Looking to spice up your favorite recipes? I know how intimidating the endless endcap of seasonings and sauces can get (*googles* “What’s the difference between sambal and sriracha?”). So, I personally curated a list of all the tastiest ingredients you need to add to your grocery list, ASAP!
Here are 10 kitchen condiments I keep in my home kitchen cabinet at all times:
White pepper isn’t just for Chinese dishes anymore. It works nicely when black specks of pepper detract from overall presentation. However it’s far more potent than its black counterpart, so be careful about how much you add. My mom, the Mama Dang, makes a mean choy-sum stir fry using a generous pinch of white pepper, and I still have not seen it used in a more delicious way.
Roasted Soybean Powder (Kinaku)
Roasted soybean powder is slightly sweet and is used as a dessert topping on mochi or shaved ice. I recently cut dessert out of my diet but I still enjoy the powder for its high calcium, protein, and B vitamin content. I add it to my post-workout smoothie - one scoop of the powder, half a frozen banana, and a cup of almond milk. Pro tip: store the powder in the freezer so it lasts longer.
Tart, sweet, and salty, ponzu is one of my favorites. A super easy cold salad I like to make on a hot day has just two ingredients: ponzu and wakame. When I’m feeling extra industrious I’ll add thinly sliced white onion, a pinch of Korean red pepper flakes and some sesame seeds, but the salad is a standout on its own.
Kochugaru, a mellower, smokier version of the classic pepper flake, adds some exciting variety to classic tastes. A super easy spice rub that I found in Julia Turshen’s Small Victories is 2 parts kosher salt , 2 parts kochugaru, and 1 part brown sugar. I like to coat chicken drumsticks and roast in a 400 degree oven for 30-40 minutes.
The first time I went to Liholiho Yacht Club, a restaurant in San Francisco, I had a chocolate brownie with miso caramel sauce. That was over 3 years ago, but I’ve thought about it regularly since. It wasn’t necessarily the richness of the brownie, or the taste of the caramel sauce, but more so how something could taste so unexpected yet be so familiar. I play around from time to time with adding miso to Western foods, but haven’t nailed it just yet. In the meantime, I’m always in the mood for a simple miso soup.
It always amazes me how trendy fish sauce is these days. When I was a kid eating Thai food at home, I was always afraid that people would be able to smell it on me or on my clothes, and if they could, it would somehow make me less American. Now I say, “Rock it!” and use a drop (or 10) in everything from tomato sauce to curry....just don’t drop the bottle or your house will smell for days.
I love furikake so much I put it in our seaweed sticky rice chips! Eating furikake reminds me of my childhood. Nothing was better than coming home from school and eating last night’s rice topped with a generous amount of that savory seaweed sprinkle. I hardly eat white rice nowadays, so instead I enjoy it as a topping for scrambled eggs or even as a dip for hard-boiled eggs when I’m on the go.
I debated not putting this on the list, in case it was too similar to kochugaru, its flaked counterpart. But kochujang (or gochujang) is too good to omit.You can and should put it in your bibimbap, but a small spoonful of kochujang and a dollop of mayonnaise is also excellent as a dip: it becomes tangy and rich and a beautiful shade of pink. It’s great as a party snack - just serve with chips and veggie sticks.
Sesame salt is nutty, rich, and adds a pleasant crunch. I almost always add it as a topping on soft tofu or avocado toast. Though you can buy it in the store, I try to make it at home by toasting sesame seeds with salt over a pan until the seeds smell fragrant. Put it in your mortar and pound until the seeds crack. The ratio I use is 1 part salt and 8 parts sesame seed, but you can adjust to your own preferences.
I don’t think any Thai household is complete without curry paste. To be honest, I don’t make my own -- it’s too easy to go out and buy the Mae Ploy brand at the supermarket. Have a go braising beef chuck with red curry paste and coconut milk in a low temperature oven for a few hours. A much faster, but equally delicious route is to steam mussels with a little green curry paste and coconut milk. Both dishes are always served with lime wedges and plenty of cilantro.
I know this is just a shortlist of international favorites, so I encourage you to connect with new cultures and swap family recipes with your friends.