Candlenuts — Candlenuts, also known as kemiri nuts, are commonly used in Indonesian stews and sauces. They help to thicken sauces as they simmer, and they add a slightly nutty flavor to the dish. You don’t eat candlenuts raw. When using candlenuts, grind them, or finely grate them. You can find candlenuts in many Asian markets.
Dark (Black) Soy Sauce — Dark soy sauce is a thick, sweet Thai soy sauce, similar to Indonesian kecap manis. You can find Thai dark soy sauce in Asian markets.
Galangal — Galangal is part of the ginger family of rhizomes (but don’t substitute it with ginger!). It has a slight ginger flavor, but much earthier. Galangal is very important in Southeast Asian cooking. You can find fresh galangal in most Asian markets. If you can’t find it use the dry form, known as “Laos Powder” (also found in Asian markets).
Ghee — Ghee is a type of clarified butter that is commonly used in cooking in Indian and other South Asian countries. Can be found in many Indian, Asian and Middle Eastern markets.
Gula Jawa — Indonesian palm sugar. Dark in color, its flavor resembles brown sugar (which can be used as a substitute, if absolutely necessary). Can be found at most Asian markets.
Harissa — Harissa is a North African hot chili sauce, made of chili peppers, garlic, and a variety of spices. It is used as a condiment, as well as an ingredient in cooking. It can be found in Middle Eastern and Asian markets, as well as many supermarkets.
Kaffir Lime Leaves — Kaffir lime leaves are commonly used for cooking throughout Southeast Asia. They add a distinct, lovely flavor to dishes. Don’t substitute with regular lime leaves (or anything else, for that matter). Buy them fresh from your local Asian market, and keep them in your freezer.
Kecap Manis — (pronounced “ketchup mahnees) Sweet Indonesian soy sauce. Can be found in most Asian Markets.
Kemiri Nuts — (also known as candlenuts) Kemiri nuts are used in Indonesian cooking, where it is added to thicken sauces. It has a slightly bitter taste, which adds to the flavor of the dish. Can be found in many Asian markets.
Laos Powder — Laos powder is dried, ground galangal root. Used in Southeast Asian cooking, you can find it in most Asian markets.
Salam Leaves — (aka salam daun, Indonesian bay leaves) Salam leaves are similar to bay leaves (in looks only), but are unique to Indonesian cooking. They seem to be less aromatic to me than bay leaves, but they add a wonderful essence to Indonesian stews and sauces. Some say you can substitute them with bay leaves or curry leaves, but please try to use salam leaves where possible. Can be found dried at your local Asian market.
Sambal Ulek — (also spelled oelek) Indonesian chili paste. Can be found in most Asian markets.
Tamarind — Tamarind is an edible seed pod from the Tamarind Tree. It is used in many cuisines around the world and has a uniquely wonderful, sourish flavor. You can buy it in blocks — with the block form, you cut off the amount you need, boil it in water for 10 minutes (about 1 cup of water to 7 ounces tamarind pulp/block), then with a sieve, strain out the seeds and other solids over a medium bowl. I go the easy route and buy “tamarind concentrate,” which comes in a plastic jar. Tamarind is readily available at any Asian market. For recipes on my website that call for “tamarind water,” the ratio is 1 to 1 (tamarind pulp (concentrate) : water).
Terasi — Indonesian dried shrimp paste. Also known as belacan (Malaysia), terasi is essential to Indonesian cooking. Think of it as their version of fish sauce in Thai cooking. You can buy it in blocks, or you can buy it in granular form in a bottle (which is what I use). Can be found in most Asian markets.