I try to use commonly found ingredients in the recipes featured on this blog, but sometimes authentic ingredients work best. This is a list I have complied of some of the lesser known items used in the recipes. I separated them based on food group.
The almond originated from the Middle East. It is technically the seed of the fruit (drupe) of the almond tree and is harvested in the autumn. A drupe is a fruit that has a fleshy outer layer surrounding a seed. Other types of drupes include the stone fruits (peaches, plums, apricots, cherries). Almonds are packed with many nutrients. They are a good source of fiber, vitamin E, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, vitamin B6, folate, manganese, calcium, and magnesium. The United States is the top producer of almonds, with California being the leading state. More information on almonds
Mochiko is a sweet rice flour used in Japanese cuisine. This starchy, gluten-free flour is made from sticky sweet rice. It is known as galapong in the Philippines. The most common Japanese dish using mochiko is mochi (Japanese rice cake). I have been able to find Koda Farms Mochiko Sweet Rice Flour in nearby grocery stores in the Asian food aisle.
Vanilla sugar (Vanillezucker in German) is a common ingredient in European cooking and desserts. It can be found in many grocery stores in the USA, but usually only comes in small packets for a high price. They are a bit less expensive online, but I just make my own (store 1 vanilla bean- scraped to 2 cups sugar). Depending on the country, either powdered or granulated sugar is used. Making vanilla sugar is also a great way to use the leftover beans after scraping them for another recipe. It can also be given as gifts or used in place of regular sugar for sweetening coffee and other beverages and foods.
Ghee is clarified butter used in Indian cooking. It is made by separating the butter by heat and filtering it through a cheesecloth.
Taleggio is an Italian (Val Taleggio) cheese and may be one of the oldest of the soft cheeses. It has a strong smell, but a mild, sweet flavor. It is currently made in Lombardy, Piedmont, and Venetia. If unable to obtain Taleggio, other possible substitutions include Fontina, Gouda, or Bel Paese. More information on Taleggio.
The Asian pear is native to Japan, Korea, and China. Other common names include Japanese/Korean/Chinese pear, apple pear, sand pear, and nashi pear. Compared to western pears, Asian pears are more crisp and juicy. They bruise easily, so be careful with storage (in a cool, dry place). Pick ripe pears by their strong, sweet smell. Avoid those that are bruised and soft. In Asian cooking, they are often ground and used in sauces/marinades as a sweetener. They are high in vitamin C and fiber.
The Meyer lemon is a hybrid fruit (likely the cross between a lemon and mandarin orange) originally grown in China. It was first brought to the United States in 1908 by Frank Meyer. Meyer lemons are rounded, with a yellow to orange tinted skin. The pulp has a deep yellow coloring, is sweeter and less acidic than lemons. They are available year round, but the trees produce the most fruit during the winter (December to April). More information on different types of lemons.
The pumpkin is a winter squash belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family with other squash, gourds, melons, and cucumbers. They are technically a fruit, because they contain seeds. Pumpkins originated in North America, but are now grown around the world. In the United States, Illinois is the top pumpkin producer. They have a long growing season, from 90 to 120 days in warm weather. They do not tolerate cold weather well. Pumpkins are high in fiber, potassium, and iron. They are also a source of lutein (good for eye health), alpha and beta carotene (vitamin A). Pumpkin Facts
A tangelo is a type of citrus fruit that is a hybrid of the tangerine and grapefruit. They taste similar to a tangerine and their size varies, from an orange to a grapefruit. I used Orlando tangelos, available from November to February
Flank steak (stir-fry beef) comes from the cow’s abdominal muscles and the best cuts are bright red. It is very lean and the most tender when marinated, cooked quickly over high heat, or braised.
Pasta and Rice:
Glass noodles (Cellophane, Bean Thread, Crystal, Chinese Vermicelli) are a common ingredient in Asian cuisine for stir-fries, soups, salads, and even wraps. They are most often found in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, and Vietnamese cooking. Glass noodles are made from starch (mung bean, yam, or potato) and water. They do not have much favor on their own, but puck up the flavors of other ingredients in the dish. They are found in some grocery stores and most Asian food markets. More information on Glass Noodles.
Japanese rice (uruchi-mai, Japonica, sushi) is a mainstay of Japanese cuisine and included in most meals. It is a short to medium grain rice that is sticker after cooking than other types of rice. I am able to find it at my local grocery store and Asian food markets. More information and preparation of rice at Justhungry
Orzo is a short cut pasta that looks like over-sized rice. It translates to barley in Italian and is sometimes referred to as rosa marina (slightly thinner than orzo) and manestra. Orzo is common in many cuisines throughout the Mediterranean. This dense little pasta is perfect for pilafs, salads, and soups/stews.
Dashi is a stock used in Japanese cooking. It is made from kombu and katsuobushi. Kombu is dried Japanese kelp. Katsuobushi are bonito (tuna) flakes. You can make your own dashi with kombu and katsuobushi or use instant dashi granules (most common). Most instant dashi mixes add MSG. If you don’t mind added MSG, the following brands are available on Amazon: Dashi-No-Moto and Ajinomoto – Hon Dashi. Maruhachi Dashi doesn’t have any added MSG, but it is a bit more expensive (also in a bulk package). Dashi isn’t available in grocery stores or Asian food markets near me, so I usually buy in bulk online.
Gochujang is used in many Korean dishes and as a condiment. It is made by aging red pepper, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, and salt in a clay pot in the sun.
Mirin is a sweet Japanese cooking rice wine. I use hon-mirin (true mirin) in recipes calling for mirin. I have been able to find it in Asian food markets near me. Many grocery stores have aji-mirin, but those usually have a lot of additives. Other types of mirin are shio-mirin (includes salt) and shin-mirin (very little alcohol).
Mushroom soy sauce is available in many Asian food markets. It is a lot stronger and darker than regular soy sauce, so be more careful in its use. In addition to soy beans, it is also brewed with straw and shiitake mushrooms. Common brands include Pearl River Bridge Mushroom Flavored Superior Dark Soy Sauce
(less additives) and Lee Kum Kee. There is not a great substitute for mushroom soy sauce. Dark soy sauce can be used in its place, but the flavor won’t be exactly the same. If you are substituting in a dipping sauce, just use regular soy sauce instead of dark.
Nutella evolved from Gianduja, a chocolate-hazelnut paste from Piedmont, Italy. The Italian company, Ferrero, developed the mixture over the years and Nutella was born in 1964. Information on Nutella.
Preserved cabbage (Tianjian/Tientsin preserved vegetables) is also available in many Asian food markets stored in earthenware pots or plastic. This dull brown, pickled, shredded cabbage is a Chinese condiment that should be used sparingly due to its high salt content. It is used in many Chinese, Thai, and Cambodian dishes. As long as you use clean utensils to take out the cabbage, it should last for a very long time.
Garam Masala is an Indian spice mixture. You can make your own or buy it in many grocery stores. Spices included are often black pepper, cardamom, cumin, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, and ginger. The ingredients and quantities differ based on the region and even the family.
Gochugaru is a hot Korean red chili powder. The best gochugaru is made from red chili peppers that have been dried in the sunlight. You can make your own (not common anymore) and it is also available on Amazon as fine or coarse powders: Singsong Korean Hot Pepper Fine Type Powder and Singsong Korean Hot Pepper Coarse Type Powder. I have not been able to find it at any grocery stores in my area, but I have seen it in the local Asian food markets. If you must, cayenne powder can be substituted, but the flavor is just not as authentic as the hot and sweet, smokey gochugaru.
Matcha (MAHT-cha) is a powder created by grinding whole green tea leaves. It is most often known from the Japanese tea ceremony. While its use is most widespread in Japan, matcha actually originated in China. It is on the expensive side, especially for premium grades. Since less is more, it usually takes me a while to go through a jar (unless I go through a green tea kick and make a ton of recipes in a short time). There are various grades of matcha. The higher quality grades are made from the fine, new leaves from the very top of the Camellia sinensis tea bush. Use the premium grades for drinking, while the lower, culinary grades are fine to use in baking. Be careful in the storing of matcha. It can become stale and brownish when exposed to oxygen.
Matcha can be found in Asian markets, specialty tea shops, and online. Amazon has some culinary grades available: DoMatcha Organic 2nd Harvest Matchaand a little less expensive- SerendipiTea Matcha Culinary Grade, Organic Green Tea,
More information on Matcha and how it is made.
Nigella seeds come from the fruit of the Nigella sativa, a pale blue or white flower originating from southern Asia and northern Africa. These black, triangular seeds are known as çörek otu (bun’s herb) in Turkish and are used to top many breads throughout the Middle East to India and northern Africa. They don’t have much flavor when raw, but become more peppery with a smokey flavor when cooked.
Vegeta is a common seasoning used in Eastern European cooking. Ingredients include salt, dehydrated vegetables (carrot, parsnip, onion, celery, parsley), flavor enhancers (MSG), sugar, spices, cornstarch, and riboflavin. It was first created in 1958 and put on the market by Podravka, a Croatian company in 1959. Amazon sells a version without MSG: Vegeta, Gourmet Seasoning, No MSG. More information on Vegeta.
Bok Choy (Bok Choi, Pak Choy, Pak Choi) is a variety of Chinese cabbage. It means ‘white vegetable’ in Cantonese. It is a common green in Chinese cuisine, with over 20 varieties, and has been grown there for thousands of years. California is the largest producer in the United States. The bok choy is a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, folate and calcium. It has year-round availability, but is a cooler weather vegetable and peaks in the winter. More information on bok choy
Japanese cucumbers look like English, but the skin is bumpy. They are mild with minimal seeds. They are also crisp and less bitter than the garden cucumber.
Napa cabbage (Nappa, Chinese, Celery Cabbage) is a common ingredient in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese cooking. It was originally grown near Beijing, China. It is a long, oval cabbage with a light greenish yellow color. It is a good source of folate, manganese, iron, and zinc. I have been able to find it at most grocery stores and Asian markets in my area.
The poblano is a popular chili pepper originally from Puebla, Mexico. The green, unripened peppers are very mild, with a Scoville rating of only around 1,000. The red peppers are a bit hotter, with varying degrees of hotness per pepper. Scoville Heat Scale
Sweet potatoes originated in Central/South America. Their name is deceiving. They are a member of the Convolvulaceae family and not a potato or a yam (native to Africa and Asia). Sweet potatoes are a good source of beta carotene (vitamin A), fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B6, calcium, potassium, and folate. They are also a good pick for individuals with diabetes due to their low glycemic index. They require about 100 days of warm weathered growth to mature. In the United States, North Carolina is the top producer of sweet potatoes. In the world, China is the highest producer. More information on sweet potatoes