If I had to fly my cooking flag in one international cuisine camp, it would be Asian food. The zingy kick of fresh ginger root, the saltiness of soy sauce, the sweetness of coconut milk, the pungency of fish sauce and curry pastes all wake up my taste buds and make me glad to be eating our home-cooked food.
Ginger, garlic and cilantro are everyday staples in our kitchen, and we love lemongrass and other accompaniments like hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, coconut milk, chili paste and curry paste. All of these flavors rock our world.
Asian cooking doesn’t have to be complicated. Sometimes recipes call for a number of different ingredients but if you stock your kitchen well, pulling together a complexly flavored meal can be a snap.
We always have ginger, garlic and cilantro on hand. Other fresh staples include spinach, julienned carrots, snow peas or snap peas, red or yellow bell pepper for color, jalapeno or serrano chiles for heat. It’s also nice to have fresh mint on hand; this grows easily in a pot outside.
For proteins, it’s good to keep some chicken breasts or thighs, ground pork and shrimp in the freezer and tofu in the fridge.
In the pantry, keep basmati rice, soba and rice noodles, plus soy or tamari sauce, sriracha sauce, coconut milk and chicken or vegetable broth. In the fridge, store your chili-garlic paste, fish sauce, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, black bean sauce, sesame oil and sesame seeds.
Ironically, we don’t do stir fries very often; our Asian cooking has tended more towards other types of dishes.
Here are several of our favorite Asian-influenced meals that are regulars in our dinner rotation. Spinach, napa cabbage, sugar snap peas, snow peas, spring onions, cilantro and fresh garlic can all be found at local farmers markets now. You can also find local chicken and ground pork at many markets.
I like this recipe because it’s a meatless option, there’s a good dose of vegetables in it and when I choose to marinade the tofu ahead of time, it’s a quick weeknight meal to prep when returning home from work. Definitely use low-sodium soy sauce for this recipe; otherwise, it’s pretty salty.
We’ve made this recipe a couple of times, and the meatballs are very flavorful. The noodles are somewhat bland but the richly flavored meatballs more than make up for them.
We sometimes double the meatballs and freeze a batch of cooked meatballs for a later meal – then toss them into chili ramen noodles with baby spinach, shredded carrots, bean sprouts, minced jalapenos and fresh cilantro.
Three others that I’ve mentioned making before are:
Sichuan Pork Noodles
, a recipe recommendation from Lynne Rosetto Kasper’s Splendid Table Weeknight Kitchen
newsletter which contains ground pork, peanut butter, ginger, oyster sauce and chili-garlic sauce
Spicy Shrimp Noodle Bowl, a quick Cooking Light recipe that includes shrimp, red pepper strips, snap peas and rice noodles in a flavorful ginger-infused seafood broth. We usually add a little extra chicken broth to this recipe because otherwise the rice noodles tend to soak up much of the liquid.
Thai Green Coconut Curry with Tofu and Vegetables, an easy, malleable stove-top recipe with tofu and whichever seasonal vegetables you wish to add. I like to double this recipe because my husband and I enjoy eating the leftovers for a work lunch.
These three recipes are all good options for a weeknight dinner later during the week, because the fresh ingredients (and tofu) can handle hanging out in the fridge for a couple of days; just remember to thaw the pork / shrimp overnight before the day you plan to make those recipes.
Finally, one last dinner that I feel is best suited to preparing on a weekend because of the ingredient prep involved:
Peanut Chicken with Steamed Spinach and Basmati Rice
The sauce is a flavor bomb of shallots, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, jalapenos, coconut milk and fish sauce, plus peanut butter. Steaming fresh spinach in the pan towards the end of the cooking time boosts the nutrition, while a scattering of fresh cilantro brightens the dish and lends further flavor.
Normally this is a dish that my husband prepares and I’m completely happy to hand over the cooking reins to him because of all of the chopping involved, but when he got tied up installing our new dishwasher yesterday, I had to take over the prep duties.
It’s challenging to get dinner ready when you’re constantly having to step over your husband’s body to get to the sink and stove top and taking care not to step on his face. Between that and my very slow knife skills, my cooking attention span was pushed to the brink.
Fortunately for all, I pulled through and got dinner on the table (well, my husband finished up the final steps) before everyone turned into pumpkins. For that, we said thanks.
Peanut Chicken with Steamed Spinach and Basmati Rice
3 shallots, minced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2-3 jalapenos, serrano peppers or Thai chiles, seeded and minced (if you like it hot, keep the seeds)
1 T. minced fresh ginger
1 stalk lemongrass, trimmed and minced
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro, plus extra for garnishing the dish if desired
3 T. fish sauce
1 T. soy or tamari sauce
2 T. fresh lime juice
1 1/2 T. dark brown sugar
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk (1 15-oz. can)
1 bunch of fresh spinach (about 6-8 oz., or as much as you can fit into your pan)
1 1/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs
2 T. peanut oil
Mince shallots, garlic, jalapenos, ginger and lemongrass and combine in a small dish. Chop up cilantro. In another dish, combine fish sauce, soy sauce, lime juice, dark brown sugar, coriander and black pepper. Measure out the peanut butter and coconut milk and set aside. De-stem the spinach if using mature greens. Thinly slice chicken and cut into 1 1/2 inch strips.
Get your basmati rice cooking.
Heat the peanut oil in a wok or large saute pan over medium heat, then add the shallot mixture. Stir fry for about 8-10 minutes, or until the ingredients begin to turn golden brown and caramelize. Reduce the heat if the ingredients appear to be burning.
Add the peanut butter and stir fry for one minute. Add the coconut milk, cilantro and the fish sauce mixture and stir with a whisk to combine. Add the raw chicken strips and simmer on medium heat for about 6-8 minutes, stirring sauce occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through. Taste the sauce and add additional fish sauce or lime juice if needed.
During the final couple of minutes of cooking time, pile the fresh spinach on top of the mixture, cover the pan with a lid and let the spinach steam for 2-5 minutes, or just until wilted.
Serve the chicken, sauce and spinach over basmati rice, and garnish with additional fresh chopped cilantro if desired.
What’s your favorite Asian recipe for weeknights (besides takeout)?