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5 basic ingredients for cooking Chinese food

Learn the easy and essential way to flavor any Chinese dish

09·25·2011

As a native Chinese girl with a passion for cooking, I claim with pride that Chinese home cooking is as low-fuss as it is healthy and delicious. Even with a busy daily schedule, the simplicity of Chinese cooking helps steal time to whip up tasty dishes or stew an aromatic soup for yourself and other hungry appetites! Let the imagination run wild using the five essential ingredients. There is no excuse for a boring dinner ever again!

The five ingredients are cooking oil, ginger, garlic, scallion, and salt.

Cooking oil

Often the first step in many Chinese recipes is to ‘heat oil in the wok’. A variety of cooking oils add fragrance to the dish. Oil keeps the food from sticking to the wok. At a high temperature, oil can cook your dish quickly.

Choose oils based on flavor preference or the oil’s benefits. If budget is the deciding factor, soybean oil (大豆油, dà dòuyóu) is a great choice. Soy bean oil aids in nourishing the intestines. A stressful work week may benefit from corn oil (玉米油, yùmǐ yóu), as it helps relax the heart and brain. Expecting mothers may consider walnut oil (核桃油, hétáo yóu) as it is packed with nutrients beneficial for the fetus’ brain, retina, skin and kidney’s healthy growth. Peanut oil (花生油, huāshēngyóu) is a nutritious oil adding wonderful fragrance to dishes.

While different cooking oils possess distinct benefits, we cannot overuse it. Scientific research shows that a daily intake of 25 grams is enough for adults.

Ginger, garlic, and scallion

There is an old saying in China, “Eat ginger, garlic, and scallion well daily, and the frequency of getting sick will decrease by half.” (吃好葱姜蒜,病痛少一半;Chī hǎo cōng jiāng suàn, bìngtòng shǎo yībàn.) In Chinese herbal medicine culture, food is medicine. To some extent, it can account for why in China, ginger, garlic, and scallion are indispensible, everyday ingredients. More than 2,000 years ago, Confucius wrote, “不撒姜食,不多食。”(Bù sā jiāng shí, bù duō shí.) It means Confucius ate ginger for every meal, but he did not eat much each time. Ginger has a mild nature, which warms the blood and stimulates appetite. Garlic is pungent and kills bacteria, especially great for preventing stomach and intestinal disease. Scallion may suppress bacteria formation and aid digestion. In addition to adding aromas to dishes, they also help support healthy physique and function.

Salt

In Chinese culinary history, salt is ranks number one among all the food flavors (盐是百味之首, Yán shì bǎiwèi zhī shǒu). When tasting a dish before adding salt, the palate senses lack of flavor. Once enough salt is added, food tastes immediately delicious!

Look out for the next post showing how these ingredients can be applied in one dish.

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