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Q: I hope to do more Asian cooking in the new year. Can you tell me what I should keep on hand?
A well-planned and well-stocked pantry makes whipping up Southeast Asian meals a snap. While you can certainly venture off to Southeast Asian markets, know that for the most part you can create authentic meals with ingredients that are readily available. For starters, keep your refrigerator stocked with lemongrass, garlic, ginger, scallions and shallots. Your dry storage should never be without fish sauce, the salt of Southeast Asia, rice vinegar, curry powder, cinnamon sticks and star anise.
Other good additions include:
. Starches: Rice, rice noodles, rice paper
. Sauces: Sriracha (a hot Thai sauce), sweet soy sauce, mushroom soy sauce, hoisin sauce, fish sauce
. Spices and pastes: Curry paste, coriander, mint, Thai basil, Thai chilies, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, which resembles ginger in appearance but tastes citrusy
. Fruits and vegetables: Daikon radishes, mung beans, green papaya and mango
. Other: Coconut milk, tea, black or green, palm sugar
Q: I know that in some countries women buy fresh vegetables every day, but I'm too busy to do that. What are my options?
Even if you can only make it to the grocery store once a week, you can still have fresh produce at your fingertips every day. Just follow these guidelines for buying, storing and cooking to get the most out of your weekly shopping trip.
. Shop at the right time: Find out which days your store has its produce delivered and try to shop on one of those days. The less time it sits on the market shelf the more time it can spend on yours.
. Buy hearty: Be sure to buy longer-life vegetables like beets, carrots, cabbage, turnips and mature onions. They last the longest in the refrigerator, one to two weeks.
. Prioritize: Eat food like fresh corn or peas at the beginning of the week. If you leave them lingering in your fridge for too long, the sugar turns to starch and they lose their signature sweetness. Next, eat up tender vegetables like lettuces.
. Prep later: Don't wash or cut the produce until just before you are ready to use it. When you cut something, you're disturbing the vegetable's natural protective packaging and exposing it to the elements that make it go bad and lose nutrients.
Q: Which fruits should I put in the fridge and which can I leave on the counter?
You can ripen cantaloupe at room temperature, but it will go quickly from ripe to overripe. Melon stored in the fridge can develop a rubbery texture and lose a lot of flavor quickly, so keep them at room temperature. Most berries go bad quickly, although blueberries are a bit heartier than strawberries and raspberries, which both need to be stored in the refrigerator and very gently washed just before use. Rhubarb should be wrapped in plastic and stored in the fridge, but it also freezes well.
Mangoes, plums, peaches and pears can be ripened at room temperature in a brown bag until they give a bit in the palm of your hand and should then be refrigerated. Because the sugar is concentrated at the base of a pineapple, you can store them upside down for a day or two at room temperature or in the fridge to allow the sweetness to spread throughout the fruit.
Lemons and limes will last a long time at room temperature, whereas they tend to absorb odors from the fridge, something worth avoiding. Apples can be stored in the refrigerator or a cool, dark location for up to four months. Bananas should be kept at room temperature.