Southeast Asian Pantry Essentials

This week, we're featuring a guest post from my sister Dinner by Lany where she shows us the essentials for a Southeast Asian kitchen. Although Lany and I grew up in the same home, she somehow acquired the Asian (specifically Cambodian) culinary trait while I was left in the dust with just my banana pudding and mac and cheese recipes by my side. Fortunately, she's compiled this list for us so we can make delicious asian inspired meals right at home at any moment.


Dinner by Lany's Southeast Asian Pantry Essentials:

A. Fish sauce – I love cooking for my friends and family.  If you go to any kitchen that I’ve cooked in,  you will most likely find a bottle of fish sauce that I’ve left behind from a dinner that I’ve cooked  a few moons ago.  Why? Because it is the number one essential ingredient in Southeast Asian cooking.  The combination of funk, sweetness and saltiness is a must in Southeast Asian cuisine.

B. Soy sauce – Instead of salt, why not use soy sauce?  Soy sauce adds a savory element that salt provides as well as a malty flavor that cannot be duplicated with any other ingredient.  Gluten free? Try Tamari sauce instead.

C. Oyster sauce – This sweet and savory oozy sauce adds a rich umami to any stir fry.  Want to keep your stir fry vegetarian?  There are vegetarian versions of this sauce made out of mushrooms instead of oyster extract.

D. Garlic and ginger – Duh.

E. Coconut Milk – Indispensable ingredient when cooking curries! You can also use this in a marinade (great for a chicken brine) or when making a classic Southeast Asian dessert.

F. Jasmine Rice – Duh.

G. Limes, Lemongrass, Kaffir Lime Leaves, Bird’s Eye Chili – Southeast Asia is an extremely hot and tropical place and our cuisine is no different.  Lemongrass and Kaffir Lime Leaves are staples of Asia’s bright and vibrant broth.  It is also typical to finish each dish with a nice squirt of lime juice before serving.

Honorable mention:

Galangal – A cousin of ginger, this woody root is tamer and earthier than its more popular relative.


Here's a quick and easy recipe to get us started with our newly stocked Asian-inspired pantry!



Asparagus and Red Pepper Stirfry 


1 bunch of asparagus, woody ends cut off and cut into one inch pieces on the bias

2 red peppers, julienned, cut into one inch sticks

1 shallot or a quarter of a red onion, thinly sliced

2-4 cloves garlic finely chopped

1 thumb sized ginger, finely chopped

1 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 3 tbs cold water

2-3 tbs cooking oil



1/2 cup good-tasting chicken stock

3 Tbs oyster sauce

1 Tbs fish sauce

1 to 2 tsp. brown sugar, to taste

1-2 red chilies, minced, OR 1/2 to 3/4 tsp. dried crushed chili (chili flakes), to taste


1.  Combine stir fry sauce ingredients in bowl and mix until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.

2. Heat a wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add oil and swirl around, then add the shallot/onion, garlic, and ginger. Stir-fry 1 minute to release the fragrance.

3. Add asparagus and red pepper plus stir-fry sauce. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables have softened but still retain some crunch.

4. Stir together the cornstarch and water mixture. Push ingredients aside in the wok to reveal the stir-fry sauce. Add the cornstarch-water mixture and stir to thicken the sauce. Then stir-fry everything together.

5. Switch off heat and taste-test the dish. If not salty or flavorful enough, add more fish sauce until desired taste is achieved. If too salty for your taste, add a squeeze of lime or lemon juice. If not sweet enough, add a little more sugar. Add more chili for more heat. Serve over jasmine rice.