook, ranging from wide, flat noodles to thin, fragile vermicelli.
Noodles made from buckwheat, called soba, are a go-to for delicious noodle soups, as are the wheat-based udon noodles.
Oils & Vinegars:
Now here is where your tastebuds can experience exciting new flavors. Soy sauce is a must, for sure, but don’t forget other flavor-building staples like fish sauce, oyster sauce, and hoisin. On their own, their scents are a bit strong, but they become the foundation of many soups and sauces! Sesame oil adds an earthy note to many dishes and can take the place of olive oil when adding flavor to your meals.
For vinegars, start with a few staples like mirin and rice vinegar; typically a bit sweeter than traditional white vinegars, their flavors often balance out the sour/earthy notes in a dish.
Produce and Dairy
Although dairy is not as prominent in Asian cuisines as it is in Mediterranean or American, there are a few key items to keep in mind when stocking your pantry. Yogurt, for starters, is a must-have in many Indian dishes. It lends a much-needed creaminess to curries and stews. Ghee, or clarified butter, is also a major staple in much of Indian cuisine, though in a pinch you could use regular melted butter.
Produce is where these recipes get bright color and earthy flavor. You may recognize a few from our Mediterranean discussion a few weeks back, as well as a few new items you have yet to try!
Here’s our starter list of fruits and vegetables:
- scallions (green onions
- red onions
- bell peppers
- white mushrooms
- shiitake mushrooms
- bok choy
- red cabbage
- broccoli (traditional and chinese broccoli)
- fresh gingerroot
- bean sprouts
- sweet potatoes
Canned Goods & Spices:
Just as your Mediterranean pantry has its canned staples like tomatoes, olives and peppers, so does the typical Asian pantry.
Curry pastes are concentrated flavor bombs that can help you build a quick chicken curry in less than an hour. Miso, fermented soybeans, becomes the base of the classic miso soup, as well as the foundation for other Japanese dishes.
A quick list of starter spices:
- curry powder
- garam masala
- Mint (fresh)
- Star Anise
- Dried chiles
- Thai Basil
Dried spices, as well as preserved spices (like lemongrass paste) are an absolute must-have. Keep them handy in the event of last minute cooking needs. You can find the staples like cilantro, ginger, basil and lemongrass in jars in the produce section of your local ShopRite, or even frozen in the frozen aisles!
Just remember that dried spices are stronger than their fresh counterparts; a good rule of thumb is to use half the amount of dried spices you would for fresh (example: 1 tbsp fresh basil = 1 tsp dried)
Seem like a lot to process? Don’t worry – we’ve even included a free grocery list for you to stock up your brand new Asian pantry with all the essentials!
But What Do I DO with all of it?
Now that you’ve stocked up and learned about the cuisine, it’s time to put on that apron, preheat the oven and get cooking!
Starter Asian Menu:
Appetizers, Soups and Small Bites: