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Celebrity Health – Ching-He Huang

TV chef and best-selling food writer Ching-He Huang gives an overview of how to cook healthy Asian cuisine on a budget

As I write this, the cost-of-living crisis is at an all-time high. Never before has the cost of energy and food been this astronomical. Speedy, nutritious meals on a budget have become a necessity and I hope these tips will help you to achieve that.

No deep frying The foundation of Chinese and Asian cooking relies on the trusted wok and the main style of cooking is stir-fried, which in itself is a very economical way of cooking. Cooking very quickly over a concentrated high heat using the smallest amount of fuel will save you more money than using the oven for slow cooking. Deep frying is not particularly healthy, so it is best to avoid it entirely if you can and stick to stir-frying, steaming, boiling or oven cooking – in that order.

Roasting Roasting is an easy way to cook for a large crowd but you could also use an air fryer if you have one. My advice is to just use what you have, rather than spending on further equipment. To make the most of the heat and space in the oven, plan ahead and roast some extra food, for example some extra chicken thighs or char siu (Chinese roast pork) on another shelf at the same time. This way you get the most out of the space in the oven and you can repurpose the extra food to use the next day. Planning is key and goes hand in hand with budgeting meals.

Easy freeze-able options I always have some frozen seafood like squid, prawns and mussels as well as frozen peas which are super handy for making fried rice, wontons and dumplings. Frozen ramen noodles, bao buns and of course not forgetting fried tofu, are also often in my freezer for those emergency suppers.

Minimal equipment Most of my recipes rely on a good, flat-bottom wok – it could be seasoned carbon steel or unseasoned carbon steel. But don’t go spending on a shiny new one, just use whatever you have. And if you don’t have a wok, a pan will do. For cutting I mostly use my Chinese cleaver or chef’s all-purpose knife, plus a chopping board and a bamboo steamer that sits on my wok – a stainless steel steaming rack that fits on the wok also works great. I find a garlic press handy for speed and to save on chopping; a microplane or grater for ginger; plus a good food processor to make fish balls or meat balls, which is incredibly efficient.

Shop wise Substitute where you can. Asian cuisine lends itself to flexitarian diets. It’s pretty easy to swap out ingredients. If a dish calls for cauliflower but you only have broccoli, use that instead. If you shop at a farmers’ market, or are trying to grow your own foods, then having access to seasonal produce is even better for interchanging ingredients.

Go nuts I use a handful of seeds and nuts in a lot of my recipes. From black sesame seeds and white sesame seeds to cashew nuts, almonds and walnuts, they all add texture and nutrition and give a satisfying, fuller feeling to the meals. I buy unsalted nuts and seeds in bulk and roast the nuts in the oven for 6 minutes at 180°C (350°F), gas mark 4. You can store them in jars (cool the nuts first) and they are so handy to pop into your dishes. It really pays to shop around as there are various health food stores and local Asian supermarkets where buying in bulk is more economical.

Fruit platter for dessert The Asian dessert is usually a plate of fresh fruit at the end of the meal: perhaps some slices of apple, chunks of pineapple or orange segments (usually served at Chinese restaurants). Eating in this way helps digestion, is better for overall health and since the whole fruit is eaten (not juiced), you get the fibre. Plus, it won’t spike your blood sugar, since it’s eaten at the end of the meal. Eating too many sugar-laden desserts doesn’t help anyone; they contain empty calories and have very little nutritional benefits, which are especially important when you are trying to eat healthy. But by cutting them out, you’re saving money as well as your health. Of course, no one is a saint, so the occasional treat is fine. Just try to prioritise fruit over sugary desserts most of the time to maintain this healthy habit.

Pared down pantry

It is certainly true that Asian cooking has always been rather economical: a small dash and splash here and there using store cupboard ingredients allows you to create maximum flavours at minimum cost. These are my pared-down Asian pantry ingredients

Store cupboard

Fresh flavourings

For cooking

Western store cupboard



Nuts and seeds

Extracted from Wok for Less: Budget-Friendly Asian Meals in 30 Minutes or Less by Ching-He Huang (£25 hardback, Kyle Books). For more informaton on Ching, visit and follow her on social media: @chinghehuang

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