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Glossary of Chinese Cooking Ingredients

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Baby Sweetcorn

Small, young corn cobs have a crisp, crunchy texture and mild, sweet flavour.

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Bamboo Shoots

The mild-flavoured tender shoots of young bamboo are widely available fresh and also sliced or halved in cans.

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Basil

Several different types of basil are used in Asian cooking. Thai cooks use two varieties - holy and sweet.

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Beansprouts

The most commonly available shoots are those of the mung bean, but many other beans and seeds can also be sprouted. They add a crisp texture to stir-fries.

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Cardamom

Available as tiny green pods and large black or white pods containing seeds, cardamom is very aromatic. It is native to India, where it is highly prized.

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Cashew Nuts

Whole cashews feature in many Chinese and South-east Asian stir-fries, particularly with chicken.

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Channa Dhal

This is round, split, yellow lentil. It is widely available from supermarkets and Asian foodstores.

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Chilli Oil

This red flavouring oil is very potent, so use it sparingly.

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Chilli Powder

This is a hot, ground spice and should be used with caution. Its fieriness varies from brand to brand.

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Chillies

The range of fresh and dried chillies is immense. Generally, the larger the chilli, the milder the flavour, but there are exceptions. Green chillies tend to be hotter than red ones, but, again, there are exceptions. For a milder flavour, remove the seeds before using.

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Chinese Five-Spice Powder

The spices are star anise, Szechuan pepper, fennel, cloves and cinnamon. This is available from Chinese foodstores and different from Indian five-spice powder.

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Chinese Rice Vinegar

This is sometimes difficult to find. Cider vinegar is a satisfactory substitute.

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Chinese Rice Wine

This can be found in most large supermarkets and Chinese foodstores. It is made from glutinous rice and is also known as yellow wine - Huang Jiu or Chiew - because of its colour. The best variety is reputed to be Shao Hsing or Shaoxing from the South-east of China. Dry sherry may be used as a substitute.

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Coconut Milk

An essential ingredient in many Thai and Indonesian dishes, this is made from unsweetened, grated coconut flesh mixed with water. It is also available from supermarkets and Chinese foodstores. It is not the same as the "mulk" found inside fresh coconuts.

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Coriander

Also known as Chinese parsley, a herb it resembles in appearance rather than flavour, it is widely used in Asian cuisine.

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Creamed Coconut

Sold in solid blocks, this gives an intense coconut flavour to dishes. Add a little water to make a thick paste or thin with more water, if required. It is available from most large supermarkets and Chinese foodstores.

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Cumin

This spice has a strong, slightly bitter flavour. A popular spice used in conjunction with coriander in Indian cuisine, in particular.

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Dried Shrimp and Dried Shrimp Paste

Tiny shrimp are salted and dried and used as a seasoning in many stir-fried dishes. Soak them in warm water until soft, then process in food processor or blender or pound in a mortar with pestle. Shrimp paste is a strong smelling, dark paste with a powerful flavour, so use it sparingly.

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Galangal

A member of the ginger family and also known as Thai ginger, galangal is widely used in Thai cuisine. It has a less pungent, more aromatic flavour than ginger root.

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Garam Masala

This is a mixture of spices that can be freshly ground and made at home or bought ready-made. There is no set recipe, but it typically includes black cumin seeds, peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon and black cardamom pods.

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Garlic

This is an essential ingredient in most Asian cookery. Peel the individual cloves and then slice, chop or crush.

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Ginger

The fresh root is widely available. It has a sharp, distinctive flavour. Choose firm, plump pieces with shiny, unwrinkled skins. Peel the skin using a sharp knife, then slice, chop or grate coarsely or finely according to taste and use.

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Gram Flour

Made from ground chick-peas, this flour has a unique flavour and is worth seeking out from Indian foodstores.

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Hoisin Sauce

A thick, dark brownish red sauce with a sweet, spicy flavour, hoisin sauce is available from Chinese foodstores and most supermarkets.

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Kaffir Lime Leaves

Used to impart an aromatic lime flavour to many South-east Asian dishes, fresh leaves are available from Chinese and Asian foodstores. They freeze well. Cut out the centre vein and then cut the leaves crossways into fine strips

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Lemon Grass

This imparts a mild, sweet-sour citrus flavour. Split and use whole, finely chopped or ground to a paste.

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Masoor Dhal

These split red lentils are actually orange in colour and turn pale yellow when cooked.

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Mirin

A mild sweet Japanese rice wine.

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Mooli

Also known as daikon, mooli is a member of the radish family and has a fresh, slightly peppery taste. Unlike other radishes, it is good when cooked, but should be salted and allowed to drain first, as it has a high water content. It is widely used in Chinese cooking and my be carved into an elaborate garnish.

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Moong Dhal

These split yellow lentils are similar to the smaller channa dhal.

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Mushrooms

Both fresh and dried mushrooms are used in Asian cooking, particularly for adding texture. Soak dried mushrooms in warm water for 20-30 minutes before use. Use the soaking water as stock. Although packets of dried mushrooms seem expensive, only a few are needed per recipe and they can be stored almost indefinitely. Mushrooms are often used more for their texture than flavour.

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Mustard Seeds

These round, black seeds have a very sharp taste and are used for flavouring curries and pickles in Indian cuisine.

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Okra

Also known as ladies' fingers, bhindi and gumbo, this edible seed pod is a member of the hibiscus family. It is widely used in Indian cuisine.

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Oyster Sauce

Made from oyster extract, this is used in many fish dishes, soups and sauces. It is quite salty.

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Pak Choi

This is an attractive vegetable with a long, smooth, milky white stem and large, dark-green leaves.

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Peanuts

Widely used in Asian cooking, peanuts add flavour and a crunchy texture. Remove the thin red skins of raw peanuts by immersing them in boiling water for a few minutes. The skins will then slip off easily.

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Plum Sauce

This is a sweet-sour sauce with a unique fruity flavour.

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Red Bean Paste

This reddish brown paste is made from puréed red beans and crystallized sugar. It is usually sold in cans or jars.

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Saffron

Made from the dried stigmas of a type of crocus, saffron is the world's most expensive spice. Fortunately only a small quantity is required per recipe. It has a delicate flavour and aroma and there is no satisfactory substitute.

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Sake

A strong powerful fortified rice wine from Japan.

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Salted Black Beans

Sold in pastic bags or jars, these salty and pungent beans should be crushed with water or Chinese rice wine before use. They will keep almost indefinitely in a screw-top jar in the refrigerator.

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Sesame Oil

Made from toasted sesame seeds, this is used more for flavouring than for cooking. It is very intensely flavoured, so only a little is required.

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Shallots

Mild-flavoured members of the onion family, shallots are used in many flavourings and sauces, such as Thai curry paste. Fried in crisp flakes, they can be used as a garnish.

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Soy Sauce

Made from naturally fermented soya beans, this is an important ingredient in Chinese and other Asian cuisines. Light soy sauce is more delicately flavoured and lighter in colour. It is usually used for dipping sauces. Dark soy sauce has a more robust flavour and is used to flavour rich meats and fish. Japanese soy sauce - shoyu - has a slightly sweet, delicate flavour. Malaysian soy sauce - ketjap manis - is syrupy and sweet.

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Spring Onions

These are widely used in stir-fried dishes. The thinner the onion, the milder its flavour will be. Chop off the roots and the top part of the green section, then chop finely or cut into matchstick strips. In some recipes, the green and white parts are kept separate for an extra decorative effect.

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Spring Roll Wrappers

Paper-thin wrappers made from wheat or rice flour and water, these are available from Chinese foodstores and some supermarkets. Wheat wrappers are usually sold frozen and should be thawed and separated before use. Rice flour wrappers are dry and must be soaked before use.

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Szechuan Peppercorns

Also known as farchiew, these aromatic red peppercorns are best used roasted and ground. They are not so hot as either black or white peppercorns, but do add a unique taste to food.

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Tamarind

This is the brown sticky pulp of the bean-like seed pod of the tamarind tree. It is used in Thai and Indonesian cookings to add tartness to recipes, rather like Western cooks use vinegar or lemon juice. It is usually sold dried or pulped. The pulp is diluted with water and strained before use. Soak 25g/1oz tamarind pulp in 150ml/¼pint warm water for about 10 minutes. Squeeze out as much tamarind juice as possible by pressing all the liquid through a strainer with the back of a spoon.

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Thai Curry Pastes

Curry paste is traditionally made by pounding fresh herbs and spices in a mortar with a pestle. There are two types - red and green - made with red and green chillies respectively. Other ingredients vary with individual cooks, but red curry paste typically contains ginger, shallots, garlic, coriander and cumin seeds and lime juice, as well as chillies. Herbs and flavourings in green curry paste usually include spring onions, fresh coriander, kaffir lime leaves, ginger, garlic and lemon grass. Making curry paste is time-consuming but it tastes excellent and keeps well. Ready-made pastes, available in packets and tubs, are satisfactory substitutes.

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Thai Fish Sauce

Also known as nam pla, this is used in Thai recipes in much the same way as soy sauce is used in Chinese recipes.

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Tofu

A soya product, also know as bean curd, tofu is bland in flavour, but readily absorbs the flavours of the food with which it is cooked. Firm blocks of tofu are best suited to stir-frying. Store, covered with water, in the refrigerator.

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Turmeric

A member of the ginger family, turmeric is a rich, golden coloured root. If you are using the fresh root, wear rubber gloves when peeling it to avoid staining your skin.

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Water Chestnuts

This walnut-size bulb comes from an Asian water plant and looks like a sweet chestnut. They are sold fresh by some Chinese foodstores and are widely available canned.

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Yellow Bean Sauce

This thick paste is made from salted, fermented, yellow soy beans, crushed with flour and sugar.

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