If you’re lucky enough to live in a climate where green vegetables are
grown year-round, there’s much to be thankful for But if you live in the Mid-Atlantic corridor, summer is -THE- time for veg-o-philes, especially in Jersey.
Summer is probably one of my favorite times to eat Asian food, because you can use vegetables that you find in the local farmers markets, and thus the end product you make is going to end up that much better tasting. Sure, during the winter you can get imported greens and other types of vegetables and fruit, but it just doesn’t taste as bright and fresh.
Simple Stir Fries are among the best ways you can appreciate summer produce. It doesn’t take much technical skill to make them and you don’t need much in terms of special equipment, but you’ll need a few basic things in your pantry to create that “Stir Fry Sauce”.
- A good general purpose Soy Sauce. Try to get one without alchohol in it. It’s only ingredients should be Soybeans, Water, Wheat and Salt. If you can buy a Kikkoman of Japanese origin (a Marudaizu grade, not the domestically-made stuff) or a Yamasa or one of the Korean brands you’re good go go. Seek out the Asian market (Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Filipino) in your local area and see what they’ve got. San-J, an organic Japanese brand, should be avaliable in your local Whole Foods or mid-range supermarket.
- Dark Soy Sauce — For that old-fashioned Chinese American restaurant taste that we all love. Its much darker than GP Soy Sauce and you only need to use small amounts of it.
- Oyster Sauce — There are a number of brands out there but I’m partial to Lee Kum Kee’s premium brand.
- Sesame Oil — you want the toasted kind.
- Vegetable Oil. Stir Fry blends which have a number of differnt oils in it are avaliable in Asian supermarkets. If you can’t find one of those, get a regular vegetable oil for frying like Wesson.
- Chinese Rice Wine and/or Sherry — Adds a nice flavor to the dish.
- Cornstarch — Mix this with a little bit of water to make a slurry for thickening the sauce.
- Maggi Seasoning — This is vegetable-based natural MSG. Add a few drops of this to your stir fry and it will give it that extra “zing” you get at a Chinese restaurant. Yes, it’s a requirement and don’t give me any of that “I’m allergic to MSG” crap. You eat Potato Chips and Doritos, don’t you?
- Dried Chili Peppers, Sichuan Peppercorns, and Fresh White Pepper and Black Pepper — To give it that extra “Oomph”.
- Dried Mushrooms
- Fresh Garlic – At Asian supermarkets, particularly Korean ones, you can get these pre-peeled. It saves a lot of time and hassle.
- Fresh Ginger
- Scallions (Green Onion)
- White Vinegar
- Black Chinese Vinegar (Chiangking Vinegar)
- Canned or Fresh Bamboo Shoots
- Canned or Fresh Water Chestnuts
Optional things you might want:
- Chili Sauce — There are a lot of kinds of these. The ones I like are made by Huy Fong Foods in California, and are pretty easy to get at Asian supermarkets now. You can also mail order them.
- Dried Shrimp
- Vietnamese or Thai Fish Sauce — to give it that Southeast Asian taste.
- Vietnamese and Thai Soy Sauces — Tastes a little different than GP soy.
- Hoisin Sauce — to give it some extra tanginess/sweetness
- Rice, Cellophane and Egg Noodles — to turn your basic stir fry into to a killer noodle dish.
- Basmati, Jasmine and Medium-Grain Rices to alternate and to have variation.
- Firm and Seasoned/Pressed Tofu to add texture.
- Sesame Seeds
- Fermented Black Beans, for Black Bean Sauce
- Lemongrass to give it a Vietnamese zing.
- Fresh Pineapple for that “Polynesian” flair.
For extra tips and a beginner’s guide to cooking Chinese food, check out this guide on About.com
Also, Don’t miss Ah Leung’s eGullet step-by-step pictorial guide on in making some really good and simple Chinese dishes. Most are made with just a frying pan and no wok!