Seeds, Nuts, and Fruits Used in Asian Cooking
Seeds, Nuts, and Fruit Used in Asian Cooking
Asian cooks include seeds, nuts, and fruit in their dishes. Fortunately, now all these plant foods can be found in most American supermarkets. To prepare authentic Asian cuisine, it is necessary to be familiar with the various seeds, nuts, and fruits, and know how to use them.
poppy seeds - the color determines the use; the cream-colored ones are usually added to curry sauce as a thickening agent. The more familiar gray-blue seeds are mostly used in bread.
sesame seeds - (see photo below) - rich in aromatic oil and important in all Far Eastern cooking, these seeds are used whole or crushed into a paste. (I use sesame seeds in many American dishes).
candlenuts - these are not commonly found in American markets; raw ones can even be toxic. Candlenuts come from Indonesia and Malaysia; they should always be cooked. Almonds and macadamias can be substituted.
cashew nuts - while I ike them raw, in Asian cooking they are often fried first. They are used whole, chopped or made into a paste.
ginkgo nuts - usually found only canned in American markets. Commonly used in Japanese or Chinese cooking. In autumn in NYC, and here in Brooklyn, the streets are lined with Gingko trees, which are shedding - and the grounds are covered with leaves and gingko nuts.
almonds - often used in Indian recipes.
macadamia nuts - often used roasted or fried. I like them in their natural state. They are usually expensive in American markets. A better deal can be found in Asian markets.
peanuts - also known as groundnuts throughout Asia (and Africa too). Very often used in Asian cooking. I like peanut sauces served in Thai restaurants. For the best flavor buy them raw and roast yourself (photo below).
coconut - perhaps the easiest of all fruits to find. Has been sold in American markets forever. When you are buying a coconut, shake it to hear the liquid inside. Coconut milk and cream are used in many Asian dishes.
guava - this pear shaped fruit can be eaten like an apple. The seeds are edible as well. For cooking, only the pink or cream-colored flesh is used while the skin and seeds are discarded.
mangoes - excellent sweet mangoes come from India; also from Thailand and the Philippines. They should be firm when held but not hard, and the flesh should be fragrant. Mangoes are also easy to find in American markets. Indian markets also sell sour green mangoes which are used to make pickles and chutney.
kaffir lime - the dried peel can be bought packaged. It is used to add piquancy to chili dishes. The fragrant skin is often sliced and added to curries to make them more fragrant.
pomelo - looks like a grapefruit but is usually larger. Is eaten as is, or can be added to almost any salad.
quince - a fragrant fruit used in Asia as a vegetable. They are often filled with meat or used as a part of a stuffing mixture for seafood and poultry.
pot marigold - fresh petals give color and flavor to various cooked dishes, and also salads. Dried petals can be found in Asian markets.
Some of my favorite Asian dishes, (from when I lived in Korea and traveled throughout Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and China) with seeds, nuts, and fruits:
Gado-Gado - Cooked vegetable salad with peanut sauce - although a national dish of Indonesia, I had this dish in Malaysia.
Laksa Lemak (Hot noodle soup with coconut milk) Malaysia - I had this in SIngapore - excellent! It also has candlenuts, and almonds. I had it with tofu and shrimps, no chicken.
Homok Talay (Mixed seafood in coconut milk) Thailand - also has kaffir leaves.
Jap Jae (also spelled Chap Chae) Warm rice noodles with vegetables - Korea - an absolute favorite dish from when I lived in Korea. Has sesame seeds. In Korea the noodles are made with yam flour. Excellent!
Various Satays (skewered meat, poultry, shrimps) served with peanut sauce.
And always room for dessert:
Mamuang Kuo Nieo (Mango with sweet glutinous rice)! Lovely! Fruit is usually dessert in Asian countries.