Shopping list for Vietnamese/Indian markets (quick recipe edition)
September 4, 2019 11:20 AM   Subscribe

Given access to a well-stocked Vietnamese market and a pretty OK Indian grocery, and the need to make meals expeditiously, what would you put on your shopping list? Have: an Instant Pot. Am in U.S. and do not have: working knowledge of Vietnamese or Indian ingredients.

The family has expressed an interest in eating Vietnamese/Thai/Indian meals, and I have access to both a Vietnamese market and a small Indian grocery. I do not know how to make much of anything in these cuisines, but I am willing to learn to make a few straightforward dishes.

I'd like to generate a handful of recipes and a small but versatile grocery list. (N.B.: I don't expect these cuisine choices to last long, so I'm not looking trying to build a long-term pantry or buy specialty cooking tools.) Instant Pot-friendly is great, but any relatively quick or simple prep is especially welcome. This Instant Pot pho looks like a good candidate. I also have a rice cooker, so suggestions for spicing are also welcome.

Things we like: chicken; curries; chili-lime/lemongrass flavors; ramen-ish noodles (the kids like these); chickpeas in a jarred curry simmer sauce; hot and sweet peppers. My kids are pretty good about trying new flavors.
posted by MonkeyToes to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I've generally found homemade pho to be a letdown unless you're making the super rich broth. I've not tried instant pot broth for it yet.

Tom Yum paste is easy to use. Tom Kha can be fairly simply made with ingredients at most stores.

Maesri curry pastes are reliably good. In my experience, premade Vietnamese marinades and pastes vary in quality, so it's a matter of trying a few and finding ones you like. In general, I'll just make Vietnamese marinades from scratch instead. This is a good example. It could be reduced to just marinading with fish sauce, lime juice, ginger, garlic, and lemongrass paste.

If you're focused on saving time, definitely go with lemongrass paste rather than fresh.
posted by Candleman at 11:53 AM on September 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Instant Pot Dal - all sorts of varieties - can be used as the base for a great curry.

You'll need cumin and mustard seeds, ground cumin, coriander, turmeric, garam masala, chilli powder and - the cheat which ALL my Indian friends use - jars of garlic paste, ginger paste and/or garlic/ginger paste. One thing you'll definitely need is asafoetida (known as hing in Hindi), which adds that authenticity of flavour to Indian food.

I prefer using yellow split peas for dal rather than lentils. The small red lentils in particular don't make a dal that's to my taste - although they make an amazing Turkish mercimek (red lentil soup).
posted by essexjan at 12:38 PM on September 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

For Indian food by way of Britain, I have found no better book than The Curry Guy. He's unabashedly not trying to cook capital I-Indian-food-from-actual-India, but to cook British-Indian curry house food. His overview of ingredients is dope, I have found that if you put the effort into making the 'base sauce' the rest of the meals come together in time for the rice to be done. It's righteously fast, because it's all based off restaurant-production-line cooking.

Flipping through a copy of Lucky Peach's 101 Easy Asian Recipes has lots of instructional information on how to build a pan-asian pantry, with loads of recipes in there. I would say that for most vietnamese recipes, the pantry load out seems relatively small, but the fresh ingredient list is a bit larger. Indian cooking is a bit more pantry-friendly because of the reliance on spices that, generally, last a while (things like curry leaves don't, but almost everything else can be found at a regular old grocery store, so no need to stock up when you're at the ethnic market).

We routinely just take all the toppings that normally go on a bahn-mi sandwich, and put them over rice. It is almost always awesome. Sometimes we do tofu, sometimes we do chicken or pork. It's a super versatile 'method' for making a solid little inauthentic-in-nature but a riff on all those flavors. We'll often make bahn mi one night, and use all the leftovers for rice bowls the next.

If you start dipping into either of these cuisines regularly, you won't ever let another bunch of cilantro go to waste; by cooking more indian and southeast asian dishes, we're up to a solid 3-bunch-a-week cilantro habit.
posted by furnace.heart at 3:41 PM on September 4, 2019 [6 favorites]

Oh, and in cooking indian-ish dishes, I've found that Queso Fresco is a perfectly acceptable analog to paneer, and much easier to find (again, hard to stock up on, so it gives you some flexibility in selecting for those dishes).
posted by furnace.heart at 3:52 PM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

-ish dishes, exactly!

I guess as a sub-question, are there any sites out there that can help me get up to speed on what's commonly on offer in Vietnamese/Thai/Indian groceries in the U.S., and how these ingredients are used? I can go into a typical American grocery store and assess whether it's a commonly-used ingredient or a once-a-year ingredient, or, say, see an ingredient and think of one or two dishes I could make with it...but I lack that familiarity with V/T/I cooking (and so many things look amazing! I just don't know what they are or how to use them or if I'd use them).
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:25 PM on September 4, 2019

This doesn't use your Instant Pot but if your family enjoys participatory dinners like taco nights, they might also enjoy making Vietnamese salad rolls?
posted by invokeuse at 6:36 PM on September 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

I recently came across this Vietnamese food blog, which might give you something to base your further reading on, or some tips on particular ingredients.

One of the things I'm wondering, given your last comment, is what sort of ingredients you're thinking about--are you talking about produce, proteins, or spices/flavor accents? Because a lot of the suggestions people can give you here, and lots of the recipes you'll find for an American audience, will use familiar meats and largely familiar vegetables--some of the spices, spice combos, or flavor accents like fish sauce or dried shrimp might be the sort of think you would want a guide on how to use.

Clay pot dishes seem like the sort of thing that would do well in an Instant Pot--they often resemble dishes my mother would make in a pressure cooker, though I'm certainly no expert on Vietnamese food.

Also, if these grocery stores are nearby and you aren't going anywhere, don't worry about getting it all right on the first try. I once bumbled out of a Middle Eastern grocery with a bag of pashmak, a bottle of orange blossom water, and some date syrup, and figured out what to do with them later. You can pick out a recipe that looks good to you and yours, make sure you get the ingredients from the store, and then pick up a few random, interesting-looking things and look up what to do with them later. I will admit still being a little embarrassed by my inability to tell what the noodles I'm picturing in a finished dish look like in dry or raw form.

Another idea--lots of Asian groceries will have a prepared foods section or a steam counter. You can get a little lunch there and use that as inspiration for what to shop for.
posted by pykrete jungle at 8:00 PM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

As an extra (but super tasty) thing, see if you can find the drip filter and coffee grounds for ca phe sua da.
posted by alchemist at 12:32 AM on September 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

For those in the U.S., the “Vietnamese salad roll” seems to be locally called a “spring roll” and Invokeuse’s advice is spot on—they’re great and fun for everyone to make. My wife got me the gizmo they use in restaurants so we don’t have to use a giant bowl of water at the table, too. Note: I have no idea if that one’s any good, I just wanted a link so people could see what I was talking about.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 7:16 AM on September 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh, and re spring rolls, they are super forgiving about what you put in them. We usually stick in roasted pork or occasionally shrimp, but just vegetables are fine too. One thing we like is some aromatic leafy stuff, though (basil, mint, cilantro—like that). Even pretty little kids have made them successfully, though the four-year-old needed help...
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 7:20 AM on September 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

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