Most of these ingredients can be found at local Asian grocery stores or specialty produce markets. These products are worth seeking out for the most authentic taste.
Noodles: Fresh round egg noodles resemble spaghetti. Soak or parboil dried varieties before cooking, following the package directions. Broad rice noodles are chewy and may be sold in sheets of pasta, which you will need to cut into flat noodles.
Galangal: Resembles ginger in appearance, but differs in flavor with a distinct peppery, citrus aroma. Fresh or frozen galangal is sold in Asian supermarkets.
Water spinach: Wash these leafy greens thoroughly. With its delicate flavor, water spinach works well in sautés or stir-fries.
Lemongrass: As its name suggests, lemongrass is a grass with a strong citrus note. Always discard the bruised outer leaf and root end.
Kaffir lime leaves: Though more popular in Thailand than Malaysia, these fragrant leaves offer floral and citrus aromas to stir-fries. Look for fresh or frozen options.
Thai chiles: Also referred to as Thai bird peppers, these very hot, small, thin pods measure about one to one-and-a-half inches in length. In a pinch, substitute one-fourth of a Scotch bonnet, which is much hotter, for one whole Thai chile.
Tamarind concentrate: This dark, sour paste is used in Indonesia, India, and Mexico to flavor drinks, curries, and chutneys.
Pandan, or screwpine, leaves: Available fresh or dried, these leaves are about four inches long and are used to add piney flavor to all sorts of savory or sweet dishes.
Soy sauces: A dark soy sauce (may be labeled “black” or “thick”) has a sweet backnote and is used mostly for color in our Stir-Fried Noodles with Green Onions and Eggs. It’s more pungent and less salty than regular soy and is used sparingly. It is typically paired with common, thin soy sauce, which has a salty edge. Additionally, kecap manis, the Indonesian sweet soy sauce, is used in a variety of dishes. Palm sugar adds the sweet element to this. The variety of soy sauces adds complexity that stands in for shrimp paste, a common ingredient in Malaysian dishes.
Tempeh: A cake made of whole or chopped fermented soybeans, tempeh is ideal for stir-frying. Plus, its crunchy, dense texture is a welcome addition to stews and curries.
Tofu and fried tofu slices: Firmer tofu holds up best in stir-fries. Fried tofu slices, which may be labeled as “pockets” or “inari,” make an excellent substitute for fried dough called for in some Malaysian salad recipes.