Saturday, 16 July 2011

Flavours of Asia

Now that we're back I'm being asked about the best place or country that we visited but as they are so different I find this question incredibly difficult. I liked them all. For different reasons. Instead I will try and sum up the trip in flavours so here is my top 10 list of ingredients we came across that have left an impression:

1. Pandan
If you have been following the blog you will have figured by now that I have found my new food crush. Love at first sight, eh, taste. It is the vanilla of SE Asia and you can use it accordingly in baked goods and sweet treats, rice and cocktails. Yum. Now I always have some pandan leaves in the freezer.

2. Winter melon
We haven't tried it fresh and ripe but it's great as a juice made from the immature melon when it's still sweet. It's available in cans throughout Malaysia, Vietnam and China and I love the creamy buttery taste.

3. Chili
Of course I had to mention chili. Adds heat to so many dishes in so many countries. On my 'heat-scale' Thailand is taking the top, followed by India and Malaysia.

4. Cardamon
One of the things I cherished in India is chai, the fragrant tea made with ground spices (including cardamon) and milk. The taste and smell of cardamon pods encapsulates India for me. It can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes.

5. Palm sugar
It's not just sweet but has a rich caramel flavour similar to demerara or other brown sugars. It works well in my favourite dessert Cendol Gula Melaka from Malaysia but also in savory dishes like Som tam in Thailand.

6. Kaffir lime
The rind of the kaffir lime and the aromatic leaves are both used in curry pastes in Thai, Lao and Cambodian cuisine and though the juice is not used the tart kaffir lime peel can be used similar to lemon or lime in sorbets and desserts as well.

7. Taro
This starchy root vegetable can be used either in savoury dishes or in desserts, easily recognisable by it's purple colour. Taro replaces pandan as the flavour of choice in ice cream in Vietnam and China.

8. Dragonfruit
This is the most amazing looking fruit and it grows on the most amazing looking plant not unlike a cactus. They are grown commercially all around Southern Vietnam but are available throughout SE Asia. There are two variations, one with white and the other with deep purple flesh. In taste they are very similar. Reminiscent of a kiwi but sweet instead of acidic and the small black seeds have a light nutty flavour. Dragonfruit works well in combination with rambutan and lychee.

9. Lemongrass
With it's fragrant citrus flavour this herb is an essential ingredient in Asian cuisine, from curries to tea and it also works well in desserts.

10. Galangal
Commonly called 'Thai ginger' galangal has less of the peppery heat retained in ginger and tastes slightly more earthy and citrusy. It's an integral part of Thai, Lao and Cambodian cuisine used in curry paste or Tom Yum.

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