It’s hard to imagine a time before sushi bars, before the now familiar oomph of umami, before Knorr made Thai green curry sauce in a sachet. Now, casting your eye down our list of Top 10 restaurants, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any that don’t incorporate Asian flavours in some form.
Luke Dale-Roberts of current Restaurant of the Year The Test Kitchen utilises piquant ginger, mirin, miso and yuzu jelly in his dishes; Marthinus Ferreira at DW Eleven-13 serves springbok tataki with nori; Peter Tempelhoff of The Greenhouse makes ponzu snow; George Jardine at Jordan Restaurant has a starter of mussels with Asian aromatics like lemongrass, ginger, garlic and coconut milk; and Scot Kirton at La Colombe has a signature dish of beetroot cannelloni and umami broth with steamed langoustine and miso scallops.
Once the preserve of exotica stores and Chinese supermarkets (find one in your area here), fresh lemongrass, coconut chunks and nori sheets can now be found at your local Woolies.
Because they’re fragrant, healthy and so darn tasty, we’ve rounded up 35 of our favourite Asian dishes for you to try at home.
Gong Bao Chicken
Masterchef Australia winner Adam Liaw adapted this spicy Szechuan dish, which calls for sesame and peanut oil, shelled peanuts, rice wine and dark and light soy sauce.
Balinese baked fish
We loved seeing The Leopard’s Andrea Burgener on last week’s episode of MasterChef SA. (See summaries of all the episodes on our dedicated MasterChef SA page.) Here’s a fragrant, exotic fish recipe from the inventive chef to try yourself.
Char-grilled salmon with litchi and cucumber salad
Sweet, tart litchis, fresh coriander, and wedges of lime make a zingy accompaniment to salmon. This is a healthy and simple way to use the seasonal fruit and get your helping of Omega-3s. (You’ll have to wait for December for seasonal litchis though.)
Ginger and prawn rice-paper rolls
These sleek party snacks use healthy rice paper to make parcels of garlic and ginger prawns and sweet chilli sauce.
Spicy freshness contrasts beautifully with creamy coconut in this ultimate one-dish wonder with prawns and chicken breast fillets.
Masala prawns in tomato and pepper sauce
A simple, scrumptious way to prepare prawns, this recipe comes to us from cookbook Shanaaz’s Real Food by radio personality Shanaaz Parker.
Miso-glazed seared salmon
Succulent salmon, a delicious super food, is paired with exciting vegetables like fennel, pea shoots and shaved radishes in this recipe by Grant Cullingworth, executive chef at The Westin Cape Town.
Miso sesame cured salmon and ginger prawn spring rolls with soya jalapeno dressing
Cure the fish the day before for this show-stopping starter by Peter Tempelhoff of Top 10 restaurant The Greenhouse.
Prawn and vegetable spring rolls
Spring rolls are a great way of using up last night’s leftover stir-fry, and are easier to make than you might think.
Serve these crispy prawns as a scrumptious starter.
Salmon with crisp chilli salad
Fresh and simple, this salmon number calls for a splash of lime juice and lots of fresh herbs, including coriander, mint, basil.
Spicy dorado kebabs with cucumber raita and poppadoms
This fragrantly spiced fish dish is perfect for a hearty meal without the red meat.
Sushi hand rolls
Impress the guests with homemade sushi.
Teriyaki-seared tuna loin with grilled baby fennel salad, banana chutney and coconut sago pearls
This light salad, with layers of beautifully complex Asian flavours, comes courtesy of Grant Cullingworth, executive chef at The Westin Cape Town.
Aromatic Asian broth
This super-quick restorative dish has plenty punch with ingredients like ginger, red chillies, lime leaves, lemongrass, spring onions and coriander leaves.
Beetroot soup ginger, ginger and coriander red cabbage
Root vegetables are a staple in winter cooking. Johané Neilson, assistant food editor of Tuis and Home, cites this soup as her favourite recipe from their July issue. Its vibrant colour and velvety texture is bound to banish the winter blues.
Braaied spicy brinjals with poppadoms
Sweet roasted brinjal, tossed with chilli and lemon and served with lashings of yoghurt, makes a refreshing side for your braai or a light meat-free Monday option.
Bunny chow with sugar bean and vegetable curry
This is a classic recipe for a truly South African sandwich. Depending on your crowd or mood, make it with chunks of bread or chic ciabattas.
Carrot and coriander soup
An easy but hearty recipe, this calls for carrots, fresh coriander leaves and minced green chilli for a kick.
Cumin and coriander sweet potatoes
This healthy recipe makes an easy midweek dinner. Fresh coriander, pomegranate arils, cumin seeds and tzatziki make sure you won’t miss out on flavour.
Priya Pitamber’s recipe for khadi kitchari produces a fragrant vegetarian rice dish with lentils and cooked Inkomasi sour milk. She says, “Almost every Indian household has their variation, and this has become the recipe I stick to, adapted from my mother and friends. Despite looking complicated to make, it is actually very fast and easy. The amount of spices can vary depending on your palate.”
Thai sweet potato soup with lemongrass, galangal and coconut milk
Perfect for winter, this soup makes use of orange sweet potatoes and fragrant Thai-inspired seasoning.
Tangy Asian chickpea salad
Throw together this fresh and easy Asian salad on meat-free Monday.
Spring vegetable stir-fry with tofu and a ginger honey sauce
Spiced with chilli, ginger and honey, this tofu recipe is anything but bland. A great idea for a veggie meal.
Asian brown rice and ostrich salad with a zesty lime dressing
The gamey flavour of ostrich meat works beautifully with citrusy dressing and crunchy veggies. It’s healthy too – it’s got less than half the fat of chicken.
Butter chicken bunny chow with tomato and yoghurt
One of South Africa’s favourite street foods, bunny chow was traditionally served in a hollowed-out loaf of ‘government’ bread. This version is sauced to creamy, spicy perfection. Eat with your hands.
Butternut and chicken thai red curry with noodles
Fragrant fresh coriander, coconut milk and Thai red curry paste make for an easy, fragrant curry. This is also a great way to use up leftover roast chicken.
Speedy massaman curry
Enjoy an ice-cold beer with good friends and this chicken hearty curry.
Fragrant braised duck or chicken
Five spice powder pairs with lemongrass, star anise and crushed ginger and garlic in this aromatic recipe.
Spring noodle soup with crispy wontons
These beautiful parcels can be made in a blink. Added to a spicy noodle soup, they’ll make even a simple noodle soup seem exotic.
BBQ pork with curry noodles
Using cupboard basics, this is a cinch to make as a quick weekday dinner.
Japanese-style pork belly with dancing bonito
We tend to think of Japanese food as being elegant and formal, but there is a whole tradition of earthy peasant food like this emerging in the west.
Beef burma curry
A quick weekday dinner using lemongrass, coconut milk, lime juice and basil.
Chilli, ginger and honey Asian-style steaks with pickled cucumbers
This steak recipe, calling for ginger, garlic, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar, is seriously tasty and speedy to make.