Tasty (Asian) dishes just right for one person?
September 25, 2010 4:04 PM   Subscribe

I'm a college student and I would like to begin cooking for myself in earnest next year. I love East Asian and spicy dishes, but I have limited time and resources (shared kitchen with 7). How can I be the least wasteful while still enjoying yummy healthy food?

My past attempts at cooking did not end well (threw out mostly unused pasta/sauces at the end of term/when they expired - I long gave up on fresh food as they usually turned bad before I could use them). I should have more free time next year, so I would like to work out a system of making at least 3 or 4 meals per week (lunch or dinner).

I do have access to a stove and oven, but I prefer simpler dishes that ideally don't need a lot of stove-cooking, like maki rolls, substantial salads (eg. nicoise), and Korean side dishes. In fact I was impressed on my trip to Seoul by the variety of delicious side dishes they have, so any help or recommendations on making similar food is very much wanted!

I would love to make food that can keep for a while (can sushi be refrigerated?) like pickling or marinating, so that I can mix and match them with rice or something and whip up a meal quickly. Spicy and/or low sugar/cholesterol (family history of high cholesterol/diabetes) dishes would be a plus.

Well... guess my main point is, what easy dishes that can be made in small portions and stored? What essential ingredients that I will end up using often? And how much should I buy without repeating history and throwing a lot away? Any advice or things I've overlooked?

(I have a rice cooker and a small Asian grocery nearby, and the usual Sainsbury's. I've read this question.)
posted by monocot to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
If you pick up Thai Recipes' "green curry paste" it has a super easy recipe for curry on the back. Only takes ~15 minutes and is good.
posted by Candide at 4:22 PM on September 25, 2010

Best answer: Asian flavors include toasted sesame oil, garlic, onions, soy sauce... Most of these things last an exceptionally long time if you store them correctly. I actually make lots of Korean food. If you want to go that route, you can get containers of doenjang (sort of like miso, but different, with a stronger flavor) and gochujang (a spicy red pepper/soybean paste) and keep them in your fridge. Doenjangjjigae is a stew made with the doenjang, plus lots of veggies - onion, garlic, zucchini, potato, radish - tofu, and seafood, though that's optional. The gochujang you can use for seasoning or also as a sauce for bibimbap, which is basically a bunch of sauteed veggies and/or meat and an egg on top of rice. Other staples I keep around include dried kelp, dried shiitake mushrooms (they add a TON of flavor), eggs, and sesame seeds. Get your sesame seeds from the Asian market, not the regular grocery store - sooo much cheaper!

Check out Maangchi.com for some banchan recipes - the pickled cucumbers and seasoned dried squid last forever (Ok, like a month).
posted by eldiem at 4:42 PM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I always keep a jar of Tom Yum paste in the fridge, and dried noodles in the cupboard. You can put almost anything into Tom Yum soup - it's a great way of using up random vegetables at the bottom of the fridge, and is quick to make. And it tastes fantastic too!

Stir fry sauces can also be a good thing to keep in the fridge - the stir fry can be done while the rice is cooking. Or curry sauces, which again just require cooking in with the vegies / meat, while the rice is on the go.

If you like your food spicy, keep a jar of dried chillis around (found in the herbs and spices aisle), or get a chilli plant. Garlic and ginger can also be purchased in jars to keep in the fridge, to add flavour to whatever you cook.

I tend to stop at the supermarket on the way home to pick up whatever fruit and veg I need for dinner - that way nothing goes to waste. That might work for you too.

P.S. Sushi won't keep for long in the fridge.
posted by finding.perdita at 4:42 PM on September 25, 2010

Best answer: Sushi generally has a very limited lifespan, shorter still if we're talking about raw fish. It's possible to refrigerate it for maybe a day, possibly two, but the quality degrades pretty rapidly. Also, if you're looking for something quick and easy to make, maki rolls really don't fit that definition at all. It seems simple enough, but it's actually a serious pain to make well. I'm of Japanese descent, and my family never makes it themselves, and we really only ever pick it up/order it for special occasions.

Onigiri/musubi is sort of the quintessential Japanese snack, and it's much easier to make than roll sushi, but, again, rice doesn't really refrigerate particularly well. You can, however, freeze individual portions of rice without too much trouble, which might make things easier all around for whatever it is you want to do.

Speaking of rice, depending on what you're going to be making, recognize that there are some significant differences between short-grain and long-grain rice, and they're not always appropriate substitutes for one another. Soy sauce, and sesame oil are fairly standard Asian flavorings, and you'll probably want to have some fish sauces and chili sauces on hand as well, which can all keep for a long time. More perishable, but handy things to have on hand, are things like garlic, ginger, and green onions/scallions. Miso paste is also a fairly versatile ingredient when can almost last forever if stored properly.

I don't really have any useful links regarding Korean food, but if you're at all interested in (mostly) Japanese dishes presented in a cute/somewhat health-conscious way, Just Bento and its sister site Just Hungry are fun resources.
posted by Diagonalize at 4:51 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I make Spicy Basil Chicken pretty often. If you're making multiple portions, you may want to add the Thai basil just after reheating. Add or subtract the hot peppers to your taste.

Another item I like to have on hand is furikake - a seaweed and sesame blend that you can probably find in your Asian grocer. Try and get a non-MSG one if you can find it (not easy). Sometimes I'll just do up some rice, a can of tuna or fake crab meat and some furikake and it makes for a nice meal.
posted by backwards guitar at 4:55 PM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I like doing stir-fry with meat that I'd bought, cleaned and frozen, thereby making it last for a lot longer, plus whatever veggies are in season at the time; maybe with an addition of some frozen veggies that keep well, like peas.

Tonight I actually made thai stuffed peppers, and they were pretty fantastic. Most of the ingredients hold pretty well or they can be purchased in small portions. I halved the recipe and did a bit of substitution. Worked out beautifully.

It's a matter of buying perishable items in small portions and creating meals around them while you have them around, plus using things that last long-term in place of some ingredients that will go bad before you can use them. (For example, I use ground ginger rather than fresh.)
Also... embrace leftovers!

More recipes! Sweet and Savory Coconut Rice
Grilled Salmon w/Soy/Brown Sugar Marinade

Also, here's a minimalist home cooking blog. Love it. It's not specifically Asian food, but there are definitely some great recipes and tricks here. Stone Soup
posted by inmediasres at 6:41 PM on September 25, 2010

note that the more 'perishable items' mentioned above can be cut up beforehand and frozen and then used over long periods of time...i myself keep a bag full of cut-up scallions/green onions in the freezer so that i can throw a handful into a stirfry whenever.
posted by saraindc at 2:40 AM on September 26, 2010

Got to your local kitchen place that teaches good knife technique and get fast with prep. The vast majority of Asian food of all kinds is a stew/soup or something with very little actual cooking time. So fast prep is crucial. Also, some experience using oils at the end of cooking (I can't remember the Indian name for this technique) helps a great deal, as in many S and S/E cooking techniques, the infused/flavored oil is added at the end.

Then go buy a really good rice cooker.

Then go and by vacuum sealer freezer device. You can use it to store both prepped items and finished items for usually six months, and if defrosted properly will drastically cut down on cooking time.
posted by digitalprimate at 6:35 PM on September 26, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses! Really helpful for narrowing down my list of ingredients and giving me new ideas. Too bad about the sushi-not-refrigerable, I was fantasizing about making a few days' worth of lunch in the weekend :(
posted by monocot at 3:34 AM on September 27, 2010

Lots of great advice here! Thanks for asking this question. I just have one tiny thing to add: FISH SAUCE. I add it to just about any Asian dish I make and it always makes it taste much more "authentic," (i.e. like it tastes at the local vietnamese restaurants I love so much). It's not as overwhelming a flavor as you'd think.
posted by a.steele at 6:37 AM on September 27, 2010

Best answer: I've had this one in my favourites for a while, and kept meaning to get back to it, but was too lazy. Apologies. When I need simple and relatively fast dinners, I go for stir fries with rice. So these are all stove top, but they're fast stove top, and I'm thinking that might meet your needs. That said, stir fries can be a bit tricky in a shared kitchen because of splatter, but if you're willing to do a quick wipe afterwards, that's not really a problem.

So, some of my standards:

1. Loc Lac

I've really got a soft spot for this one. I like it served Khmer style - on lettuce leaves with a side salad of cucumber and green tomato, and a fried egg on top.

Two Khmer Versions. And a Vietnamese version. Which is actually closest to how I make it.

2. Chili Basil Chicken.

I tend to make it like this, but a slightly more complicated and interesting version can be found at Appon's Thai (which is an awesome site BTW).

3. Stir Fried Pork with Green Beans or Snake Beans.

I'm having a hard time finding the version I make online. Basically it's this one without the chili flakes or the onion, with a higher bean to pork ratio, and with soy rather than oyster sauce. But the most important difference is that I toss through a significant amount of cracked black pepper just before it comes off the stove, and dress with lime juice.

The basic combination of pork and green beans is everywhere in East Asia - for variations see these four delicious looking recipes. Others sharing the kitchen may hate you for the ones involving belacan.

4. Vietnamese Chili Lemongrass Chicken.

This is a classic and you can find a million recipes online, but I like these two (they differ in method)

5. Beef and Broccoli in Oyster Sauce

Also everywhere in east Asia. This is the basic idea, but I like to add a pinch of sugar and a dribble of vinegar to the oyster sauce, then thin it a little with stock or water.

I also often make versions without the beef, or with deep fried hard tofu cubes as a substitute.

6. Stir fried Pork with Squash.

The type of squash is really up to you. I use butternut as a standby, but really like patty pan squash in it. The recipe also works really well with just about any type of hard asian melon or gourd. As with the pork and green beans, I tend to use soy rather than oyster sauce. I like a slightly lighter sauce.

7. Stir fried Shrimp and Snow Peas

There's also a million recipes for this on the internet. But to my mind most of them are overthought, have too many ingredients, and wreck the dish's delightful simplicity of flavor and texture by thickening the sauce with cornflour. Here's a simple one that's pretty close to how I make it.

Obviously enough, if the quantities are huge, reduce them proportionately. Or, if you have fridge space, all of these will keep for a day or two.
posted by Ahab at 2:45 AM on October 8, 2010

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