I am lucky to be living in Singapore where there is a plethora of lovely fresh greens and oriental ingredients, which make my food both tasty and super-nutritious. On the down side, very little is grown in Singapore itself so much of the freshest produce comes from Malaysia, and organic foodstuffs are flown in from Australia and the USA. We also get really lovely foods flown in from Japan, where the cuisine is of the highest standard and the customers are the most discerning in the world. It’s also much more expensive, but quality of ingredients is important.
I sacrifice organic for freshness, as some of the organic stuff is decidedly manky by the time it hits our shelves. Given the option though, I would always eat organic greens and fruit, if only to avoid all the toxic pesticides that we spray all over what we eat. Finally, the recipes use ingredients or make substitutions that render them useable wherever you live. I will continue to add recipes to the website as I cook them!
My ingredients – glossary
Asafetida: the dried latex exuded from the rhizome of a perennial herb that grows 1 to 1.5 m tall. The species is native to the deserts of Iran, mountains of Afghanistan, and is mainly cultivated in nearby India. It is used widely in Indian and Ayurvedic cookery to harmonise sweet, sour, salty and spicy favours, it helps minimise wind and aids digestion. It is used in nearly all Ayurvedic pulse recipes for that reason. It is widely available from Indian grocers as a powder, known as ‘Hing’
Aduki beans: a small red bean, widely used in Japanese and Chinese cookery. Basis for red bean paste, and normally cooked with sugar. I use them as a savoury as they are very nutritious. 1 cup of cooked beans provides 4.6 mg of Iron, 119.6 mg of magnesium, 1.223 g of potassium, 4.0 mg of zinc and 278 µg of folic acid. Now you know how good they are! In Ayurveda and TCM they are believed to cleanse the kidneys.
Cumin: seeds or powder, used in many cuisines, world wide. In Sanskrit, Cumin is known as Jira. Jira means “that which helps digestion”. In Ayurvedic system of medicine, dried cumin seeds are used for medicinal purposes. It is known for its actions like enhancing appetite, taste perception, digestion, vision, strength, and lactation. It is used to treat diseases like fever, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal distension, oedema and puerperal disorders. Other research shows that it has antioxidant, anti-diabetic, immunologic, anti-epileptic, anti-tumour and antimicrobial properties. So basically, keep adding those seeds to your Indian style veg, along with the asafetida and ginger and it’s a delicious recipe for your immune system!
Curry leaves: widely used in South Indian and Sri Lankan cooking, curry or sweet neem leaves can be brought from most Indian grocers. Their aromatic flavour is often used either at the beginning of making a curry, when they are fried with onions, garlic, mustard seeds, ginger etc, or at the end, as a tempering garnish. They have anti-cancer properties especially in relation to HCC, the commonest form of liver cancer.
Dashi: is a kind of soup and cooking stock used in Japanese cuisines. Dashi forms the base for miso soup, clear broth, noodle broth, and many kinds of simmering liquid.The most common form of dashi is a simple broth or fish stock made by heating water containing kombu (edible kelp) and kezurikatsuo (shavings of katsuobushi – preserved, fermented skipjack tuna) to near-boiling, then straining the resultant liquid. The element of umami, considered one of the five basic tastes in Japan, is introduced into dashi from the use of katsuobushi. You can buy kombu and katsuobushi in Japanese supermarkets. I make my own dashi , but I daresay you can buy it already made!
Dried shrimp: Ordinary shrimp that have been sun dried and shrunk to a thumbnail size. They are used in many Asian cuisines, imparting a unique umami taste (the so-called ‘fifth flavour’). A handful of shrimp is generally used for dishes. The flavours of this ingredient are released when allowed to simmer. Used widely in SE Asian cuisine and available from Chinese and Thai supermarkets.
Deep fried shallots: used as a garnish, best to buy in the supermarket. I always have some in an airtight jar and scatter liberally over laksa, pad thai etc.
Enoki mushrooms: a Japanese wild mushroom (now cultivated) that is widely used in soups and salads. They can be kept for about a week, and should be avoided if they go slimy. Enoki mushrooms contain antioxidants. Animal testing has indicated possible applications in the development of vaccines and cancer immunotherapy. Widely available in good supermarkets
Fish sauce: An amber-colored liquid extracted from the fermentation of fish with sea salt. It is used as a condiment in various cuisines. Fish sauce is a staple ingredient in numerous cultures in Southeast Asia and the coastal regions of East Asia, and featured heavily in Cambodian, the Philippines, Thai, Laotian and Vietnamese cuisine. In addition to being added to dishes during the cooking process, fish sauce is also used as a base for a dipping condiment, prepared in many different ways in each country, for fish, shrimp, pork, and chicken. In parts of southern China, it is used as an ingredient for soups and casseroles. Fish sauce, and its derivatives, impart an umami flavour to food. As well as adding it liberally to much of my cooking, I use it to make salad dressing rather than oil and vinegar: fish sauce, lime juice, chilli and coriander or mint is tangy and refreshing.
Glass noodles: used in Thai cooking especially in prawn and seafood salads, as well as in stir fries and soups. My noodle of choice as they are made from mung bean and not wheat or rice flour. You will need to buy from a specialist Thai supermarket.
Galangal: a rhizome member of the ginger family, widely used in Thai, Cambodian, Indonesian and Vietnamese cooking. It has medicinal properties and is mixed with lime juice to make a tonic in part of SE Asia; like ginger it is anti-cancer. Best used fresh in cooking, but it’s too pungent for raw juices, I find. Again, widely available in Thai specialist shops and good supermarkets. Don’t bother with the dried variety as it loses its taste. Substitute with ginger if you can’t get it
Green papaya: this is not just unripe papaya, but a special long, hard and very green variety the Thais use for making the speciality salad. It has to be finely grated or it is indigestible, but worth the preparation hassle. I usually put mine through the magimix grater attachment, but you can get a special green papaya salad shredding machine on-line!
Kombu: Kombu is used extensively in Japanese cuisines as one of the three main ingredients needed to make dashi (see above), a soup stock. Kombu is sold dried (dashi kombu) or pickled in vinegar (su kombu) or as a dried shred (boro kombu or shiraga kombu). It may also be eaten fresh in sashimi. Making kombu dashi is simple, though the powder form may also be used. A strip of dried kombu in cold water, then heated to near-boiling, is the first step of making dashi and the softened kombu is commonly eaten after cooking. It can also be sliced and used to make tsukudani, a dish that is simmered in soy sauce and mirin.(Thanks wikipedia!)
Lemongrass: native to India and SE Asia, lemongrass is a herb with a citrus flavour used in teas, soups, and cooking generally. In addition to its fragrant flavour, it has medicinal qualities: for instance it has anti-fungal properties and when interplanted wards off pests in the garden. A common species, citronella, is used as an insecticide and is also used to make soaps and fragrances. In Ayurvedic medicine it is widely used for coughs and nasal congestion. In SE Asian cooking it is used in stir fries, curries and soups such as Tom Yum Goong. You need to peel off the tough outer leaves before slicing the inner white core very finely. In soups and stocks, simply bashing a whole stem releases the flavour; you then fish it out at the end of the cooking time.
Lime leaves: also known as kaffir or makrut. Extensively used in SE Asian cooking – they are aromatic and impart special fragrance to soups and stocks – and also as an insecticide! Quite hard to get, but you can buy frozen ones, or keep trying the Thai supermarket! I always bring them back when I return to Europe. You can substitute with some grated lime zest
Mustard seeds: widely used as a favour enhancer in Asian cooking; they spice up vegetables very nicely especially in combination with ginger and garlic. They are a good source of protein and oil, though you would need to eat an awful lot! Available from all good supermarkets – buy them in bulk though and not in the expensive small jars that proliferate supermarket shelves.
Mung beans & sprouts: widely used in India, both sweet and savoury, whole or split (hulled). I also have a handful sprouting on the go at all times. I simply soak them for 4 hours, then rinse them thoroughly and place in a plastic bowl , damp but not wet, cover with a tea cloth and leave to sprout at room temperature, every day I rinse them out and replace, still damp. After 3-4 days (in tropical heat) I have lovely bean sprouts! Like other pulses, mung beans are full of protein.
Oyster mushrooms: very common and delicious in soups and stir fries. TCM recommends eating lots of mushrooms for their anti-cancer and antioxidant properties.
Palm sugar: this is a more natural sugar than plain white granulated or caster. Palm sugar is produced by tapping the sap from the palm tree and boiling it down to produce a syrup, which is then sold as is, or allowed to crystallise into various shapes and sizes. In Thailand coconut palm sugar is differentiated from other palm sugars. It’s still sugar, but where the SE Asian balance of flavours calls for it, in order to get the sour/sweet taste that is so critical, I use palm sugar, but halve the amount!
Pu’er tea: is a variety of fermented dark tea produced in Yunnan province, China. Fermentation is a tea production style in which the tea leaves undergo microbial fermentation and oxidation after they are dried and rolled. This process is a Chinese specialty and produces tea known as Hei Cha. It has several healthy properties: it is thought to regulate blood pressure, lower cholesterol and help weight loss; help insomnia if taken with honey; regulate diabetes; reduce toxins in the body and boiled with ginger, can help relieve gout. I bought my round pu’er cake in Beijing. It is extremely expensive but lasts a long time. You prise flakes off and add water just below boiling point, You drink after only 60 seconds; and can refill the pot all day long. I also drink it cold.
Rice noodles: a better option than flour-based noodles. Rice vermicelli is easy to buy in good supermarkets and even comes in a wholegrain ‘brown’ variety, as well as in Chinese shops, and can be added to soups and stir-fries. Simply soak in hot water before adding – follow package instructions, but usually 10-15 minutes. Essential ingredient for summer rolls.
Rice: In TCM white rice is neutral, as you would expect in China. Somehow brown rice and some of the fish recipes simply don’t go together, so I usually eat the white rice I cook for my husband, or omit it altogether, if I have a huge pile of vegetables. Brown rice and pulses are of course much better for you, so I would recommend that you go down the wholegrain route. I have rice cooker – no home in the east is without one. It makes fantastic rice, and never lets you down!
Shitake mushrooms: king of anti-cancer mushrooms, I try and eat shitake very day: in soups or in stir-fries, or simply steamed with vegetables. Fresh shitake is not always easy to get in Europe but the dried form contains as much goodness, and can simply be soaked before use – available from health-food shops or supermarkets. Shitake is the second-most popular form of complementary medicine used in Japan for its anti-cancer properties. Some research shows that AHCC, the compound isolated from shitake, may enhance the immune system, fight bacterial infection and have a positive effect on prostate cancer.
Spirulina: an algae that is 65% protein and amino acids and is particularly recommended for vegetarians. According to Wikipedia it contains vitamins B-1(thiamine), B-2 (riboflavin), B-3(nicotinamide), B-6 (pyridoxine), B-9 (folic acid), vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin A and vitamin E. It is also a source of potassium, calcium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, sodium and zinc. It also has lots of calcium and is recommended post radiotherapy. Always buy organic to avoid additives. It is disgusting so perhaps tablets are the better bet, though I have not managed to find them yet. I think you can order online with all the caveats.
Tamarind: The tamarind tree grows widely in the tropics. It produces a pod which is boiled down and used for cooking, and also for cleaning metal (brass and copper) due to its acidity. In Europe it is easy to buy the pulp already prepared as a concentrate so you can just add a teaspoon or so as required. It adds a sweet/sour taste to many Far Eastern and Indian dishes, and I use it a lot in cooking, as well as to clean my copper coffee pots and trays! If you can’t get it, substitute with lime juice
Tofu: also known as bean curd, is a food made by coagulating soy milk and then pressing the resulting curds into soft white blocks. It is widely used by vegetarians as it has a high protein content and is also rich in iron, calcium and magnesium. It is also low calorie! Furthermore, the FDA granted this health claim for soy: “25 grams of soy protein a day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.” You can use it in a whole variety of ways: for soups I tend to use organic silken tofu and for stir fries and pad Thai, I buy the firm variety – easier to cut into pieces. The Chinese have many ways of cooking tofu, often with chilli and soy as on its own it is rather flavourless. My Ma Po tofu recipe is simply delicious!
Toover dhal: widely used, as all dhals, in Indian cooking. This variety is yellow split peas and makes good soups and lentil curries to be eaten with rice or rotis, although the latter are wheat, so go with rice, preferably brown!). Dhal is protein-rich, hence Indian vegetarians get most of their protein from the staple diet of rice and dhal.
Turmeric root: another king of anti-cancer remedies! Turmeric is a rhizome of the ginger family and contains the magic ingredient curcumin, which may be used to treat cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, allergies, arthritis and other chronic illnesses. If I can, I substitute fresh turmeric for dried in recipes, and include ¼ inch unpeeled in my daily juice, along with a similar knob of ginger and whatever other veg is on the menu. It does stain your fingers dreadfully though, so wear gloves or beware! You can buy it at Indian, Chinese (yellow ginger they call it) or Thai grocers.