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Feb 5, 2002 12:33 AM

ethnic cooking shortcuts?

  • h

I'm having a baby in two weeks, and it's likely I'll be too busy for a while to do things like make my own Thai curry paste or mole sauce from scratch. I've seen lots of canned curry pastes, whole lines of Indian "simmer sauces," jars of mole and pipian, and the like, but I've never tried any of them. Does anybody recommend any favorite products from nearly any world cuisine?

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  1. Buy them, try them, doctor them up with your favorite ingredients. I sometimes find that these products, like most prepared foods, can be a bit harsh tasting and salty. That doesn't mean you can't make a good dinner out of them, just keep it in mind. For instance saute your vegetables and then just use water instead of stock or bouillon.

    I also find in my local Indian grocery stores mylar pouches of standard dishes that you can just cut open, squeeze out and microwave. I'm looking forward to using them on our next camping trip.

    Have fun with the baby.

    1 Reply
    1. re: annieb

      Mother of a 21 month old person here, and in the midst of my best cooking year ever. But last year, when he was small, I used much more premade stuff and I specialized in finding applications (meat, veg, past, rice) for sauce of the world in bottles/jars. Agree with annieb, just try and see what works. To my surprise, I turn again and again to the Soy Veh stuff (the marinade in particular) which I doctor with rooster (hot) sauce, but the real fun is in taking a walk with the baby, going to a schmancy food store where they let you try/have samples out, or just grabbing condiments/sauces and giving them a whirl. Nearly everything that isn't majorly manufactured/chemicalized is good, and you can usually fix it if not. And if it's horrible, most groceries want to know and will usually take your $ back.

      I used to balk at spending $8 on a bottle of sauce (or more) but compared to takeout or other alternatives? So worth it. When I have had more coffee I will wander to the cabinet/fridge and post brand names.

      Really, your thought to use this stuff to make your culinary life easier and still high quality is right on the money. Get sauces, an excellent and varied pasta and rice selection on hand, and then shop daily/weekly for produce and meat and you're in the money.

    2. As to the moles,pipians,etc:

      I'm not sure what's available in your area, but here in the Midwest about the only brands available widely are Rogelio Bueno and Dona Maria...I've found the former much better, and use the Mole Paste occasionally when I have leftover chicken and just want to slap something together to take for lunch the next day...I like it a little sweeter, more canela, so as mentioned by others - re-season as necessary. I would recommend NONE of the Pipians...they seem quite poor to me. The Adobo is pretty good.

      2 Replies
      1. re: sladeums

        a quick mole recipe for those times when you dont have time to grind, roast and stir for hours, but want something more that straight from the package..

        boil the chicken over medium high heat until tender- with a bay leaf, quartered onion and garlic in the water.

        take the dona maria mole and dissolve it using the water that was used to boil the chicken until dissolved. grate some mexican chocolate in..ibarra or has the cocoa, sugar and cinammon in it... put as much as you need to taste..

        place the cooked chicken into the mole and let it simmer for 20 minutes..enjoy with rice and tortillas

        1. re: icarus

          Have you had the Rogelio Bueno brand? If so I was wondering what your thoughts were in comparing the two (particullarly the moles)...I've had a couple Dona Maria products that I thought were ok, but then bought the pipian and thought it was just horrid, so haven't touched their stuff again.

          I'm setting up for a good cooking weekend: Chuletas de Puerca en Agridulce for dinner tomorrow - - leave out some tortillas Saturday night and make a big batch of Chilaquiles for an office breakfast fooday on Monday and also some Pasilla salsa to spice up the bland eggs other people bring!

      2. Trader Joe's is a great source for all sorts of cooking sauces, mixes, and prepared foods.

        Here are some of the TJ products we like:

        --cornbread mix
        --frozen gyozas (chicken, pork, or vegetable dumplings)
        --Annie Chun's noodle mixes
        --tamales (in the refrigerator section)
        --Indian and Thai simmer sauces
        --Pomi Marinara Sauce
        --Muffaletta olive mix
        --tart cherries (both in jars and dried)

        Look around the store -- I'm sure that there are lots more products I'm forgetting.

        Also, there are some products available at Safeway that we like:

        --Wonnie's Korean BBQ marinade (also, their spicy marinade)
        --Safeway Select American Basmati Rice Pilaf
        --Lee Kum Kee chili sauce with garlic and black bean sauce with garlic
        --Lee Kum Kee chicken marinade
        --El Pato Enchilada sauce
        --Paul Prudhomme's seasonings (you can get these in bulk online
        )--Zatarain mixes
        --Ghirardelli Brownie Mix
        --Sukhi's Indian sauces, chutneys and marinades
        --Yoshida's marinade and other sauces

        1. I got more done around the house and garden on my maternity leaves than at all times before or since...for a working woman, its a wonderful opportunity. Enjoy the time, take your very portable new baby shopping with you, you may look back wistfully to this period of life.

          The thai curry pastes in the little cans are really pretty good - if you augment the paste with some lightly sauteed onions etc. in addition to the coconut milk. and garnish with some cilantro, fried onions or garlic, etc your dish will be even better.

          1. I would recommend first visiting your local ethnic grocery stores for sauces and ingredients.

            You'll be assured of authenticity and generally prices are significantly cheaper. ie popular coconut milk found in asian grocery stores "Chaucock" brand from thailand retails for about 50 - 60 cents, retails for double or triple that in local supermarket chains.

            Another item that is a lot cheaper at these places are spices. A bag of cinnamon sticks for $2 at my local indian grocery store versus $3 - $5 for a small bottle from McCormicks.

            Some personal favourites I can think of for chinese food, "Kimlan" chinese stlye Soy Sauces, Kikkoman for japanese style Soy Sauces, mirin. "Lee Kum Kee" makes sauces for everything, "wei-chuan" for dumplings.

            Good Luck, and happy cooking


            3 Replies
            1. re: SG

              I love the recipe link you posted! Maybe I have time to make beef rendang before the "happy event..."


              1. re: SG


                The 'Chaucock' brand of coconut milk is actually a cheep knock-off of the much higher quality 'Chaokah'.

                That may be where you're seeing the price difference - they look VERY similar (quite intentionally, I would assume)...maybe not.

                1. re: sladeums

                  Thanks for the clarification. 'Chaokoh' is what I intended to write about!!! Got 'Chaucock' from a picture off some on-line store and realized my mistake when I went home and checked my own stash. Label is identical only difference is the name, thought it sounded funny.

                  Knockoff coconut milk, what will they think of next!!!???