Build up an "Asian shelf" of ingredients for salad making. This shopping list includes ingredients needed in the salad recipes. Most of them have a long shelf life and are frequently used in familiar oriental dishes. Unless otherwise specified, store at room temperature.
Bean thread: Thin transparent dried noodles made from mung-bean paste. Flavorless, but absorb flavors readily and add an interesting slippery/crunchy texture to salads.
Coconut milk: Canned or frozen, unsweetened coconut milk is delicious with fruit; use in place of yogurt or sour cream in salad dressings to give a South Asian flavor.
Fish sauce: Also called nam pla or nuoc nam, fish sauce has a salty tang. Look for a mild, pale-amber color for salad use.
Longans: Canned in syrup, this nearly translucent tropical fruit gives an exotic lift to fruit salads.
Litchis: Similar to longans in flavor and uses.
Payasook: A dried Thai condiment containing chili, fish, garlic, sugar and salt. Adds a subtle richness to salads.
Preserved red ginger: A zingy, bright red with a tart ginger taste, this Japanese ingredient offers an unusual color to the palette of salad ingredients. Store in the refrigerator.
Rice vinegar: Many varieties available but the most versatile are the Japanese Maruken, both the plain and the seasoned.
Five-spice powder: Consisting of ground-star anise, clove, fennel seed, cinnamon and sichuan peppercorns, this fragrant spice can be used as curry powder would be, but with a twist.
Rice wine: Japanese sake and sweet mirin are both good for salad making. Avoid wines labeled "cooking wine," as they are harsh and have been salted. Vermouth or dry sherry are adequate substitutes for rice wine.
Sambal oelek: Minced fresh chilies bottled with a little salt and vinegar, sambal oelek provides all the heat and flavor of fresh chilies with none of the discomfort and inconvenience associated with handling them. Keeps indefinitely in the refrigerator.
Sesame oil: Pressed from toasted sesame seeds, oriental sesame oil has a rich, nutty flavor and is used as a seasoning rather than a salad oil.
Sesame seeds: Buy fresh-smelling seeds and toast them in an ungreased skillet before using. Store unused toasted sesame seeds in the refrigerator. Crush before using.
Sweet chili sauce: Yeo's, Lingham's and various-lesser known brands of this sauce offer a veritable rainbow of sweet-hot flavors that combine well with most Asian flavor groups.
Shiitake: Dried black mushrooms from China and Japan offer both richness of flavor and a rich color contrast to salads.
Wei chuan pickled vegetables: Available in a small tin, this pickle has a tart-sweet pungent flavor and will keep several weeks in the refrigerator if transfered to a glass jar. Fresh Herbs and Aromatics
Coriander: Also called Chinese parsley and cilantro, it is available year round and must be used fresh, not dried. Rinse and store with roots intact in an air-filled plastic bag in the refrigerator up to one week.
Ginger root: Peel and store in a jar full of rice wine or vermouth in the refrigerator and grate before using. Keeps one month.
Mint: Available in the summer in some Southeast Asian markets. Use fresh, root your own from some of the sprigs you buy and plant them in the garden or a pot.
Ma grood: Also called lime leaf and makrut. Available year round in some Southeast Asian markets. Freezes well.