Getting in touch with your inner Umami is easier than ever these days with basic go-to ingredients available in most supermarket ethnic grocery sections and ethnic restaurant/retail specialty markets. Making our Fresh Kimchi, Umami Lettuce Wraps or some amazing noodles is fast and easy. These are also a healthy alternative to the not-so-good diet of American take-out. The world of Asian flavors and aromas entered my life during my teenage years in the Philippines. In recent years, being in the wine business, I have seen and experienced the tsunami waves of Asian and Middle Eastern flavors sweeping the country from large ethnic communities in the metropolitan areas. Many Americans, especially vegans, have happily embraced these powerful, intense, delicious umami flavors over the usual bland flavorscape. I have created many of my most satisfying and popular recipes in this flavor arena and you can, too.
To help get you started in cooking Asian cuisines, here is a list of pantry staples you’ll need to create these delicious dishes that are intense, subtle, savory, sour, sweet, spicy and Umami!
Suggested Umami Ingredients
Fish Sauce (light amber)
Soy Mushroom Sauce
Rice Wine Vinegar (Seasoned)
Mushrooms: fresh exotic is best, use what is available, even dried if necessary
Coconut Cream, extra thick and rich (we like Trader Joe’s)
Sheets of Dried Seaweed, for cutting into thin ribbons for both taste and visual effect
Black Sesame Seeds
Jasmine Rice or your choice white long-grain rice
Yellow, Green and Red Curry Paste
Miso Paste, mild (shiro)
Chicken Stock or Bouillon
Pure Palm Sugar
Asian-style Hot Sauce or Chili Sauce
Corn Starch, Wondra Brand Instant Mixing Flour, or Arrowroot Powder/Flour
Produce (available in tubes of long-lasting paste)
Don’t you despise buying ingredients for one or two recipes and then rarely using them again? I do, too! Let me recommend two books of Thai recipes as resources that I think will get you on the road to Umami heaven:
Pok Pok by Andy Ricker with J.J. Goode. Excellent visuals and recipes gathered through years of working side-by-side with everyday cooks in Thailand who produce amazing flavors.
The Ultimate Thai and Asian Cookbook by Hsuing, Johnson and Morris. This book covers the vastness of Asia encompassing the well-known cuisines of China, Korea, Japan, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam to the lesser-known island cultures of Malaysia, Borneo, Indonesia and the Philippines. The first part of the book is a visual catalog covering every type of Asian ingredient. The second part of the book consists of over 300 traditional Thai and Asian recipes with easy-to-follow, illustrated step-step instructions.