lona's lil eats chef-owner lona luo photo by virginia harold

6 pantry staples Lona’s Lil Eats' Lona Luo can’t cook without

Lona Luo
, chef-owner of Lona’s Lil’ Eats, is a master of multiple cuisines with a repertoire ranging from Chinese to Thai to Burmese and beyond. She shared a handful of must-haves central to her creativity in the kitchen.

1. Cao guo. “I use it for all kinds of cooking,” Luo said of this aromatic Chinese spice, also referred to as black cardamom. She said it works in everything from soups to meat dishes to pickles.

2. Star anise. While she uses it sparingly, Luo said this spice is necessary to stand up to meats like lamb or goat.

3. Soy sauce. A solid soy sauce is imperative to have on hand. Luo opts for that old standby, Kikkoman. In addition to being high quality, the brand also has a gluten-free version.

clockwise from left, dumplings, spring rolls and grilled pompano at lona's lil eats // photo by virginia harold

4. Wok. Because she does a lot of high-temperature cooking, Luo relies on her wok, since it easier to control the heat. In the restaurant, she wields a 24-inch version, but Luo said a 12-inch wok should work just fine for home use.

5. Vegetable oil. Veggie oil is easy to warm, most important for the sort of high-heat cooking Luo does. She prefers oils made from mustard seed, but these can be hard to find locally. Luo suggested grapeseed or sunflower oils as alternatives.

6. Fresh herbs. Luo is all about fresh flavors. She always keeps mint, cilantro and garlic (lots of garlic) on hand.

Matt Sorrell is staff writer at Sauce Magazine. 

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