1. Add fresh ginger when you sauté a basic flavor base of onions, shallots, and garlic.
2. Use coconut milk to make soups, stews, and curries.
Coconut milk is thicker than regular dairy milk or cream, which makes dishes feel heartier. Its high fat content also tempers spicy things, which is why Thai cooks use it all the time in spicy curries. Plus, it’s vegan and has a long shelf life.
3. Also use coconut milk to replace cream in desserts.
Mango sticky rice is a traditional Thai dessert, and while it might seem strange to some, it is actually COMPLETELY GENIUS. Glutinous rice — starchier than the regular white rice in your pantry, also called sweet rice or sticky rice — is cooked with coconut milk and sugar instead of water, then topped with sliced mango and sesame seeds. If you want to go a more familiar route, try substituting coconut milk for cream in ice cream or pudding.
4. Add fish sauce to marinades and sauces to give food lots of umami flavor.
Because it contains salt, sugar, and acid (the three essentials in marinating), fish sauce makes a perfect meat marinade. It’s also a great way to liven up simple pasta. Before you scoff, know that most fish sauce is made from anchovies, which are in pasta dishes ALL THE TIME. And drizzling some over cooked vegetables is always a good idea.
Only add a little bit at a time, as you would with salt, because too much can ruin a dish.
5. Finish dishes with lime juice to tone down heat and cut through fat.
Coconut milk is awesome, but it can be a little bit heavy. Adding fresh lime at the end of cooking will cut through fat and make coconut milk-based broths seem brighter. Squeezing some fresh lime onto spicy meat dishes will help balance out the heat and make the spice easier to handle.
6. Substitute cilantro in recipes that traditionally call for parsley or basil.
The strong, citrusy (and weirdly divisive) flavor of cilantro will add more of a kick than most other herbs. There’s no reason it should only get to play in Mexican or Asian dishes; try adding it to pizza, salads, or pastas. It also makes a fine pesto.
7. Control a dish’s spiciness by adding more or fewer chili seeds.
For a milder chili flavor in dishes, scrape the seeds out (WEARING GLOVES!) before adding the chilies to your dish.
Slice or grind whole fresh chilis, seeds and all, and add them to sauces that will be used as a condiment; this way, people can add as much or as little spice as they want. If you’re using them in curries or stir-fries, take the seeds out of some or all of your chillies for a milder result.
8. Cook with lemongrass and galangal.
To use lemongrass, you have to peel the hard outer layer and mince it really finely.
If you don’t want to take the time to mince it, you can use whole stalks of lemongrass to add flavor.
Steep the full stalks in soups or drinks to infuse flavor, then remove before serving. They also make flavorful skewers for kebabs or satay.
Galangal is similar to ginger but is less spicy and has a citrusy, woody taste.
To prep galangal, peel it with a knife (a vegetable peeler isn’t strong enough to cut through the thick outer layer), then mince it.
It tastes best when it’s ground into a paste with other ingredients and used as a base for soups or curries.
Recipe: Cambodian Herbal Paste.
9. Always use fresh ingredients, not dried ones.
This goes for pretty much everything you make. Take the time to peel and chop your ingredients. Onion powder will NEVER make something taste as good as a real onion will, so just skip it.