One of my favorite annual events to host is an "Asian Fusion" potluck. Friends will ask excitedly if I plan to make Dragon Noodles and my answer is always yes. Everyone loves the chili oil infused noodles garnished with lemon zest, scallion rings, shredded carrot and red radishes and roasted black sesame seeds. I like to serve the noodles with Salt and Pepper Prawns and Special Mustard Sauce and Easy Cucumber Pickles. I also like to round ot the menu by making Oven-Baked Egg Rolls with Sweet Chili Sauce for dippping. The egg rolls are also really tasty dipped in the Special Mustard Sauce. Wash it all down with a Mai Tai, Champagne, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir or a good beer and all will be right in the world - at least for one leisurely meal. Homemade Shirley Temple's, renamed Pomegranate Fizzes (so it is friendly to one and all, including the boys) or Gingerale work well for non-alcoholic beverages as well as Martinelli's Apple Cider.
Although I own many cookbooks that cover countries and regions across Asia, the two books that I return to constantly are authored by the late Barbara Tropp and are focused on China: The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking (William Morrow 1982) and China Moon Cookbook (Workman Publishing 1992). Many have called her the Julia Child of Chinese cooking. When I read through these books, I find inspiration on every page. Our Dragon Noodle recipe is built upon Barbara's recipe of the same name.
In the China Moon Cookbook, Barbara advocates getting started with the recipes in her book by making a handful of pantry items that store well in the refrigerator, or in a kitchen cabinet, and are then at the ready to provide a flavor boost to many meals. Barbara's list differs somewhat from mine, but here are the homemade items that I always have on hand:
Spicy Citrus Chili Oil
Quick Pickle Marinade
Store bought pantry items:
Black Soy Sauce, preferably Pearl River Bridge brand - An aged, concentrated soy sauce that is made with molasses.
Mushroom Soy Sauce, preferably Pearl River Bridge brand - A "meaty" soy sauce flavored with dried Chinese black mushrooms and is great for sauces and stews.
Soy Sauce, preferably Pearl River Bridge brand - Tamari, Japanese soy sauce, is a satisfying alternative.
Chinese Black Vinegar or Balsamic Vinegar - The two can be used interchangeably in recipes.
Cider Vinegar - I like to use raw and unfiltered Orangic Apple Cider Vinegar with "The Mother" by Bragg
Distilled White Vinegar, preferably Heinz brand
Unseasoned Rice Vinegar, preferably Marukan or Mitsukan brands - As Barbara observed, rice vinegar is "less harsh than distilled white vinegar and less sweet than cider vinegar, it is a pleasant in-between."
Oil for High Heat Cooking - Choose between corn, peanut and safflower oil.
Sesame Oil, preferably Kadoya brand - This is a potent, dark sesame oil and is a seasoning oil and not a cooking oil.
Dried Crushed Red Chili Flakes - The flakes should be bright red and not brown from age.
Roasted Black Sesame Seeds - Store both white and black sesame seeds in the freezer to prevent spoilage.
Star Anise - Buy the whole spice over pre-ground.
Szechwan Peppercorns - The open pod is used in cooking with the thorns and small bitter black seeds discarded.
Italian-style pasta, such as Spaghetti - Of course, fresh egg noodles are better, but the dried spaghetti has shelf life.
Glass Noodles - Used primarily in soups.
Rice Noodles - Best for frying and also in some noodle dishes.
Salted Black Beans, preferably Pearl River Bridge brand - Do not wash the beans before using.
Kosher Salt, preferably Diamond brand
Sugar - Stock-up and both white and brown sugar. I use C and H brand.
Sea Salt - Purchase sea salt that is hand harvested with an ingredients list that includes trace minerals.
Fish Sauce - I use Thai Kitchen brand.
Hoisin and Plum Sauces - Since using canned sauces can be tricky - many are filled with preservatives - I look for prepared sauces on the shelves at Whole Foods Market.
Sweet Red Chili Sauce, preferably Thai Kitchen Brand - Dipping and all-purpose sauce. I have even used it as a glaze on a spiral-cut ham.
Dijon Mustard - I use Dijon mustard in lieu of the powdered mustards available in the spice section.
Sambal Oelek - Fresh chili paste.
Sriracha Chili Sauce - A Thai style chili sauce.
Roasted Red Chili Paste, preferably Thai Kitchen brand
Organic Peanut Butter
Tamarind - The pulp is sold in 14-oz blocks.
Organic Vegetable Broth and Chicken Stock
Unsweeted Coconut Milk - I use Thai Kitchen with success.
Ground Cinnamon and Sticks
TurmericYellow Mustard Seeds