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What are your easy no fail Asian recipes?

l
lilmomma Mar 16, 2011 08:15 AM

I can easily "invent" Italian dishes, or at least pasta dishes without a recipe. But when I am making Asian meals, I need a recipe. How do you just "invent" Asian meals? I want to cook more soups or sauces that are Asian. But when I experiment, the results are lacking. What are the basics that I need and/or convenience items? And what are the techniques?

  1. q
    Querencia Feb 26, 2012 08:28 PM

    You did say "easy" and "no-fail", not "authentic", so I will take you at your word. This one is almost instantaneous. I stir-fry a package of shredded cabbage (the kind they sell for coleslaw) and when it's about ready I add a teaspoon each of soy sauce, sherry, and sugar---cover and steam it for a minute---and add any odd bits of meat or seafood or canned french-fried onions or whatever. It's better than you expect.

    A similar one is to toss equal parts of lime juice, soy sauce, and peanut butter with cooked noodles and call it Thai. Add anything you feel like.

    1. butzy Feb 25, 2012 11:17 PM

      My fail proof (and fool proof) dishes are nasi goreng and bahmi goreng with a fried egg on top.
      Both are Indonesian left over dishes, the first one made with rice, the second with noodles.

      SE Asian food is my favourite food. I grew up eating a lot of Indonesian food . Currently I'm eating a lot of thai food as well.
      Like a lot of people already said: follow some recipes and then start tweaking them a bit if necessary.
      I would second the recommendation for Charmaine Solomon's book: "Complete Asian Cookbook"

      1. RUK Jan 22, 2012 06:36 AM

        As others have said, I would pick a specific recipe and follow it as good as one can, given the available ingredients. ( which by definition will not be totally authentic, since you most likely will not get the exact same ingredients) It is a good start. Preparing repeatedly those you like and adding new dishes to your repertoire will enable you to have eventually a bit more freedom to experiment and play with flavors in a broader sense.

        1. mcel215 Jan 20, 2012 03:11 AM

          Have you checked your area for Adult Ed cooking classes in your area?

          I have taken many ethnic cooking classes and love them. It helps me to see the ingredients they have on hand and how they use them.

          http://saffron215.blogspot.com/2011/1...

          1. a
            Aria Jan 20, 2012 12:55 AM

            I realize this is an old post, but it just struck me as an odd thing to ask... "Asian" covers such a wide range of cuisines that asking for a basic guideline is like saying, "I want to cook more soups or sauces that are European. How do I do it?"

            I'm sure no offense was intended, but lumping all those countries together under one category is a little, er... imprecise. There will be a lot of ingredients, a lot of techniques, and each cuisine will have their own set of "basics". There's no magical ingredient or technique to make food taste "Asian".

            My recommendation is to pick _one_ country's cuisine at a time, which will be enough of a challenge in itself. China (much like Italy) already has quite a range of ingredients and dishes that differ from region to region. A cookbook like Charmaine Solomon's "Complete Asian Cookbook" might be a good starting point.

            6 Replies
            1. re: Aria
              huiray Jan 20, 2012 07:13 AM

              Bravo!
              Another person sees the absurdity of the question. The misuse of the term "Asian" is one of my pet peeves [and at least several others see it as a misuse, too, on these boards :-)] Here's another closely related old thread that was recently revived: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/581068
              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5810...

              1. re: Aria
                l
                lilmomma Jan 22, 2012 02:06 AM

                For the record, I am the original poster and I am Korean American. I want help with recipes and flavor profiles. My mom always tells me to "just taste it. then you will know what you need." But I am not able to do that. SO I was looking for recipes that will help me with flavor profiles and shortcuts.

                I agree "Asian" is very general but, I don't mind any recipes from any cuisine, truth be told! :)

                Thanks!

                1. re: lilmomma
                  w
                  wyogal Jan 22, 2012 06:19 AM

                  So, you want specific recipes? Have you read any books on "Asian" cuisines? I find them extremely helpful. But, I don't use recipes when I cook, so can't help you then. I just read the books, and get the ideas, techniques, flavor profiles, and recipe suggestions from them. We have a great collection of cookbooks in our local library. You might try yours. There are some new ones out there with glorious pictures, too.

                  1. re: lilmomma
                    a
                    Aria Jan 22, 2012 08:11 PM

                    Chinese American here. :) I sympathize with your problem-- my mother was very much the type of cook who throws things together and doesn't work from specific recipes.

                    Unfortunately, I'm not sure there's really many shortcuts to that level of experience/knowledge. Even asking for Asian flavor profiles is just too general of a query. My suggestion remains the same-- pick one cuisine, get a bunch of basic cookbooks and cook away until you find what you're looking for, or at least a more specific area you want to focus on.

                    1. re: Aria
                      l
                      lilmomma Jan 23, 2012 08:35 PM

                      Thanks!

                    2. re: lilmomma
                      chipoltay Jan 24, 2012 12:21 AM

                      I agree with your mom, but think you just need more practice and trial and error. And I don't know, are you wanting to make tasty food for every day sustenance, or to serve at dinner parties and impress people?

                      I'm not Asian, but most of my friends growing up were. My first cooking lesson was from a Chinese neighbor when I was 4, and I still remember her for it. But I grew up eating mostly Japanese and Korean foods, so my cooking today blends a lot from both. I picked up much of it from friend's moms, watching and eating. Sometimes I think it's more about being familiar with hands on cooking, not a list of ingredients; I was around a Japanese lady a few years ago who could shop at Safeway and make the most unusual little tea sandwiches out of the most ordinary American ingredients and yet everything she made tasted Japanese. Wish I knew her, to this day I still crave a roast beef and avocado sandwich she made!

                      Rather than piles of cookbooks, my suggestion is to start with a couple of very simple recipes. Then you'll have the ingredients for those flavor profiles on hand. After you're practiced making those, you'll have more of a feel of how much of sauce X to add, if it needs ginger, if a more bitter greens would be good, etc. While eating your cooking, make mental notes of why you think it doesn't taste good and adjust that the next time you cook the dish. I learned more from cooking with or watching other people cook than from books. And when people bug their eyes out and ask how much garlic you put in, then you know to use a lot less next time!

                      What I'm getting at is to start slow, take it easy, and build your knowledgebase through experience. Your mom wasn't born being able to cook the way she was. Shortcuts is what takeout is for.

                  2. s
                    shaebones Jan 19, 2012 11:22 PM

                    Pad Thai recipe from CI

                    1. p
                      pine time Jan 19, 2012 12:16 PM

                      I certainly take liberties with what's "Asian." Hubs is from India, and I'm from the southern U.S., so we have what I liberally call *international* mash-ups, such as dal with cornbread, samosas with salsa, idlis with hummus, etc. He likes pizza with mango pickle on top--now that's just wrong, in my sensibilities. :)

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: pine time
                        k
                        katecm Jan 19, 2012 12:41 PM

                        I feel like you guys could have SUCH a fun cocktail party with this!

                        1. re: katecm
                          p
                          pine time Feb 26, 2012 08:46 AM

                          Well, the Indian friends think we're nuts, and the southern friends just smile and say, "Bless your heart."

                          1. re: pine time
                            huiray Feb 26, 2012 09:29 AM

                            Well, I do cross-cultural mix-and-matches all the time. :-)

                      2. w
                        wyogal Jan 18, 2012 10:34 AM

                        I read cookbooks.... then by the end, have absorbed basic info and techniques to try something that i think the rest of the family would like.
                        I look for spices and ingredients that occur over and over again. To me, this is the most important.
                        I look for techniques that are used frequently.
                        I'll then try some internet searches, maybe a video or two.
                        Then, I just do it.
                        I make a great egg roll, and do good stir fry.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: wyogal
                          c
                          cstout Feb 26, 2012 09:44 AM

                          wyogal, I would love to have your recipe for egg roll & stir fry.

                          Your approach to building your own recipes is exactly what I have been trying to come up with in my own mind, but just could not get it all together. Duh, sounds sooooooooh simple when you break it down like that. I am off & running with your steps in mind. And guess where my first stop will be? The library. Thanks for showing me "how" of it.
                          Thank you.
                          .

                          1. re: cstout
                            w
                            wyogal Feb 26, 2012 09:50 AM

                            :-)
                            Usually I just brown ground sausage, add 5 spice powder, thinly sliced cabbage, maybe some thinly sliced carrots and water chestnuts. A bit of ginger and garlic.
                            That's my "recipe." I never measure. Pinch of this and that. Some soy sauce/water/cornstarch slurry to combine.
                            And believe me, LOTS of trial and ERROR! hahaha! I have a picky eater in the house (hubby), so I pick ingredients he'd like, too. I don't mess with the fancy stuff. 5 spice powder really is key, and makes it easy.

                        2. g
                          gimlis1mum Jan 18, 2012 02:28 AM

                          I do what other posters have said - work from cookbooks for a while. Then I start winging it.

                          These days I mostly stick to Korean-style cooking. I say "style" because it's not strictly traditional in terms of exact veggies, ways to cut them etc. I keep a few things in the pantry and then work with whatever else is on hand.

                          Two things i make a lot are jeon (pancakes) and soup/stews. For the jean, I use a Korean pancake mix but you can just go with flour, water and an egg (lots of recipes online). For the soups & stews I use anchovy broth - keep dried anchovies in the fridge and dried kelp on the shelf. Gojuchang (hot pepper paste), doenjang (soybean paste), sesame oil and soup soy sauce are on hand for seasonings. Korean red pepper flakes and sesame seeds too.

                          1. BananaBirkLarsen Jan 17, 2012 11:49 AM

                            I've found that thai curries are super easy if you buy a can of decent curry paste (or if you keep homemade curry paste in the freezer).

                            Pour 1/2 jar of coconut milk and a couple Tbls, curry paste in a pan. Cook on low heat until it starts to bubble. Add bits of chopped meat (or even bone-in pieces of chicken) and cook for a few minutes, until partially cooked. Add the rest of the coconut milk, a bit of lime juice a spoonful of sugar, a couple squirts of fish sauce, some keffir lime leaves if you have them, some water or stock and any vegetables you may want to include (I like to keep it simple -- one type of meat and a couple different vegetables. Summer squash and red peppers are my favourites!) Fresh chilis, galagal, ginger and stalks of lemongrass are also nice additions (although these may already be part of the curry paste).

                            I've found a lot of easy, basic recipes at http://www.thaitable.com

                            1. mamachef Jan 17, 2012 11:48 AM

                              Ok, soups are a GREAT place to begin. Do you make stock? A hit of ginger, garlic and a splash of soy sauce (with which some folks would disagree...but not me, I love it.) Thinly-sliced onion and bias-cut celery into the broth next, green or white, whatever you've got. I enjoy rice noodles in my soup, and soba too, but my favorite is wontons, which are super-easy to make if you buy the wrappers. Follow package directions to cook them separately (noodles too) and then float the in the soup. I like a handful of mung beansprouts and a handful of spinach thrown in at the end. Sometimes a handful of herbs on top: cilantro, basil, what-have-you. A splash of fish sauce can really add some umame to the flavor. Don't forget to taste and salt.
                              Techniques are a bit more difficult. I've worked under several Asian Chefs, and ALL their methods were different. One simmered the stock 0h-so-gently, but the other boiled the hell out of it, explaining that it made a "creamier" texture. Both were marvelously delicious; that I can tell you. A lot of the key to it is in how you slice your food too, to get the Asian flair in there. (It's why I emphasized the thin slicing and the bias cut.) You can certainly google for "Simple Asian Recipes" and probably find 10bazillion sites.
                              I'd be most happy to provide the wonton recipe, if you like. I enjoy making them: half for the soup, and half for the cook, who likes to eat them in a bowl with soy and a dash of mirin and a bit of vinegar. Heaven in a bowl, yummmmm.

                              1. skamama Jan 17, 2012 09:50 AM

                                Into a bowl, I shave bits from a hunk of frozen chicken breast that I've put in the microwave to defrost just a bit. I add shaved frozen ginger into the meat, which I mince up a little as I add a bit of chopped scallion, a teaspoon or so of oyster sauce or black bean garlic paste, a drop or two of sesame oil and a dash of soy sauce. It should be fairly pasty; you only need a half cup or a cup of the mixture, depending on how many you are feeding. I take a tsp. of the mixture and place it in the center of a won ton wrapper, and use my finger to trace the outer edges with water. Then I squeeze the wrappers together --- my technique isn't that pretty, but I pinch pleats into the edges and they usually stay together. Meanwhile, I have chicken stock going in a sauce pan with more ginger, some pre-sliced dried shiitakes, the rest of the chopped scallion, a dash of sesame oil, a T. or so of rice wine vinegar, a tsp. of sugar or agave syrup, and 2-3 heaping T. of chunky peanut butter, preferably the non-stirred kind. When the broth is at a good simmer and the peanut butter is incorporated, I throw in the potstickers plus some red chili flakes. By the way, this is one of my favorite breakfasts because it sounds a lot more complicated than it is, and it is SO GOOD. I lived next door to a Chinese restaurant in NYC that made something like this. I got hooked on it and got a takeout order nearly every night. Now that I am living across the continent, I still crave it and this is my version. P.S. Kids like it without the chili flakes.

                                1. tracylee Mar 17, 2011 08:14 PM

                                  I've done cashew chicken a couple of times since our local takeout place serves brown glop with very few cashews.

                                  I use chicken thighs, large cut onion and green pepper, with soy sauce mixed with a bit of water and corn starch, and throw the cashews in to coat at the end.

                                  I cut the veggies big, since I don't like eating them, but the flavor of them has to be there.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: tracylee
                                    c oliver Mar 17, 2011 08:23 PM

                                    If you don't like onion and green pepper, then sub out what you DO like.

                                    1. re: c oliver
                                      tracylee Mar 17, 2011 09:37 PM

                                      I found that I like the flavor that they give. I actually don't like most vegetables, and there's always plenty for my boyfriend to chow down on. I could do it with just garlic, if I was here alone and really wanted it. Unfortunately, my acupuncturist has said to avoid nuts. Yay, just one more thing off my list of things I can and/or will eat!

                                  2. Antilope Mar 17, 2011 08:00 PM

                                    Here's a Hot and Sour Soup recipe that we like a lot.
                                    We use to eat out a lot just for this soup. Making it at home saves a lot of money. It tastes very close to what you get at a Chinese restaurant. All of these ingredients should be available at most U.S. supermarkets, some in the Asian foods section. The white pepper and sesame oil are the "secret" ingredients that seem to give the authentic taste.

                                    Easy Chinese Restaurant Hot and Sour Soup

                                    4 cups of chicken broth
                                    4 tablespoons soy sauce
                                    1/4 cup cooked shredded chicken or pork (canned chicken ok)
                                    1/2 cup drained canned mushrooms (type of your choice), sliced or diced
                                    1/4 cup canned bamboo shoots, drained and julienned
                                    1/2 tablespoon Thai Chili Garlic Sauce (Tabasco Sauce and a little garlic powder as a substitute is ok)
                                    1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
                                    2 tablespoons cornstarch and 2 tablespoons cold water
                                    1 egg, beaten
                                    3 oz firm tofu, cut into 1/4 inch dice
                                    2 green onion stalks, diced (including green tops)
                                    1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
                                    1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

                                    Bring chicken broth to a simmer in a 2-quart saucepan.
                                    Add soy sauce, meat, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, Thai Chili Garlic Sauce and white pepper.
                                    -Simmer for five minutes.
                                    -Combine two tablespoons of cornstarch with two tablespoons of cold water in a cup. Stir until mixture is smooth. Add cornstarch mixture to soup and stir well.
                                    -Simmer for 2 or 3 minutes until soup is thickened.
                                    -Beat egg in a cup until yolk and white are combined. Pour beaten egg slowly, in a fine stream into soup. Stir soup several times.
                                    -Wait 30 seconds.
                                    -Add tofu and green onions to soup. Stir well. Remove from heat.
                                    -Add distilled white vinegar and sesame oil.
                                    -Stir a few times and serve.

                                    Makes about 6 cups.

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: Antilope
                                      Antilope Mar 17, 2011 08:18 PM

                                      This is a great recipe. It came from a restaurant recipe printed in the newspaper. The dressing is unusual in that it tastes similar to a peanut sauce, but it contains no peanut products.

                                      Milwaukee Grill restaurant Mandarin Chicken Salad recipe
                                      http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=...

                                      1. re: Antilope
                                        c oliver Mar 17, 2011 08:22 PM

                                        I'm curious where this recipe comes from. It somehow seems off. Can't put my finger on it. Too much? Chinese-American?

                                        1. re: c oliver
                                          huiray Jan 17, 2012 10:11 AM

                                          No muk yee/wang yee (wood mushrooms), no kum chum (lily buds), no tofu sheets...? Maybe not enough of: white pepper, sesame oil, tofu (strips better than cubes, too); too much corn starch...?

                                          1. re: huiray
                                            Antilope Jan 19, 2012 05:04 PM

                                            It wouldn't taste the way I like it. I have the recipe just as I want it, simple, quick and good. If I want complicated I'll go to a restaurant.

                                          2. re: c oliver
                                            w
                                            wyogal Jan 20, 2012 08:23 AM

                                            I like the first sentence: "Here's a Hot and Sour Soup recipe that we like a lot."
                                            That says it all. Does it matter that it may not live up to someone else's idea of hot-n-sour soup? Nope, not at all.
                                            Thanks or the recipe! Sounds like something my husband and I would enjoy.

                                        2. horseshoe Mar 17, 2011 11:10 AM

                                          I found , quite by accident, that when stir frying your veggies the wok or pan should be hot enough to char the veggies. It definatly gives your dish an authentic tatse. Due to the very hot temps the woks in commercial kitchen have.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: horseshoe
                                            c oliver Mar 17, 2011 11:27 AM

                                            Some people here have replaced their wok with a cast iron skillet.

                                          2. asiansupper Mar 16, 2011 12:39 PM

                                            I think the easiest approach is to cook 1-2 recipes of a given Asian dish, then as others advise, familiarize yourself with the flavors & seasonings that the cuisines uses most frequently, then to start your experimentation. It's hard to invent if you don't know what the "classic" approach to a given dish is.

                                            Another approach is to familiarize yourself with a given cuisine's frequently used flavors & seasonings, then apply it to a dish you know well (ie, the Chinese spaghetti that is mentioned below).

                                            For easy dish suggestions, I'd try a bunch of iterations around fried rice, or a variety of Chinese greens with different sauce combos (see JungMann's list). One thing I have been doing which is quite easy is experimenting with Vietnamese spring rolls -- using different proteins, vegetables & dipping sauces.

                                            1. e
                                              esquimeaux Mar 16, 2011 12:01 PM

                                              Keep around soy sauce, fish sauce, rice vinegar, mirin, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, coconut milk, limes, lemons, curry pastes or powders, coconut milk..... those are what I always have on hand so I can whip up something with the Asian flavors I like. I'll stick with a soy/+sesame+ginger flavor profile for Korean stuff, soy+mirin for Japanese, fish sauce+lime for Viet and add coconut milk and/or curry powder for Thai-ish stuff. I also always have on hand various spices and sauces for adding heat, like gochujang, sriracha, sambal, red pepper powders.... But the best way to make Asian or any ethnic foods at home is to eat a lot of them out to get familiar with them. Sometimes I have to pick up random (for me) ingredients like lemongrass or tofu or rice vermicelli, but most of the time I'm pretty happy just mixing and matching what I have. It's not going to be perfect, but if it satisfies your tastebuds, then you're succeeded. Also, sriracha goes with EVERYTHING.

                                              1. m
                                                MyNextMeal Mar 16, 2011 11:20 AM

                                                I like to riff from a basic yakisoba recipe. Noodles, protein, veg and a savory sauce.
                                                http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/03/din....

                                                IMHO the ratio of crispy crunchy vegetable to noodles should be about 3:1 or 4:1. That is to say, lots of veggies.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: MyNextMeal
                                                  c
                                                  cstout Feb 26, 2012 10:58 AM

                                                  MyNextMeal...I see you have read Ruhlman's Ratio. Do you also have the Twenty cookbook? If so, how do you like it? Both books have been in & out of my shopping cart for days...forgot which one is so expensive & does not even have free shipping on Amazon, as they usually do.

                                                  Promised myself I would be much more selective in book purchases this year & not get caught up in the latest trend out there.

                                                  Oh yes, I am definately a noodle girl....love to dress them up...I am liking the way you have just presented a basic soup recipe. I can immediately tell what I should do to make a decent yakisoba recipe. Of course a soup recipe is the most forgiving thing I can think of, but it is a start in training the mind to think in "components or whatever" it is being called.

                                                  Thanks for the mini lesson & nytimes recipe.

                                                2. chef chicklet Mar 16, 2011 11:16 AM

                                                  My inventions are Chinese Spaghetti and Indonesian fried rice.
                                                  And almost forgot, Easy BBQ Pork buns.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: chef chicklet
                                                    JungMann Mar 16, 2011 11:44 AM

                                                    I'd like to hear more about the Chinese spaghetti, please.

                                                  2. m
                                                    monopod Mar 16, 2011 11:10 AM

                                                    The Cook's Illustrated "Best Recipes" book has some good starting point recipes for an Indian curry and a Chinese stir-fry, among others, where they give you basic spice and aromatic combos and then a bunch of options to customize them and change the feel. If you follow these a couple of times, you'll start to get a sense for the basic flavors and ingredients you always want to use as a base and the ones that you can mix-and-match as the mood suits you. I've only recently, after years of making stir-fries, started to understand the components enough to be able to improvise and come up with something good (instead of a basic "tastes like soy sauce and garlic" pile of veggies).

                                                    1. k
                                                      katecm Mar 16, 2011 10:45 AM

                                                      After making this a few times, I started replicating the process with different meats, sauces, etc. So this might help. I do change up the order: I slice the beef and toss it with the cornstarch then set it aside. I mix up all of the sauce ingredients in a big mixing bowl, but don't bother cooking it all. Then I cut mushrooms into fourths and saute until cooked through. Remove from the pan. Brown half the beef very lightly, remove. Repeat wtih the rest. Then add in the first batch of beef and the mushrooms, then dump the sauce on and cook until it's thick and the meat is cooked. Stir in a lot of chopped scallions.

                                                      http://www.phrma.org/grady-forrer-bio

                                                      4 Replies
                                                      1. re: katecm
                                                        ChristinaMason Jan 17, 2012 01:05 PM

                                                        I know this is an old post, but I don't think that the link posted is the one you intended. And now I'm curious---what was the recipe? :)

                                                        1. re: ChristinaMason
                                                          k
                                                          katecm Jan 18, 2012 06:50 AM

                                                          Caught red-handed using Chow at work! Ooops!

                                                          Here it is - though apparently they are turned off today as part of the SOPA protests. But starting tomorrow... http://chaosinthekitchen.com/2009/12/...

                                                          1. re: katecm
                                                            ChristinaMason Jan 18, 2012 10:01 AM

                                                            Thanks!

                                                            1. re: ChristinaMason
                                                              Antilope Jan 18, 2012 10:21 AM

                                                              Here's the recipe in the Google cache version of the webpage.
                                                              http://webcache.googleusercontent.com...

                                                      2. e
                                                        escondido123 Mar 16, 2011 09:35 AM

                                                        Like you, I cook Italian food without recipes. But with Asian food, I don't have that same level of knowledge and experience. So I go to the library and check out a few books on whatever particular cuisine I want to get to know better. Right now I have "Classic Indian Cooking" by Julie Sahni and it begins with a 90 page section The Principles of Indian Cooking. That for me gives me a place to start. I've purchased most of the basic spices from an Indian market about an hour away so now I'm ready to begin making some recipes. Once I find those I like, I'll begin to play around with the flavors and ingredients. but for now I just want to get to know what cooks have been doing for hundreds of years.

                                                        1. n
                                                          nsstampqueen Mar 16, 2011 09:23 AM

                                                          Some Asian recipes that I’ve recently “invented” (to me that means I cooked it without a recipe) were a delightful bunch of soups.

                                                          I got hold of some lovely lean ground chicken one weekend and made it into a chicken wonton vegetable soup. I make pork and shrimp wontons a lot so it is a recipe that I can “tweak” to fit the situation. I also tried a soup made with pork tenderloin slices in a nice miso broth with greens and soba noodles.

                                                          For me, soups are the easiest to play around with as an earlier poster said. You come up with your base broth, add your flavour enhancers like ginger, garlic, etc. and then your meat and vegetables to create something unique.

                                                          For stir-fries, one of my favourite dishes in the local restaurants around here is Mu Shu Pork. Now that I am cutting down on red meat, I have made it a version with chicken that turned out really good – I just changed up the ingredients in the main stir-fry dish to more suit chicken. I tried it with bison one night which didn’t work out so well, still edible, but not what I was going for.

                                                          A well stocked pantry and fridge should allow for almost unlimited inspiration to throw something together in a new way!

                                                          1. jadec Mar 16, 2011 09:13 AM

                                                            You may be trying to be too ambitious. Italian is a specific European cuisine. The equivalent in Asian cuisine would be aiming for familarity with Japanese, Thai, Indian or Chinese, etc. While there are overlaps in ingredients and spices, there is enough that keeping a basic pantry for all Asian cuisines is going to be much larger than your Italian pantry.

                                                            Handy convenience items are Thai curry pastes (Maesri or Mae Ploy are good brands) and maybe some of the Indian masala mixes or pastes (Shan, Patak's, etc).

                                                            1. c oliver Mar 16, 2011 09:00 AM

                                                              I'm curious why you want to "invent"? Asian or anything. If you're winging it on, say, Italian, it's likely that you have a solid background of cooking those dishes so it's not really inventing but just tweaking recipes. After decades of eating Asian food, I've only just starting cooking. The seasonings are myriad and often subtle. One of those sum of the parts things. I don't have the sophistication of palate that I could even begin to distinguish all the components. As an example, here's Andrea Nguyen's pho bo recipe:

                                                              http://vietworldkitchen.typepad.com/b...

                                                              I followed it 100% and it made the best soup OR pho that I'd ever had. If you don't want to buy Asian cookbooks maybe you live somewhere that has a decent library and you can check out a bunch. Regarding techniques, basics or convenience items, you can probably do some searching here.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: c oliver
                                                                c
                                                                cstout Feb 26, 2012 10:37 AM

                                                                pho bo recipe....that sounds easy to make. The recipe got sent to my Chow recipe hidey hole...thanks. Yes, I need to get the basic techniques down..much to study about that. Thanks for the recipe.

                                                              2. a
                                                                AdamD Mar 16, 2011 08:48 AM

                                                                Its a skill that is developed over time after you have repeated a dish several times-just like with pasta or pancakes!

                                                                With Chinese style stir fries, you just need to become familiar with the basic ingredients used to add flavor and create the sauce-ginger, garlic, chilis, scallions, soy, garlic or bean paste, vinegars etc. Then you can stir fry just about anything and "invent" the flavor profile you like.

                                                                Our go to dish would probably be miso marinated fish. Miso, sugar, mirin, sake and soy. Marinate as long as two days. Cooked quickly under the broiler. Great with any type of fish in addition to the famous black cod. And that same marinade works great with chicken or pork as well.

                                                                Think of something you would like to make, get a good recipe, and repeat it until you get a feel for the ingredients.

                                                                3 Replies
                                                                1. re: AdamD
                                                                  c
                                                                  cstout Feb 26, 2012 10:04 AM

                                                                  AdamD, with all these generous explanations, it is beginning to sink in. I have no problem doing these things with American foods, but as soon as I see these foreign things like bean paste, mirin, miso & whatnot, I think, NO way can I fix something like that. In the end, it is just liquids, spices, protein, & veggies....whatever culture it is. YES, I can make Asian dishes...only after 50 million have pounded my head to bring home the point of "what is your problem with it?"

                                                                  Well, boys & girls, Asians & otherwise, "This is not so hard to think through after all !!!".

                                                                  Did I just hear a BIG sigh of relief from everyone out there, or was it just my big fat ol dog whizzing??

                                                                  1. re: cstout
                                                                    w
                                                                    wyogal Feb 26, 2012 10:20 AM

                                                                    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Whew!
                                                                    and a bit of technique, that takes practice. Which gets easier the hungrier you get.
                                                                    (I should tell you the about the time it took me 48, yes 48 eggs, in cooking school to flip an over easy..... of course I was left with a huge pan to use, on purpose, oh well, that's another story)

                                                                    1. re: cstout
                                                                      c
                                                                      caviar_and_chitlins Feb 26, 2012 11:27 AM

                                                                      I think what you are dealing with here is an unfamiliarity with ingredients, and you can't get a familiarity with them until you use them.

                                                                      I'm no saying go to culinary school, but are there any demo classes or short classes you can take to observe?

                                                                      I learned to cook Chinese because I had chinese roomates- sometimes you have to have someone introduce you to the foods. I would bet that youtube could serve a similar function.

                                                                  2. JungMann Mar 16, 2011 08:48 AM

                                                                    I think the key is to separate flavors into basic components: salty, spicy, savory, sweet and sour and balance those flavors in the ratio you want. It's also helpful to think in terms of yin and yang, hot and cooling flavors (chilies versus cilantro; scallions versus cucumbers). So if I feel like a winging a spicy stirfry sauce I'll think of the elements:
                                                                    Salty/Savory: Light soy sauce, oyster sauce
                                                                    Sweet: Dark soy sauce, sugar, oyster sauce
                                                                    Sour: Sambal Oelek, rice wine
                                                                    Hot: Dried chilies, sambal oelek, scallions, garlic
                                                                    Cool: Cilantro, ginger

                                                                    For soups you should start with a flavorful stock with basic aromatics like ginger and scallions, with the option for heavier flavors like charred onions, star anise or cilantro. A generous amount of aromatics will create a flavorful soup base. You can add depth with soy sauce and dried goods: mushrooms, shrimp, scallops, fish etc. Alternatively you can rely on umami bombs like kombu to provide the main flavor to your broth. From there you build upwards with the flavors you want: vinegars, sesame oil, shellfish, vegetables, etc.

                                                                    7 Replies
                                                                    1. re: JungMann
                                                                      l
                                                                      lrealml Mar 17, 2011 07:22 PM

                                                                      I cook a lot of Thai inspired dishes, so adding some SE Asian flavors:
                                                                      Sour: lime, tamarind
                                                                      Salty: Fish sauce
                                                                      Hot: Fresh chilies, Curry paste
                                                                      Sweet: Palm Sugar, (also Hoisin Sauce, but that is Chinese)
                                                                      Cool: Coconut milk

                                                                      Also, I think ginger and/or galangal can be more hot than cool..

                                                                      For Thai Noodle dishes I balance Sour, Salty, and Sweet. For Thai Curries, I balance cool, sweet, salty, and hot.

                                                                      1. re: JungMann
                                                                        c oliver Mar 17, 2011 07:40 PM

                                                                        What I love about this is that I have all this! Thankss, JM.

                                                                        1. re: JungMann
                                                                          c
                                                                          cstout Feb 25, 2012 03:32 PM

                                                                          JungMann..separate flavors into basic components...thinking of elements....basic aromatics...all these are building blocks to cooking. Well, I just don't know how to think along the "general" cooking concepts. Are there any books or websites that would teach a novice your concept. Please don't tell me we need to go to culinary school...

                                                                          If we knew this method of cooking we could cook any type of food. Sure hope you can direct me to some specific teaching on this subject. Thank you

                                                                          1. re: cstout
                                                                            w
                                                                            wyogal Feb 25, 2012 03:41 PM

                                                                            Have you checked out your local library yet? That is a fabulous resource for those that want to read about a subject they are unfamiliar with, without the added expense of actually buying the books. Our library has lots of Asian cookbooks that are a delight to browse through. The reference librarian is also a great help. You can pick and choose which country's cuisine, then move on to the next. By the time you are done reading 5 cookbooks, you will have a much better understanding, without having to have someone tell you.

                                                                            1. re: wyogal
                                                                              c
                                                                              cstout Feb 25, 2012 08:39 PM

                                                                              wyogal, I am just looking for recipes in the format that mamachef used to give us a "master recipe" of what goes in a stir fry...surely there are other master recipes out there. I don't know what her method is called, but I think it could easily be applied to Asian cooking or any other type of cooking. One recipe....many variations.

                                                                              Below is a sample of what I am talking about:

                                                                              Asian Salad Master recipe
                                                                              Liquids - list of several options
                                                                              Vegetables - list if several options
                                                                              Spices - list of several options

                                                                              With a recipe like that, someone who has never tasted Asian Salad could pick & choose from all the options based on what they have on hand or just pick & choose to come up with what suits their own tastes. .

                                                                              Again, one recipe with all kinds of variables. Isn't that better than looking through several cookbooks to see all the ways to make this dish? Or, searching the network & ploughing through dozens of recipes?

                                                                              After seeing this one "master recipe", then you get a feel as to what ingredients are compatabile & then you can perhaps add something else.

                                                                              Am I searching for the Holy Grail or what?????

                                                                            2. re: cstout
                                                                              JungMann Feb 26, 2012 05:13 PM

                                                                              You don't need to go to culinary school. Cooking is a little chemistry experiment, but one where it's safe to taste the contents of your beaker. I think if you have a few solid recipes that you know by heart, maybe a stir fried chicken, noodles and a basic vegetable dish, it is useful to start experimenting with your ingredients and tasting what a tablespoon of oyster sauce does to your noodles or how stir fried chicken tastes with fish sauce instead of soy sauce. What you're aiming for is intimacy with your ingredients through experience. I grew up in an Asian kitchen so I'm not the best resource for cookbook recommendations. mamachef's primer, however, is a very good place to springboard into experimentation with ingredients.

                                                                              1. re: JungMann
                                                                                c
                                                                                cstout Feb 26, 2012 08:00 PM

                                                                                Intimacy with your ingredients through experience....such beautiful esoteric words. This is something I have very much noticed from people of other countries/nationalities...they seem to be more in tune to all aspects of their food...yes chemistry/alchemy/magic...all of that comes into play for a simple meal. Nourishing the body as well as the soul.

                                                                                Your method of approaching a new combination of flavors is great...go into it one tablespoon at a time. So simple, yet grasping the flavor right there, one flavor at a time.

                                                                                I am grateful to you for teaching me to experience food on a higher level.

                                                                          2. h
                                                                            Harters Mar 16, 2011 08:39 AM

                                                                            For "no fail", I start with a basic generic (and totally inauthentic) curry sauce - onion, tomato, garlic, chilli powder (or cayenne), coriander, garam masala.

                                                                            At it's simplest, I usually use this as a base for vegetarian curries, cooking the veg in the sauce. But it also works quite well with protein that's been separately cooked. Lends itself to having the spicing adapted to whatever your cooking - for example, if I was using prawns, I'd probably include some fennerl seeds: if chicken perhaps some mango powder. Works across the usual south Asian cuisines (style not authenticity)

                                                                            1. aphayes Mar 16, 2011 08:36 AM

                                                                              Fried rice... I usually do it with spicy shrimp and then save the leftover shrimp for tacos the next day. Can't wait to hear others favs :)

                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                              1. re: aphayes
                                                                                iL Divo Mar 16, 2011 08:42 AM

                                                                                I can't believe you actually ever have left over shrimp.
                                                                                Yesterday I emptied the house freezer and tossed a bunch of stuff, it felt good besides now I know the meats I have. 2 packages of shrimp which I'll do tonight.
                                                                                Guy Fieri has a spicy shrimp if I'm remembering right and my girlfriend's done EL's recipe for same.
                                                                                I'll look it up and go from there.

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