The key to healthy cooking is, of course, healthy ingredients. But short of ditching your favourite flab-inducing flavourings, here are some asian-cuisine condiments, spices and essential oils that will maximize flavour and minimize post-meal regret.

  • Beyond the obvious (chinatown, SE Asian food stores), many of these items you can now get in your local organic healthfood or Asian/ethnic food section your neighbourhood grocery store.

1. Virgin Coconut oil: Great for high temperature cooking or when you don?t want an olive oil taste to your meal (e.g. SE Asian and Indian dishes don’t go that well with olives!) It contains a large percentage of saturated fats that remain stable and undamaged with heat. Amongst its antimicrobial benefits (it contains anti-fungal caprylic acid and high amounts of lauric acid- an antiviral and antibacterial fatty acid), this oil is comprised of primarily medium chain triglycerides which are utilized by the liver to produce energy in preference to being stored in the body as fat like other dietary fats.

2. Miso: Made primarily from soybeans, miso contains rice, barley or other grains. It is fermented and has beneficial bacteria, so you don’t want to boil it. It’s a great source of low-calorie protein (2g of protein in a 30 cal (2 tsp) serving). Use as a soup base, or try a teaspoon in salad dressings , stir-fry sauces and gravies.

3. Tamari: like miso, tamari is a fermented soy food, and it shares many of miso’s nutritional properties while avoiding the problems associated with unfermented soy foods. On top of its essential salty flavour imperative in asian cooking, it has a high concentration anti-oxidants.

4. Ume plum vinegar: brilliant red, tart and tangy japanese vinegar made from the venerable umeboshi plum and shiso leaves. For sprinkling on greens after cooking (increases absorption of vitamins, minerals and is nice and salty!). This is also a fantastic flavour enhancer; it really kicks up a soup/stew/sauce if it is missing something.

5. Rice wine vinegar: another essential ingredient for asian cooking: salads, sauces and marinades, this vinegar is refreshes the palate, aids digestion and is a great food preservative (think tart and vibrant pickled ginger). I prefer brown rice vinegar as it contains a high concentration of essential amino acids.

6. Seaweeds: These one of the richest sources of minerals in the vegetable kingdom! Sea vegetables contain high amounts of calcium and phosphorus and extra high in magnesium, iron, iodine, and sodium AND good amounts of omega 3. They also have an ability to remove toxins from the body. And they are tasty! see Arame Kale Avocado Sesame Salad)

my fav: Dulse: This seaweed is great for sauteing in a little coconut oil and munching on like chips, but is also wonderful sprinkled on salads in place of bacon and on top of soups and open-faced sandwiches as a crispy, healthy garnish.

7. Tamarind– a sweet and sour pod from a tree, you can get it as a syrupy molasses-like concentrate or a ate like brick. The pulp is a great source of fiber and used traditionally as digestive aid alongside being a prized condiment/spice. A common ingredient in curries, chutneys, hot and sour soups, and a chai-esque juice drink made out of dates, cardamom, cloves coriander and honey. High in iron, and tartaric acid, a powerful anti-oxidant.

8. Ginger contains very potent anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols. not only wonderfully warming on a cold day, but also increases metabolism and promotes healthy sweating. Not only does sweating assist in detoxification, but it provides protection against bacteria and fungi. One of the strong carminitive herbs, ginger relaxes and soothes the digestive tract. It is the most significant anti-nausea herb around- reduces motion sickness, dizziness and upset stomach.

Serving ideas

  1. Turn up the heat making a soothing ginger lemon tea, Simply simmer some freshly grated ginger or sliced coins of ginger (1 inch: 1 c water) in a pot of hot water, add fresh lemon juice, and honey  and drink while warm.
  2. Combine ginger, garlic, olive oil, rice wine vinegar and a splash of tamari/ume plum vinegar to make a wonderful salad dressing
  3. Add ginger and orange juice to sweet potatoes, yams or squash, roasted or in soup.

The following are not essential but really fun additions:

9. Sesame Seeds: a good source of calcium, phosphorus zinc and copper which help maintain healthy bones. Also contain lignans including sesamin and sesamolin which can help lower LDL Sprinkle crunchy toasted seeds on steamed greens, stirfries, salads or salad dressings (see Arame Kale Avocado Sesame Salad)

10. Pomegranate molasses: Very nice in salad dressings, marinades and dipping sauces. Anti-oxidant powerhouse this here pomegranate.