Detonate this umami bomb at will to give almost any Asian dish savoury depth. Its funky base note makes kimchi irresistible, it intensifies the meaty flavours of sticky Korean shortribs and instantly transforms a batch of pan-fried tofu.
It adds caramel complexity to everything from pad Thai (mashed into a curry paste with tamarind, lime, fish sauce, shrimp paste, garlic and chilli) and Gujarati dhal (it’s the sweet counterpart to the tamarind that gives the dish its signature sourness) to Vietnamese ca kho to (fish caramelised in a marinade of palm sugar, garlic, chillies and fish sauce).
Giving local Cape Malay denningvleis its unmistakable tartness, its flavour plays well with fishy ingredients (think Cambodian sweet-and-sour soup), peanuts and coconut milk (no satay sauce is complete without it) and aromatic spices such as cinnamon, cardamom and turmeric.
Run out of fresh chillies? The flavour of dried ones is slightly sweeter and milder than fresh, but when rehydrated can be transformed into just about any Asian chilli paste: Chinese la jiao jiang, Korean gochujang, Mayalasian sambal tumis, Thai nam prik pao…
Muskier and more peppery than its kissing cousin ginger, it’s essential to Thai curry pastes (Red! Green! Massaman!), Singaporean laksa and Indonesian rendang. Fresh galangal isn’t readily available in SA; you can find the dried version at Asian supermarkets. To use, soak in boiled water until soft, about 30 minutes.
A little of this seedy operator adds nuttiness and body to dressings, marinades, stirfries and soups. How do we love thee Chinese sesame noodles? Just about as much as we love Korean bulgogi (marinated barbequed meat),
Japanese ramen bowls and Burmese sesame beef.
THAI LIME LEAVES
Name a southeast Asian dish and we bet you it’ll star these perfumed leaves. Indonesian beef rendang? Check. Thai tom yum goong soup? Yep. Malaysian laksa? Right again. Filipino chicken adobo? You’re starting to get the picture.
A key ingredient in Japanese sushi rice and pickled ginger, Chinese potato salad (you’ll never want to make yours with mayo again) and Indonesian nasi goreng, it’s much milder than Western vinegar, with a hint of sweetness.
*Available at selected Woolies stores.