How to Flavor Foods: Asian Pantry

January 22, 2016

How to flavor foods

If you want to learn how to cook without recipes, or need weeknight dinner inspiration where dinner comes together in minutes, you must have a stocked pantry. You must also understand how to flavor foods.

In our global culture, we SO lucky to be able to borrow flavors from all over the world.

In this series, we’ll go through Asian, Mexican, Moroccan, Italian and Persian flavor profiles. There are many more, but these are the ones I recycle in my own kitchen and can speak to.

Today you’ll learn how to flavor foods with an Asian flair.

This includes Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese and some Korean cuisine.

Asian Pantry List – Condiments/Flavor agents

  • Tamari
  • Mirin (watch out for the brand – some have corn syrup as its primary ingredient)
  • Rice wine vinegar
  • Sesame oil
  • Oyster sauce
  • Sesame seeds
  • Sake
  • Thai Curry Pastes (Green, Red, Panang, Massaman)
  • Fish Sauce
  • Gojuchang paste (read the ingredient list – artisanal brands are best here because the ingredients can be predominantly corn/wheat syrup and other nasty ingredients)
  • Sriracha
  • Toragashi
  • Korean Hot Pepper
  • Coconut Milk
  • Miso paste
  • Ginger
  • Kelp, Bonito Flakes (for dashi, a Japanese broth. Getting into somewhat advanced cooking)
  • Thai basil, mint, cilantro


  • Rice Noodles
  • Sushi Rice
  • Jasmine Rice
  • Udon Noodles
  • Soba Noodles
  • Ramen Noodles

There is also a range of soy sauces, from light to dark – but for the purpose of quick cooking, tamari is great.

Quick Flavor Profiles

  • Grate 1 tsp garlic, 1 tsp ginger, 2 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp sesame oil for a quick marinade good with fish, tofu or chicken
  • Use sesame oil instead of olive oil when roasting vegetables, and use a couple tsp. of tamari to instead of salt. You can use sesame seeds in here and/or a good sprinkling of toragashi. To heighten flavors more, use 1 tbsp of rice wine vinegar.
  • Finish any stir-fry with a couple of tablespoons of tamari. From there, you can add the juice of half a lime, 1 tbsp of rice wine vinegar for acid. You can also add 1-2 tbsp mirin, 1 tbsp oyster sauce and a healthy squirt of sriracha.
  • Fry up 1 pound of ground beef, tofu, chicken or pork. Season with 3 tbsp fish sauce and 3 tbsp lime juice. Serve on lettuce cups or rice. Peanut sauce is an excellent topping.
  • Add a handful of thai basil to any stir-fry
  • Crust a piece of salmon or chicken with 1/2 tsp of Toragashi and bake, broil or sear

So what can you make with these flavors?


Cucumber Salad with Korean Hot Pepper 

The salad above is as simple as adding a little tamari, sesame and rice wine vinegar. You can omit the sesame seeds and Korean pepper with similarly excellent results.

Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salads

This vietnamese noodle salad recipe is solid and easy to follow. Use whatever crunchy vegetables you have on hand, and double or triple the dressing so you can make this salad again.

Soba Noodle Salads 

This one from Heidi Swanson is perfect. Healthy, delicious and the dressing is addictive.


  • Sesame Crusted Chicken, Tofu or Fish

No recipe here. Take a piece of fish, chicken or tofu and marinade it in 1 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp sesame oil. You can add a tsp of sriracha and grate some ginger on the fish, but you can keep it as simple as the soy/sesame mixture. Crust it with toasted sesame seeds (about 1.5 tbsp. per piece) and bake until crispy. A small piece of fish will take 10 minutes, chicken breast 15-18 minutes, and tofu will take 25-30 minutes in a 375 oven.

You can easily omit the ginger, chili powder and garlic here. It will be delicious both ways. This is easy to put together IF you have all the pantry staples handy. You can also use this mixture for fish, even tofu!


Udon Noodle Stir-Fry 

You can use 2 cups of any blanched veggie – broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, etc. The 8oz of chuck beef can be chicken, tofu, shrimp, etc. And you don’t have to use dark soy sauce – tamari for the whole thing is completely acceptable. You could also use rice noodles for this dish!


A good curry starts with a good curry paste. Start with the best brand, Mae Ploy, and it’s hard to mess up.

This is a good base recipe – you can use whatever veggies/protein you have on hand, and switch it up with green or panang curry paste. The Mae Ploy brand is spicy so you might want to go lighter – 1-2 tbsp is more than enough for a dish.

What are your tips for combining Asian flavors?

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