May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. It’s an annual opportunity to honor the influences and contributions this multi-generational group has shared to help shape U.S. history.
One way to celebrate the influences of these cultures is through rich, flavorful foods. If you aren’t already familiar, it can feel a little daunting to try new foods—especially those with a whole new array of spices and flavors. Before picking a recipe to try, let’s get more familiar with some of the most common ingredients used in AAPI cuisines:
- Soy Sauce – A liquid condiment of Chinese origin traditionally made from fermented soybeans, roasted grains, and brine. It is considered to have a strong umami (savory) taste.
- Tamari – The gluten-free version of soy sauce.
- Oyster Sauce – Another sauce of Chinese origin with strong umami richness. This is a dark sauce made from oyster extracts, sugar, salt, and water.
- Fish Sauce – This sauce originates from East Asian cuisines and is made from fish or krill that have been coated in salt and fermented for up to two years. It is very popular in Vietnamese, Thai, and Korean cuisines.
- Hoisin Sauce – This is a thicker sauce that is both sweet and savory. Think of it as an Asian barbecue sauce that works well as a glaze for meat or as a dipping sauce.
- Rice Vinegar – This is made from fermenting rice. It is used as a seasoning, dressing, or dipping option in many dishes and has a mild, delicate sweetness.
- Coconut Milk – A milky, white liquid extracted from the pulp of coconuts. It is popular in Southeast Asia, Oceania, and South Asian cuisines. When a recipe calls for coconut milk, most opt to use the canned variety.
Some popular spices in Asian and Pacific Island cooking include five spice, basil, cinnamon, coriander, cloves, cumin, curry, chili powder, garlic, ginger, garam masala, lemongrass, mint, star anise, turmeric, and white pepper.
If you don’t already have these spices in your pantry, try picking up just a few from one or two of the featured recipes below. Known as some of the most diverse and flavorful foods in the world, there is truly something for everyone!
Fish Suruwa (Fijian Fish Curry), Serves 4
3 Tbsp. avocado oil
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 ½ tsp. garam masala
1 tsp. toasted cumin
1 tsp. turmeric
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 ½ lbs. firm white fish
1 2/3 cups coconut milk (light)
- In a large skillet, heat the avocado oil over medium heat.
- Add the onion and cinnamon stick. Cook until the onion begins to soften. Add garlic and cook for 30 to 45 seconds. Add garam masala, cumin, and turmeric.
- Now, add tomatoes and stir occasionally for about 15 minutes.
- For young assistants: Have them squeeze juice from the lemon. Set aside.
- Add fish to the mixture, placing each piece into the skillet gently. Drizzle with the lemon juice and cook for a few minutes on each side.
- Gently mix in the coconut milk and simmer until the fish is cooked through (approximately 5 minutes).
We suggest serving this over brown rice or with a whole-wheat pita.
Recipe adapted from Tara’s Multicultural Table.
Coconut Lime Grilled Chicken, Serves 4
2 Tbsp. fish sauce
¼ cup full-fat coconut milk
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. lemongrass paste
1 clove garlic
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 ½ cups uncooked brown rice
- For young assistants: Have them help you juice the limes and pull leaves off the cilantro and mint stems.
- Combine the juice and zest from all 3 limes, fish sauce, ¼ cup coconut milk, brown sugar, lemongrass paste, and garlic, plus a handful of cilantro and mint in a food processor. Blend until smooth.
- Combine the chicken and half the sauce in a large, sealable bag. Marinate for 30 minutes.
- While the chicken is marinating, prepare brown rice according to the package directions. If you have leftover coconut milk, you can use this as a substitute for some of the water needed.
- Preheat your grill or a grill pan. Cook chicken on both sides until browned and fully cooked (about 4 minutes per side). Allow to rest for a few minutes.
- Serve the chicken over rice with a drizzle of the remaining sauce.
Recipe adapted from Pinch of Yum.
Crunchy Roll Bowl, Serves 4
1 block extra-firm tofu
1 cup cooked brown rice
2 cups frozen, shelled edamame
1 cucumber, diced
1 cup shredded carrots
1 avocado, sliced
1 Tbsp. avocado oil
½ cup teriyaki sauce
2 Tbsp. siracha sauce
½ cup mayonnaise
- Prep the tofu by pressing the water out of it. To do this, wrap the tofu in a clean towel then place it on a plate with a lip to catch the excess water. Put something heavy on top, such as a frying pan. You can add cans or jars on top to weigh it down even more. Let it sit for 30 to 90 minutes. The tofu will be about ⅔ of its original size after expelling the water.
- While the tofu is being prepped, cook the edamame according to package directions.
- Cut the drained tofu into cubes. Heat the avocado oil over medium-high heat. Add tofu and fry until golden brown. Add about ¼ to ⅓ cup of teriyaki sauce and fry again for a few minutes.
- For young assistants: Have them assist you with assembling the bowls. Add ¼ cup of rice to the bottom of each bowl. Top with tofu, edamame, shredded carrots, and cucumber.
- Prepare the optional spicy mayonnaise by combining mayo and siracha sauce.
- For child assistants: Have them drizzle spicy mayo and/or additional teriyaki sauce on top before serving.
Recipe adapted from Pinch of Yum.