Besides your usual salt and pepper, these are some of the most versatile and useful spices that your Asian household needs to create all the dishes you need.
When mixed with salt, oil and garlic, turmeric can be made into a tasty marinade for chicken and fish. Additionally, it adds plenty of colour and has plenty of health benefits for your body!
Kaffir Lime Leaves
Another versatile herb used in a lot of Asian cooking is kaffir lime leaves, added to curries, stews and so much more to add zest and more flavour. While we don’t recommend you eat it directly, bruising it slightly and adding it into you stew could make dishes so much more tasty.
Coriander goes by many names including cilantro and Chinese parsley. When blended with oil, basil and pine nuts, coriander can be used to make pesto for pasta and be used as a seasoning on top of spicy dishes.
Another star herb you absolutely need to have in your kitchen, lemongrass can be added to curries and stir-fries for a tangy flavour. You can also boil lemongrass and turn it into tea!
One of the ingredients essential to curries and hearty Asian marinades, galangal is part of the ginger family but has a much sharper and stronger flavour. However, don’t get it wrong, galangal should never be used as a substitute for ginger but works better with savoury dishes.
An aromatic herb, there are many types but the most common used in South East Asia are lemon basil, Thai basil and holy basil.
Lemon basil, with smaller but wider leaves, imparts a lemony kick to dishes and is more suited for gentle cooking, such as in soups.
Thai Basil — with narrow leaves, purple stems and pink or purple flowers — has a flavour that’s more stable under high heat. Apart from Thai curries, it’s also used in Taiwanese dish sanbeijie or three-cup chicken, and served raw with Vietnamese dishes.
Holy basil, also known by its Indian name tulsi, has a peppery, clove-like taste. Besides Indian dishes and Ayurvedic medicine, it’s used in noodle, chicken, pork and seafood dishes.
Fragrant leaves from the bay tree, used to flavour stocks, casseroles and stews, especially in Mediterranean and Arab cuisines, can be crushed or used whole. They are not toxic if eaten, but they stay hard and spiky, even after cooking. If big chunks are swallowed, they can irritate the digestive tract or cause chocking. Whole bay leaves are usually removed after cooking, before serving.
In Thai cuisine, bay laurel leaves are used in Arab-influenced dishes, such as massaman curry, while in North Indian cuisine, they are used in rice dishes, such as biryani, or as an ingredient in the spice blend garam masala.
This is a popular herbal leaf in Malay and Indonesian cooking where raw herbs are shredded and stirred into rice dishes known as nasi kerabu or nasi ulam. With a mild lemony taste, it’s also used to flavour curries, soups and stews.
Text: Home And Decor Singapore Additional Reporting: Atika Lim