Grocery store shelves look nothing like they did 25 years ago. Yes, they're still constructed in the same way, but what populates those shelves is another matter entirely, at least in the ethnic aisle.

Where once only boxes filled with crunchy taco shells and seasoning packets sat, we can now find cans of chipotle chiles and bags of masa harina (used to make corn tortillas and tamales). Soy sauce and instant ramen now sit next to Southeast Asian fish sauces and soba noodles.

Is it perfect? No, but it does allow us to try new ingredients, which may be a gateway to exploring new cuisines in depth, and that's always a good thing.

One ingredient that finds its way into my grocery cart on a regular basis is gochujang. Not long ago, this hot pepper paste would have been available only if you were lucky enough to have access to a Korean market. Now it can be found in most grocery stores. Its savory, slightly sweet spiciness is so addictive, I find myself adding it to all kinds of dishes, from stir-fries to barbecue sauce.

Gochujang is a red chile paste that also contains glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, salt, and sometimes sweeteners. It's a thick, sticky condiment with a concentrated flavor that borders on pungent. Think of it as spicy miso paste. How spicy? It depends on the brand, so it pays to taste it before you cook with it.

Of course, it can be used in traditional Korean dishes like bulgogi, the iconic grilled beef, but I find myself adding it to any marinade, soup, stew or dipping sauces that needs a little punch of flavor.

One of my favorite dishes in which I use gochujang is a Szechuan-inspired Spicy Stir-Fried Green Beans With Pork. Green beans are cooked in a hot wok or skillet until slightly charred and tender. Fresh ginger and garlic are cooked along with ground pork. A simple sauce made with soy sauce and rice vinegar is made complex with the addition of gochujang, and cooked until slightly caramelized and thickened.

The result is a highly flavorful dish, made in minutes, that works well as a scene-stealing side or served with cooked rice as a memorable main dish.

Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at Follow her on Instagram ­at