It was inevitable that I include a section with Asian recipes. Tracee and I have enjoyed the Asian way of eating for the past thirty years, and we love Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese as well as Cambodian and Indian meals. Asian dishes are as delightful to eat as they are healthy, and most all ingredients are available at any large supermarket or grocery store. You may want to visit your local Asian store to buy items like curry powder or paste, specialty sauces like oyster, soy sauce and high quality sesame oil. I hope you will gain some inspiration from this page and try some of these fabulous dishes. Asian food is health and very tasty, what a great combination and great enough reasons to make Asian cooking an important part of of healthy lifestyle
Asian Cooking Methods
Asian cuisine relies on a few simple methods of cooking which I think are quite important to master. All of these methods are very healthy, with the exception of deep-frying. And the reason for this is because all the ingredients are fresh, they are cooked quickly and in the same pot (without draining any of the cooking liquid), a method which cause minimal loss of nutrients. Cooking in an oven and baking are methods foreign to Asian cooking, all cooking is done on an open fire or on a stove top, preferably gas.
Braising – This is a bit like frying, yet in a wok, where meats and vegetables are stir-fried over heat, and then often thickened in a sauce containing cornflour and chili or soy sauce.
Deep Frying – This is usually completed in an iron wok. Several centimetres of oil is heated and the food added until cooked. This is not as “toxic” as you may think. I use a variety of oils and be sure to download a copy of the best oils to use in Cooking with Fats and Oils PDF document. Some woks have a half-round rack that clips onto the edge of the wok to drain off the oil before serving. I use a large wire mesh implement, drain the food well and then leave to drain on adsorbent paper. Because the Asian recipes here are very low in fat generally, a small amount of deep frying is not really an issue. We are not exactly serving up fish and chips in this section, but rather a very small amount of deep-fried cooked protein as part of a large meal containing many different fresh vegetables.
Slicing and Cutting – I have learned to slice vegetables a special way when cooking Asian dishes. Most foods are sliced diagonally to allow quick cooking and in addition to allow the marinade and flavours to permeate the vegetables better. Vegetables all cut to the same size also cook more evenly in your wok giving you excellent control of the cooking process.
Steaming – Many Asian foods are steamed, a very healthy way of eating because most of the nutrients remain contained. Bamboo steamers are an interesting addition to your kitchen and perform an outstanding job of steaming foods to perfection. Food is placed on a bamboo rack and several bamboo layers can be placed on top of each other. Food is covered with a bamboo lid and allowed to steam until cooked, usually in 20 to 30 minutes.
Stir-Frying – Most people think about a “stir-fry” when they think about Asian foods. Stir-frying needs to be done in a large steel wok. Please avoid buying an aluminium wok,or one of those electric woks! Make sure all ingredients are sliced and prepared before you get the stove fired up. You won’t really have any time to prepare foods once the wok is fired up! A wide edged flat spatula like instrument is best for lifting and tossing the food. Don’t stir continuously, allow the food to cook before stirring.
Wok Cooking – Step by Step
- Always begin your wok meal by heating the oil. Did you download the Cooking With Fats And Oils yet?
- Add the garlic, ginger and spices.
- Always begin by adding the foods that take the longest to cook, the meat, then the onions, etc.
- Work backwards to the quickest cooking foods like spring onions, then mushrooms, then snow-peas, and then the mung bean sprouts.
- Add small amounts of foods at a time so as not to cool the wok down too much, or turn the heat up and be more vigilant!
- If you need to add liquid to your mix like water or a stock, then slowly pour it down the side of the wok. Believe me, this can make a difference, because if you pour liquid over the top you cool the food and slow down the process. If you pour the liquid in along the side of the wok, you end up steaming the foods and cooking them faster in fact.
- Serve food immediately without delay. Asian cuisine is meant to be eaten soon after it is made.
Equipment Used In Asian Cooking
Wok – You can get an Indian wok which will be heavy, cast iron and comes with two round handles. See illustration. These Indian woks are great for deep-frying, because they are heavy cast iron and contain the heat much better, I find them ideal for roasting nuts and making Gomashio, a fantastic Japanese condiment. You can also cook flat breads nicely with a Karahi (Indian wok).
This Chinese wok is much thinner steel and heats much quicker, but doesn’t retain the heat as well as the Indian wok. Having two woks is an advantage if you do lots of Asian cooking. Make sure you season your wok as described below. Clean freaks may not like Asian cooking, because a well seasoned wok looks anything but sparkling! My mother-in-law got rid of her wok for this reason, it looked “too dirty” and she is used to scrubbing every kitchen utensil until it shines. Sorry, you do not do that with a wok!
Seasoning the Wok – A new wok needs to be seasoned, but first it must be washed very well in hot soapy water to remove any oil and grease from the steel. Now dry the wok by placing it on a hot flame. You will notice that a wok can rust easily, that is because it is made from mild steel and will surface rust within minutes. Rub the inside of your new wok with a cloth generously soaked in oil. I used an old piece of bath towel soaked in peanut oil. Peanut oil is one of the best oils to season your wok with. Allow you wok to get very hot after an oiling, now let it cool and dry. I would now wash it in hot water and let it dry again, and then heat it up again after a thorough oiling inside. Be sure not to get any oil underneath the wok, you want the inside seasoned, not the outside. An electric wok, are you crazy, how on earth do you have any control over the heat? If you do happen to own an electric wok then good on you, it is a big step-up from just using a fry-pan each night. Be sure to use a good stabilising ring over the gas flames with you nice new wok. I don’t consider a wok well seasoned until it has been burnished many hundreds (even thousands) of times and has turned a burnished black colour. If you don’t own a wok or have no intention of getting one, then use the largest fry-pan you have.
Quick Tip – Cleaning Your Steel Wok
And here’s a quick tip – wash your wok as soon as you serve up the food. I just use a jug or kettle which has just come to the boil, pour the boiling water in and with a dish wash brush to clean. DO NOT use detergents or soaps. Just use hot water. The wok will dry really quick and no rust will form. Do not leave the wok on the stove top and clean the next day – you will get rust. Your wok will look dark and even black inside around the top edges – don’t worry. The best Asian dishes I have ever tasted have come from the most seasoned woks.
Get A Suribachi
I first learned about this amazing little bowl when I was doing a traditional Japanese macrobiotic cooking course about twenty years ago. With this ceramic 5.5 inch bowl you can grind and crush seeds, herbs and nuts, making it ideal for making pastes, sauces, and many different kinds of marinades in Asian cooking. It has a charecteristic sharp, ribbed interior holds ingredients in place for more efficient grinding with a wooden pestle.I use this often to crush and mix things like fresh garlic, ginger, herbs and spices, lime juice, lemon grass and many other ingredients. It washes clean very easily n hot water. A suribachi and wooden pestle are the ideal instruments for making Gomashio, a favorite Japanese condiment for many people.
Wok Utensils – There are various different utensils to get, depending on the type of foods you are cooking. Get a few ladles and serving spoons of different sizes. Have a wire strainer for any deep-frying, and a spade like shaped spatula for any stir-frying. Chopsticks are also useful utensils to have in the kitchen for lifting, turning and stirring foods.
Rice Steamer – Don’t do it, don’t buy a rice steamer!! I was taught how to cook rice by my mother who was taught by her mother. Once you get the knack you can turn dry rice into the perfectly cooked grain every time. Here is how you cook (steam) rice perfectly every time, without a rice cooker. I have looked at getting a rice cooker, but most contain a Teflon liner which I am not happy about. I have also seen others which are made from aluminium which I am not too fussed about, and I don’t think you should be too fussed either.
Cook Perfect Steamed Rice – Every time
- Wash the rice, Rinse under running water, rubbing the grains together between the palms of your hands; continue this rinsing until the water runs very clear. This will take a couple of minutes. Don’t rush this most important step!
- Place rice in a covered sauce pan; add water to 1/2-inch above the rice; put on high heat. Stay in the area — don’t fall asleep — Don’t leave, Pay Attention!
- As soon as it boils rapidly, reduce heat to low and keep simmering for 10 -15 minutes. Do not peek, try not to open that lid.
- Remove pot from burner but still do NOT open the lid; let the rice rest undisturbed for five minutes.
- Fluff the rice with a pair of chopsticks before serving.
Chopping block and cleaver – Experienced Asian cooks prepare meats and vegetables generally with a cleaver, and a sharp one at that. Use a large (sharp) chef’s knife and a smaller vegetable knife for the fiddly jobs like fresh garlic and ginger. A good sized wooden block which has been well seasoned with vegetable oil is good for cutting and chopping. I prefer a synthetic hard plastic board for meats because it is more hygienic than wood.
Graters – Some dishes call for foods to be grated, especially fresh ginger. I even have a special bamboo grater for this purpose!
Mortar and Pestle – Not really essential, but I wouldn’t leave home without one. I find them great for grinding up spices and herbs and even “bruising” the fresh roots and ends of coriander plants.
Pots and Pans – I like to use cast iron pots and pans from Le Crueset. This is really a personal choice, but do avoid aluminium.
Always Buy Quality Ingredients
Don’t skimp on ingredients such as coconut oil, sesame oil and high quality vegetables, herbs and spices. Buy small amounts of fresh eggs and vegetables regularly, get used to using ingredients you may not have previously, such as coconut oil. Many curried dishes are great with a coconut oil and cream base, and coconut oil can also be used as part of making savoury or sweet dishes as well. Small amounts of watercress or spinach if purchased fresh are best consumed on the day of purchase. Wash the bunch thoroughly in clean water, drain well and then stir-fry quickly in a seasoned steel wok to which you have added a tablespoon of sesame oil. This makes a nice warm base for a topping of a protein such as prawn, beef, chicken or pork, if you are a meat eater.
Asian dishes are best served with the emphasis on a balance of different complementary vegetables and herbs, rather than the Western way of eating with the emphasis on just the protein mainly, then vegetables to a lesser degree.
My favorite meat, vegetable, and condiment choices are here in this table, and with these vegetables as well as other ingredients that follow such as the oils and sauces, you can create countless dishes. It serves as a good shopping list too.
Eric’s Home Asian Cooking Shopping List
Suribachi & Pestle
Celtic Sea Salt
Fresh Ginger Root
Japanese Sesame Oil
Japanese Soy Sauce
Hoi Sin Sauce
Chinese Five Spice
Nori (for Sushi)
Limes & Lemons
Sweet Chilli Sauce
Black Pepper whole & ground
Mung Bean Sprouts
Fresh Snow Peas
Fresh Coriander & Root
Bok Choy & Choi Sum