Are you polishing your at-home Asian cooking skills, but your finished dishes seem a bit one-dimensional? Are they overloaded with soy sauce but not much else?
Here is your handy guide to Asian seasonings that will help you simply add those robust, authentic Asian takeout flavors to your home-cooked meals. Try your hand at your own copy-cat recipes. You can add a little or a lot—mix and match to find a flavor that makes dishes all your own.
Want to start slow and build up your pantry over time? See my shopping list below for a great starter pack to add authentic Asian taste to your recipes a little at a time.
- Toasted Sesame Seed Oil – Once I discovered toasted sesame seed oil, I never go without it. It’s the secret ingredient to that layered rich flavor of stir-fries, fried rice, egg rolls, chow mein, chop suey and more. I always wondered why I couldn’t get the depth of flavor that permeated the really good dishes of Chinese takeout. This is the secret.
- Lemongrass Paste – While this is a standard in Thai cooking, I find that the lovely scent and light taste of it goes a long way in adding a nice lemon without it being a face-punch of citrus flavor. I add it to coconut curries and my egg roll mixes.
- Soy Sauce – Probably in your pantry right now, it’s easy to find and cheap too. It has lots of salt and even has wheat in it. (Those going gluten-free or soy-free can use coconut aminos for that same flavor. I promise coconut aminos don’t taste like coconut at all.)
- Hoisin Sauce – Found in the Asian section of grocery stores and online, this one-two punch of flavor adds sweetness and a well-rounded boost of yummy Chinese and Thai savory love without much heat if any.
- Ginger (powder, paste, or fresh root) – I can’t live without ginger. I keep powdered, paste, AND frozen ginger root around. I’ll use all three for layered ginger flavor. If you aren’t used to using it, start small and taste test. You can always add more as you go.
- Rooster sauce – Also known as sriracha, it comes in those easy-to-spot SQUEEZE bottles of red sauce on most Thai, Chinese, and Japanese dining room tables. It’s got heat, but it’s a slow build-up with a bright vinegar finish.
- BIG jar of minced garlic – I would add this to any list, ever. It’s a requirement when cooking, but it also saves me SO much time. Fresh is great, but this is a fine option.
- Teriyaki sauce – Teriyaki is easy to make at home with ginger, garlic, onion powder, soy sauce, brown sugar, rice wine vinegar, and some water, but a bottle of marinade/dipping teriyaki is handy to have on the shelf, too.
- Onion powder – A pantry staple, onion powder adds an overall onion flavor—no chunks.
- Curry powder or curry paste – Curry is a very distinct flavor that can overpower other flavors. Keep it handy for curried soups and stews—it’s a winner combined with coconut milk over veggies and rice.
- Rice wine vinegar – A mild, light vinegar that adds balance to the sweet and salty of many popular oriental meals.
- Black pepper – Ground black pepper is easy to find and adds pop without too much heat.
- Cornstarch – It’s a thickener for lots of sauces, especially in Chinese cooking. A little goes a long way.
ASIAN SEASONING STARTER SHOPPING LIST
You can probably find these in your neighborhood supermarket—check your produce department and Asian foods aisle. But an Asian grocery is a great place to shop for good prices and variety of seasonings, too.
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Remember, like everything else in life, cooking requires practice. The results are lower cost than eating out, you get more servings per dollar, and usually the results are better for you. Keep an eye out for Part 2 of our Asian Cooking Simple Tips series!