Mix up a batch of this super easy South East Asian spice blend and keep it in the cupboard for fragrant food in a hurry.
The cuisines of South East Asia are many and varied, encompassing the foods of Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam. Whilst each has its own regional dishes with distinct flavours, and we do like to encourage authenticity, there are times when you want just an idea of a cuisine. A family of flavours that will scratch the itch for something fragrant.
South East Asian herbs and spices
Whilst spices such as cloves, cinnamon, and coriander seed are found in all Asian cuisines, the foods of South East Asia have a strong emphasis on fresh aromatic components. Leafy green herbs such as mint, basil and fresh coriander are used in abundance. Paired with fragrant galangal, lemongrass, or lime leaf, they are usually joined by searingly hot chillies and often rounded out by creamy cooling coconut. Chances are if you have a craving for food that is comforting but not stodgy, these are the flavours you are looking for.
South East Asian spice blend ingredients
The ingredients below are usually used fresh, and ground into a paste. Surprisingly, when freeze dried and ground into powder, they retain much of their aromatic freshness. Native cooks are quite happy to use them. Having such ingredients to hand in the storecupboard means that you have the flavours of the world at your fingertips.
Making your own blend of South East Asian spices makes reaching into the cupboard even easier.
Turmeric is a particular kind of root known as a rhizome, belonging to the ginger family, with deep orange flesh. More familiar in its powder form, turmeric has gained in popularity in recent years because of its health credentials. Hugely versatile, turmeric is an amalgamating spice that brings other spices together. Hence its use as a base in many spice blends. It has a warm earthy flavour and adds a yellow colour to food.
Turmeric pairs particularly well with other elements that fit the South East Asian flavour profile.
Also a root related to ginger, galangal has firmer paler flesh than fibrous yellow ginger. Not interchangeable, ginger and galangal have very different flavours that do complement each other well. Galangal is stronger and sharper than ginger, with a fresher more citrussy flavour.
Ginger is the most familiar of our trio of fragrant rhizomes, with a pale yellow flesh that is slightly sweeter than galangal and a pungent peppery finish.
Lemongrass grows in tight bulb-like stems with a fresh citrussy flavour. Instantly recognisable as lemongrass, the flavours are more herbal, slightly sweeter, and less acidic.
Kaffir lime leaf
Not related to the familiar green citrus fruit, kaffir lime leaves are used extensively in South East Asian cuisines. They have a strong citrus flavour but none of the acidity of lime.
South East Asian spice blend recipe
If you can, make up this spice blend at least a day in advance to allow the flavours to round out
7 teaspoons Kaffir lime leaf powder
7 teaspoons lemongrass powder
5 teaspoons turmeric powder
3 teaspoons ginger powder
2 teaspoons galangal powder
2 tablespoons soft brown sugar
- Mix together and store in an airtight container away from light.
- Add a teaspoon or two to taste, to stir fries and curries.
To round out the flavours of your spice blend, use alongside garlic, Thai chili paste, and coconut milk/cream. A good handful of fresh coriander will finish any dish nicely. As will chopped fresh mint or basil.