Kaffir lime leaves are used in soups and curries of Thai, Malay or Indonesian origin. They are also thinly sliced and used as a garnish. Buy them fresh or frozen or dried—the fresh or frozen leaves are much more fragrant.
Kangkung is a highly nutritious vegetable also known as water spinach or water convolvulus. Young shoots are served as part of a mixed platter of raw vegetables for dipping in hot sauces, while the leaves and tender tips are often stir-fried.
Kencur or aromatic ginger is sometimes mistakenly called "lesser galangal" although its correct English name is zedoary. This ginger-like root has a unique camphor flavor and should be used sparingly. Wash it and scrape off the skin before using. Dried sliced kencur or kencur powder can be used as a substitute. Soak dried slices in boiling water for approximatley 30 minutes; use 1/2-1 teaspoon of powder for 1-inch fresh root. There is no real substitute—if you cannot find it, add more galangal and ginger to the recipe.
Lemon basil (daun kemangi) is a lemon-scented herb added to dishes at the last minute to keep its flavor, or used as a garnish. Use regular basil as a substitute, although the flavor is quite different.
Lemongrass is a highly aromatic herb stalk. The tough outer layers of the stem should be peeled away and only the tender inner portion of the thick end of the stems are used. Lemongrass is sold fresh in bundles in most supermarkets.
Nutmegs are the seeds of the nutmeg tree, covered with a lacy membrane called mace. Buy whole nutmegs and grate only when needed as ground nutmeg looses its flavor quicldy. Use nutmeg powder if you cannot get whole nutmegs.
Pandanus leaves are the long, thin leaves of the pandanus or screwpine palm tree. They are usually tied in a knot and boiled to release their flavor. Use pandanus essence or vanilla essence in desserts if the fresh leaves are unavailable.
Tamarind is a large, brown tree pod with a sour pulp and hard, black seeds inside. Tamarind pulp is rich in vitamin C and has a tangy, acidic taste. It is used as a souring agent throughout the world. It can be bought fresh, dried, or in pulp form, and the pulp is commonly sold in compressed block, with the seeds removed. To make tamarind juice, mix 1 tablespoon of the dried tamarind pulp with 2 tablespoons of warm water, then mash well and strain to remove the seeds and fibers.
Turmeric root (kunyit) is similar to ginger but with a bright yellow color and a more pungent flavor. It has antiseptic and astringent qualities and stains everything permanently, so scrub your knife blade, hands and chopping board immediately after handling. Purchase fresh turmeric root as needed as the flavor fades after a few days. Substitute 1 teaspoon turmeric powder for 21/2 cm (1 in) of the fresh root.
Turmeric leaves are the large leaves of the turmeric plant that are used in some parts of Asia for cooking. They are seldom available outside Asia. Look for them in Indian food shops.
Star anise is a dried brown flower with 8 woody petals, each with a shiny seed inside, which gives a flavor of cinnamon and aniseed. Use whole and remove from the dish before serving.
Sour carambola (belimbing) is a pale green acidic fruit that grows in clusters on a tree. A relative of the large, five-edged sweet starfruit, carambola is used whole or sliced to give a sour tang to some soups, dishes and sambals. Sour grapefruit or tamarind juice can be used as a substitute.
Salam leaves are subtly flavored and comes from a tree in the cassia family. The taste bears no resemblance whatsoever to the taste of a bay leaf, which is sometimes suggested as a substitute. If you cannot obtain dried salam leaf, omit altogether.
Sweet Indonesian soy sauce (kecap manis) is a thick soy sauce brewed with molasses and sugar. If you cannot obtain it, use dark black Chinese soy sauce and add brown sugar to sweeten it.