Asian cooking is healthy cooking. Let me show you how easy it is to eat super healthy!
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 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 chilli or soy sauce.
Deep Frying – This is usually completed in an iron wok. The oil is heated and the food added until cooked. I like to use sesame oil, it imparts a great flavour and aroma to a stir fry dish. 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 (or stainless steel) steamers are an interesting addition to your kitchen and perform an outstanding job of steaming foods to perfection. Minimal water is used so nutrients are largely retained. When using bamboo steamers, food is placed on one 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 only in 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. Make sure all ingredients are sliced and prepared before you get that stove fired up. You won’t really have any time to prepare foods once the wok is fired up, especially if you cook with gas. 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.
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 an Indian wok.
The 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”, she is in the habit of scrubbing every kitchen utensil until it shines.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Some dishes call for foods to be grated, especially fresh ginger. I even have a special ginger bamboo grater for this purpose. Fresh ginger root is very nice in any Asian dish, especially when combined with fresh chopped garlic.
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, we also have several stainless steel pots and pans.
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 characteristic 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 favourite Japanese condiment for many people.
I tend to use sesame oil, others may like use peanut oil, olive oil, or even ghee (clarified butter).
Always begin by adding the foods that take the longest to cook. This is the list I use and in this order: