Asian Herbage, Greens and Spice explained.
Okay guys, this is a biggy and a bit of a personal goal of mine at the moment. This is my list of Asian herbage, greens, spices and lots of things in between. I’ll be adding to it as I go along though the well-travelled pantry. If there is anything not on here that needs to be added, leave me a comment and I’ll be sure to pop it on! I’m aiming to have it as a go to guide for Asian Herbage.
Cheers, and enjoy!
Chilli: lup chew (ChC), la jiao (ChM), cabai, lombok (In), mteh (Kh), mak phet (La), cili, cabai, chabai, lada merah (Ma), phrik (Th), ot (Vi)
Chilli is an important part of Asian cooking- however the majority of Asian meals are not going cause smoke come from your ears! Chilli’s are used in sauces, soups, stirfries and curries. Fresh chillies are often used in dipping sauces, either by grinding it with garlic and ginger or adding it at the end, finely chopped. If you are a bit of a greenthumb, chilli bushes are a great addition to your garden; they look great and are in most cases quite hardy. To dry chillies, leave them on the tree until they go wrinkly, then dry them in the sun for a few days.
There is a huge range of chillies out there- but always remember that red and green chillies are quite different, so not usually interchangable in recipes. Alot of people tell me that they are not chilli fans, and what should they do when cooking with chillies- my anwser- don’t put so much in! When cooking, it is all up to your own tastebuds! So leave the seeds out and use less. If you find a meal that is just too hot too handle, always remember the balance of Aisan crusine is found through the flavours of sweet, salty, sour and hot. Another, perhaps less helpful hint is what to do if you get chilli in your eye. The anwser is not much, except to wash your hands and suck it up!
Coriander, cilantro, Chinese parsley
nan nan bin (bu), yuen sai (CHC), wan sui (ChH), yuen sai, yuan cai (ChM), ketumbar (In), koyendoro (Ja), van suy (Kh), phak hom pom (La), ketumbar (Ma), wansuey (Ph), phak chi, pak chee (Th), ngo (Vi)
Coriander remains a main stay herb in any Vietnamese pantry. The fresh leaves should be added at the end of stirfries, curries and soups to give them that unique taste essential to Vietnamese cooking. The roots are where the flavour is and should be scraped and chopped and added to dishes for extra punch. There are two types of coriander- the leafy variety we know and a long leaf variety originally from South America (the Vietnamese name is ngo gai, meaning thorny coriander).
Dried corriander leaves are not as powerful as the fresh leaves and do not retain their flavour, so are often not a great substitute. Dried corriander seeds are a great addition to your spice rack- and almost essential in curry spice mixes.
Galangal has a pungent earthy and spicey flavour and it’s hard to recreate this unique taste with anything else. I love galangal spiced duck curry. You usually pop chunks of the root into your curries and remove them before serving. Also known as a bit of an aphrodisiac…well couldn’t hurt. I only like it fresh- if i can’t get it I just leave it out or use some ginger. But nothing can replace the gorgeous floral flavour of this tough rhizome. It is also often dry roasted and pounded up for a totally different flavour to that of fresh.
Pick up some galangal and make some tom ka gai. This will allow you to taste the galangal in all its floral tasty glory.
Garlic: chyet-thon-phew (Bu), suen tau, taai suan (ChC), suan, hu suan (ChM), bawang putih (In), nin-niku (Ja), ktim saa (Kh), ka thiem (La), bawang putih (Ma), krathiem (Th, toi (Vi)
Garlic is an ingredient you just don’t want to be without. It is one of my favourite “can’t live without” ingredients. Make sure your kitchen is always stocked with a bit of garlic. There aren’t too many Vietnamese savoury meals dips or sauces that don’t use garlic. Add garlic to your meals by taste- you will know how much you like/dislike. Don’t forget about the billion and two health benefits of this stuff either.\
Ginger: keong (ChC), kiew (ChH), jiang (ChM), jahe (In), shooga (Ja), khgney (Kh), saenggang, saeng (Ko), khing (La) halia (Ma), luya (Ph), khing (Th), gung (Vi)
Oh ginger! Where do I begin? Firstly, when buying ginger look for the fattest guy there; with as little knobs as possible- that will make it easier to peel. Ginger has amazing medicinal purposes and adds that subtle taste to Vietnamese stirfries. Grated, chopped, sliced, diced- pop it in and reap the benfits. Ginger also acts as a great covering up agent- if something tastes or smells a bit too fishy or fatty- ginger is a great mask. Young ginger is around a lot during the colder months – it is so tender it doesn’t need peeling. Pickle it and save it for later!
lemongrass: zabalin (Bu), heung maau tso (ChC), cang mao (ChH), xiang mao cao (ChM), serai, serah (In), remon gurasu (Ja), sloeuk krey, bai mak nao (Kh), houa si khai (La), serai (Ma), tanglad (Ph), ta krai (Th), xa, sa (Vi)
I love the subtle yet gutsy flavour of lemongrass. Adding this little beauty to your shopping list will not disappoint. When buying the freshest lemongrass- the most firm will always be your best bet. It grows like wildfire too- pop a bit in and watch it go nuts! Remember to aways bruise the lemongrass (give it a whack with the side of your knife) to release the beautiful zest flavour in your soups, stirfires or curries. In most Asian supermarkets you can buy grated lemongrass in a tub!
mint: heung fa choi (ChC), xiang hua cai (ChM), merdinah, kresnan, pudina (In), chi mahao, pak hom ho (Kh), phak horm (La), daun pudina, pohok (Ma), bai sarana (Th), rau thom, rau hung lui (Vi)
Mint is a must in many Vietnamese salads- think fresh mint through a zesty beef salad. Also great to pop in your rice paper rolls- fresh herbs really knock the socks off these things. Not to forget Vietnamese mint (rau ram)- this has a more pungent and spicey taste- not much like the regular mint at all, but has the taste of Asia & for my money a rice paper roll wrapepd in lettuce w’ viet mint is an absolute summery delight.
Shallots: Chung tu (Ch), bawang mera (In), ktim krahaam (Kh), houa phak boua (la), bawang merah (Ma), hua hom, horm daeng (Th), hanh cu, kho (Vi)
Shallots are fantastic in stirfries and are often deep fried in Vietnam to make a crispy garnish. Tehy are pounded into pastes w’ garlic and pepper to rub into fish- a great flavour base. Good tip for storing- slice the leaves and place in an airtight container with paper towel on the bottom- will keep for twice as long.
Tamarind: asam jawa (In), ampil (Kh), mak khame (La), asam jawa (Ma), sampalok (Ph), ma khaam (Th), me (Vi)
Tamarind trees are big and beautiful, and are utilized to the fullest in many Asian countries for shade, the leaves and of course tamarind pulp. The leaves of the tamarind tress are used as a vegitable in Thailand and the springs can be added to soups and salads. These create quite a sour taste to the dish.
The tamarind pulp is used mostly in drinks but is often added to meals as well. Tamarind paste is made by dilluting the pulp in warm water and straining. Tamarind is essential in many marinades, sauces and curries to get that sour part of the flavour equation spot on. It’s available widely in paste form but you should also be able to pick up a block of seedless tamarind from an Asian grocer. Whether or not you are familiar with tamarind or not, you probabaly already eat it. Its an ingredient in worchester and HP sauces.
Water Spinach (rau muong)
Water Spinach (sometimes known as morning glory) leaves adds a great flavour to strified or BBq’d garlic prawns. Both the crunchy stems and limpy leaves are used by Vietnamese street chefs to create stirfies and soups. Remember to bulk up on the leaves though- they reduce a lot when cooked, but are absolutley delicious w’ peanut oil, chilli & garlic.
Vietnamese mint: laska-yip (ChC), liao (ChM), azabutade (Ja), sang hom (Kh), phak pai nam (La), daun laksa, daun kesum (Ma), phak phai (Th), rau ram (Vi)
Vietnamese mint is a herb most often used in either soup, salads or in fresh spring rolls. It is in fact, not part of the mint family. Vietnamese mint has a hot, peppery taste and is quite strong. As a side note, if you are in a real pickle and can’t get your hands on laska leaf, this can be an ok substitute (and vice versa).
Thai basil: yu heung (ChC), yu xiang (ChM), chi neangvong (Kh), phak i tou (La), daun selaseh (ma), horapha (Th), rau que (Vi)
Thai Basil is one of the three most common forms of basil used in Asian cooking, along with lemon basil and sweet basil. It has a more assertive taste than many other sweet basils. The herb has small leaves, purple stems and a subtle licorice or mint flavor.
You may also find it adorning the garnish plate when you have pho.