Using ten essential items bought from the Asian store, Dr. Arpita Chakraborty shows us how to up our kitchen game. Sharing her favourite dishes from West Bengal, India, she demonstrates how these kitchen press staples will help us make our favourite takeaway dishes at home…[restrict]
Where to shop
Not all Asian shops are the same and neither do they stock the same things. Generally speaking, the Indian, Bangladeshi, and Pakistani shops carry South Asian products, while the Chinese Asian shops have a collection more suited for an east Asian kitchen. Moore Street in Dublin’s city centre has a number of Asian shops and Oriental Pantry contains the largest collection of both types. If you are in Dublin, it might be easiest to visit that one but if you’re not, just ask the one in your neighbourhood. If these items aren’t in stock, perhaps they could order them in!
What to buy
1. Hing (Asafoetida)
Asafoetida is a gum from a type of fennel, and adds a distinct flavour to Indian cuisine when added to the oil in very little quantity before you fry, well, anything. Many vegetarians in India usually refrain from eating onions and garlic as well, and use hing as a replacement. It comes in two types: the yellow diluted powder and the full strength brown powder.
The key is to use only a minuscule amount, in recipes like niramish aloo dom, jeera aloo, the heavenly fried bread called dalpuri and my personal favourite, alu gobi. Specially recommended for vegans.
2. Mustard oil
I am sure you must have heard about and tried coconut oil, sesame oil, and maybe even avocado oil. But what about mustard? In many regions of India, mustard oil is the usual cooking medium and is extensively used for many other purposes. Recent research has also highlighted the health benefits of using mustard oil due to the absence of trans fats and anti-carcinogenic properties.
I must warn you, it is a bit pungent and might sting your eyes a bit but it will add a lot of flavour to your curries specially. I use it to make khichudi, maccher jhol (Bengali fish stew), alu bhaja (fried potato), begun bhaja (fried eggplants) and almost all my Bengali cooking. Here’s the doyenne of Indian cooking, Tarla Dalal, suggesting 79 recipes you can cook using mustard oil.
3. Kasuri Methi
Dried fenugreek leaves, or kasuri methi, can take any dal or curry to the next level. It is used in traditional Indian cooking for enhanced fragrance and is to be added towards the end of the cooking process. Try this in your butter chicken or tadka dal, and you will never go without this in your stock again.
4. Haldiram snacks
Move over Balti mix. Haldiram’s, the most popular Indian snacks company, has the most authentic, original spicy, sweet, tangy, savoury knick knacks to accompany your drinks. They are also perfect for your midday cravings. They might not be the healthiest food choice you’ve ever made but – hell! – you will miss something if you don’t give them a try. There are hundreds of varieties, but my Spanish boy likes Panchrattan the best. Made of gram flour, cashews, almonds, raisins and other stuff, they might just be your next addiction.
5. Frozen Parathas
Parathas are flat breads, often with a filling inside. Depending on the filling, you can have potato, paneer, methi (fenugreek) and many other types of parathas. They are always in the frozen section of the Asian shops and can be a wonderful addition to your bread adventures. You can eat them just with ketchup, or with any pickle. But the best recipe for me is to make some chicken rolls.
I am a mango freak. I have grown up feasting on himsagar, chausa, lyanga, modhu gulguli and the various other types of mangoes Indian summer has to offer. You cannot comprehend my horror when I first saw in 2014 what was sold in the name of mangoes in most Irish supermarkets. Since then, the stocks in the Asian shops have made giant strides and now you can find some of the best mangoes there during the summer months. They are delicious and succulent with a fragile aroma that will uplift you in the darkest of days. Eat them as they are or try mango baked yoghurt as dessert, mango oats for breakfast or even make some mouth-watering mango lassi in place of your usual smoothie.
Both ripe and raw, jackfruit is the next meat alternative superfood that has been a part of Asian diet for a long time. In Ireland, the Asian shops mostly have raw jackfruit in frozen form. My top favourite recipe for raw jackfruit is Bengali Echorer Dalna (attention, vegans!). In Bengal, jackfruit is known as gachh-pantha (tree goat) for its meat-like texture. Try the recipe and see if you agree.
8. Kitchen king masala
Have you been using the curry powder mix from supermarkets for curries because you find mixing the spices too complicated? Try the Kitchen King Masala from MDH instead. It will spoil you forever and turn you away from the supermarket spice mixes for good. The beauty of this thing is that it can be used in anything. Just mix it with salt, turmeric and a bit of chilli powder and you can use it not only for wholesome lentil soups but also with baked veggies, baked chicken or paneer masala!
Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, has been used in Chinese cuisine for a long time. It adds umami to any dish and is an absolute must to take your chow mein and chilli chicken to the next level. Try these recipes and you will thank me.
Not sure if it is safe? Yes it is. Recent research has confirmed that MSG is not only safe to use, but most of the previous concerns were unfounded. So what are you waiting for?
Also known as ladies finger or okro and first introduced in America around 1658 by the slave ships, and eventually spread around the world, this vegetable is extremely popular in Africa and South Asia. Most Asian shops in Ireland carry fresh okra. You can simply fry it, and the subtle taste is surely going to make you a fan!
Here’s your screengrabbable (that’s surely not a word) shopping list to take with you next time you’re heading to an Asian store. Enjoy!
All images courtesy of Dr. Arpita Chakraborty[/restrict]