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Easy Asian Spice Solution

There’s an easy way to get the complex, multispice flavors of Southeast Asian dishes at home: packaged Indonesian and Malaysian spice mixes. If you’re not familiar with dishes like beef rending (a rich, thick Indonesian and Malaysian coconut-milk curry) but love Indian curries, you have to try these. Jarred Indian curry simmering sauces are becoming more and more common in mainstream supermarkets, but you’ll probably have to go to an Asian specialty store to find these Southeast Asian spice pastes, which come in foil containers rather than jars and usually cost less than $3.50. Or order them from the remarkable specialty-food site The amount of time and spice-hunting these mixes save is amazing. Brahim’s rending sauce, for example, contains lemongrass, galangal, ginger, tamarind, turmeric leaves, star anise, cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon—among other things.

One packet generally forms the flavor-basis of a curry that will serve 4 or more people. I like to start a curry with finely chopped onion, garlic, and ginger, which I slow-cook until soft in a bit of oil, then add the spice mixes and water or light coconut milk, plus meat or even  just potatoes and green beans. These mixes—you can get them for Javanese chicken soup, for satay peanut sauce and dozens of other dishes—yield rich, authentic flavor. The only drawback is sodium—they generally contain lots and you’ll want to add no extra salt during cooking.

For more on World Cuisine, check out our International Guide to Spices.