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Food's Glossary

A to Z commonly used food's glossary and cooking terms.



A pizza that's folded in half and baked so that the filling is enclosed completely - similar to a Cornish pasty or turnover. Calzones are usually made as a single serving. It's popular street food in Italy, particularly in Naples where pizza is said to have originated. People fold them in quarters and eat them with their hands while they're on the go.

Cannellini Beans
A small, white, kidney-shaped bean. You can buy cannellini beans dried or tinned - borlotti beans make a good replacement if you can't find them. Cannellini beans are good for using in salads and casseroles. The dried variety needs to be soaked in cold water before cooking.

This is the generic name for the pepper family, which includes the large, sweet, mild peppers (green, yellow, orange and red are the most common), which are also called bell peppers or sweet peppers, as well as any of the hundreds of hot chilli peppers. Peppers have many culinary uses.

The process of either heating sugar to a point when it melts and resets as a hard glaze, as on the top of a crème brûlée, or cooking small or cut fruit or vegetables in water and sugar until they become brown and glazed. You can invest in a cook's blow torch to caramelise the tops of desserts, but a very hot preheated grill is usually adequate to do the job.

An aromatic spice indigenous to south India and Sri Lanka, cardamom seeds come from a plant belonging to the ginger family. They're contained in small pods about the size of a cranberry.

A classic Italian dish, served as a starter, of very thin shavings of raw beef fillet, served cold with olive oil and lemon juice or with a mayonnaise or mustard sauce.

The dish is often topped with capers and sometimes onions. Although true carpaccio is made with beef, 'carpaccios' of other thinly sliced raw meats, fish or even fruits are becoming more frequently sighted on restaurant menus.

The smooth creamy-white kidney-shaped kernel is rich in vitamin A and has a high fat content. In Europe cashews are usually eaten dried, roasted and salted as a snack or in salads. Unsalted cashews are generally used for cooking and they're particularly popular in south Indian cuisine, used whole or ground and often added just before serving. They're also used in Chinese cookery, in main dishes such as noodle salads and stir-fries.

Caul Fat
The lacy, fatty membrane encasing the internal organs of an animal. Pork caul is often used for wrapping faggots or pâtés. It comes in thin sheets and you can buy it from traditional butchers.

True caviar is the salted and matured eggs or roe of the female sturgeon. Most caviar comes from the Caspian Sea and is processed in Russia and Iran. Beluga is the most expensive variety, followed by Oscietra and Sevruga, all of which are produced from different species of sturgeon.

Cayenne Pepper
A red, fiery hot spice ground from the pod and seeds of dried chillies. A pinch of cayenne over devilled kidneys or stirred through gravy for game birds adds a gutsy kick and heightens the flavour of the dish. It's also good used sparingly in vegetable or lentil soups, in curries or sprinkled over stir-fried prawns or over crispy whitebait.

A large, knobbly root vegetable, the base of the stem of certain types of celery. It tastes quite similar to celery, although it also has a slightly nutty flavour. It's in season from mid-September to the end of April.

Celery Seeds
Dried seeds of celery, with a bitter taste. They're used in bread making and in egg and fish dishes. Celery seeds are ground with salt to make celery salt, used for making Bloody Marys.

Chantilly Cream
Sweetened, vanilla-flavoured, whipped cream used for desserts and puddings. It's sometimes flavoured with liqueur. Chantilly is a medieval French market town just north of Paris, famous for its whipped cream, and there's no shortage of patisseries serving pastries piped full of Chantilly cream!

Charcuterie is a generic term for the products traditionally sold by charcutiers (pork butchers), and includes all products based on pork meat or offal, including cured and cooked meats, fresh and smoked sausages, pâtés, black puddings and salamis. It also refers to the shop itself that sells these kinds of products. Order charcuterie in a restaurant and you'll be served a platter of cuts of meats and sausages prepared in various ways.

The fruit of the sweet chestnut tree (Castanea sativa) that is edible when cooked. Chestnuts can be simply roasted and eaten whole or they can be added to other dishes such as stuffings or casseroles. Chestnuts can also be dried and ground to make flour, which can be used with other flours to make cakes or pasta (chestnut flour contains no gluten).

A small legume that was first grown in the Levant and ancient Egypt, and is now used in cuisines all around the world. In Indian cookery, finely milled chickpea flour, called gram flour or besan flour, is used to make some kinds of batter. Chickpeas are a major ingredient in many Middle Eastern dishes, such as hummus (the Arabic word for chickpea). In the US, chickpeas are known as 'garbanzos'.

A vegetable and/or salad leaf comprising a white bulb of tightly packed elongated cones of overlapping white leaves with pale yellow leaf tips. In the U.S. known as Belgian endive. It’s essentially a salad vegetable with a mildly bitter taste, but it can be cooked too. It's particularly good wrapped in ham, covered with a béchamel sauce and oven baked.

Thin strips or shreds of vegetables (classically, sorrel and lettuce), either lightly sautéed or used raw to garnish soups. With lettuce, the aim is to cut it as thinly as possible so you end up with delicate, frilly ribbons.

Chilli peppers are much smaller than sweet peppers (see capsicum) and can be green, yellow, orange, red or black. Don't be fooled by their small size - they pack a fiery punch! There are more than 200 known varieties and they differ greatly in size, colour and level of hotness.

A mild, dried chilli with a deep smoky flavour, commonly used in Mexican cooking and in the cooking of the American south-west. It's frequently used in commercially produced chilli sauces.

Choux Pastry
A very light, double-cooked pastry usually used for sweets and buns. It's made with plain flour, salt, butter, eggs, milk and a little sugar (if it's being used for a sweet dish). It's used to make profiteroles, eclairs and choux puffs and is the basis of the dramatic dessert gâteau St Honoré - a shortcrust pastry base topped with a ring of choux pastry, then a layer of choux balls filled with whipped cream and glazed with caramel.

A thick, chunky seafood soup from North America, of which clam chowder is the best known. The word chowder comes from the French 'chaudière' - a heavy, three-legged iron cauldron in which fishermen made stews fresh from their day's catch. Chowder is believed to have originated in French Canada and made its way down the coast to New England.

A cut of either lamb or pork taken from the lower back. Sold as chops, or with the bone removed as steaks, it's ideal for grilling and barbecues but also delicious if baked slowly in the oven.

This warm, sweet spice comes from the bark of a tree native to Sri Lanka. The bark is removed, dried and rolled up to make a tube.

Cinnamon is sold dry as sticks and as a powder. You can try to grind your own cinnamon from the bark but it's difficult to get it fine enough. It's best to buy ground cinnamon in small quantities because the freshness and flavour quickly disappear.

Cloves are the dried flower buds of an evergreen tree native to eastern Indonesia. It's a versatile spice that can be used in drinks and in sweet and savoury dishes. The pungent, sweet flavour of the clove lends itself perfectly to meats such as beef or venison, as well as fruits such as apples, oranges and plums and to pickled vegetables. Spike an onion with cloves and place it into a meat stew or casserole, add a few cloves to chilli con carne, spice up boiled rice or pop a clove into a bouquet garni. When baking a ham, spike the boiled ham with cloves so that the flavour permeates the meat during baking. Apples and cloves are a perfect combination and cloves are also an essential ingredient of mulled wine or warm punches.

Coconut Milk and Cream
Coconut milk isn't the liquid from inside the nut, but the extract of freshly grated coconut flesh. The flesh is first soaked in hot water, then allowed to cool, after which the liquid is strained off. It's available in tins from Asian and Caribbean stores and larger supermarkets. Coconut cream is sold in hard blocks. It can be diluted with hot water before using or added straight to the simmering liquid in the pan. Both give a distinctive taste and smoothness to curries, sauces and rice.

Popular white sea fish with flaky flesh, available fresh or frozen, whole or as steaks and fillets. It's a resident of cold northern waters, but has been overfished for several years and is becoming scarcer and more expensive each year. Fresh cod is incredibly versatile. It can be poached, baked, fried, or grilled and served with or without sauce. Proper deep-fried battered cod is worth mastering at home.

Coriander tends to be associated most with Asian and Central and South American cooking. Both the fresh leaves and the berries - which are dried and called coriander seeds - are used for cooking. The herb has a fresh, citrus taste and is best added to dishes just before serving in order to get maximum flavour.

Cornflour - or cornstarch as it's known in the US - is the finely powdered white starch extracted from maize kernels, which are soaked and ground to separate the germ and the bran. It's virtually tasteless and is used as a thickening agent. It cuts down the need for fat as, unlike other flours, it blends to a smooth cream with liquid.

Court Bouillon
A spiced aromatic liquor or stock used mainly to poach fish and shellfish. It simply gives flavour that would be lacking if the fish were cooked in plain water. Wine, vinegar, lemon juice, sliced onion, herbs or spices may sometimes be added to the court bouillon, which is usually prepared in advance and set aside to cool before using.

Couscous is a small granular type of pasta which is made by sprinkling durum or hard wheat semolina grains with cold salted water and rolling and coating them in fine wheat flour. It's a staple ingredient in North Africa. Couscous is also the name of a dish in which the grains are steamed over a spiced stew of vegetables and/or meat or chicken.

Cream of Tartar
Cream of tartar (potassium hydrogen tartrate) is a component of baking powder. (Baking powder comprises baking soda and cream of tartar.) Cream of tartar is a by-product of winemaking; it's derived from refined tartaric acid, which forms on the inside of wine barrels, or from the whitish crystals (known as 'white diamonds') that precipitate out of some wines. It's used in baking and in making desserts. It gives a creamy texture to icings and is used to stabilise and increase the volume of beaten egg whites, so is often used in making meringues.

Traditionally a festive Italian appetiser, 'crostini' means 'little crusts' in Italian. Baguette-style bread is thinly sliced and lightly toasted and then topped, usually with pâté made from a variety of ingredients such as mushrooms, chicken livers, capers, garlic and ham.

Small cubes of bread that have been fried and then drained and cooled. As they cool, they develop a crisp texture and are used as a garnish for soups or in salads such as Caesar salad or fattoush. In salads, add them at the last minute to prevent them from going soggy, and leave them out if the salad is served with a starchy meal such as pasta, potatoes or rice. They can also be used for stuffings.

The small, crescent-shaped seeds of a plant called Cuminum cyminum, which are used as a spice. It has a warm flavour and quite a strong, pungent aroma.

Cumin seeds can be used whole or ground into a powder. They're frequently used in Indian cooking and are a regular component of curry powder, as well as being used in the Indian spice mix garam masala. Cumin is also used in Mexican cooking.

From the Tamil word 'kari', meaning 'spiced sauce', comes this catch-all term, used to refer to any number of hot, spicy, sauce-based dishes. The term curry itself isn't really used in India, except as a term adopted by the British to categorise a number of different Indian soup or stew dishes, nearly always containing onions, garlic, ginger, turmeric, chilli and vegetable oil.

Traditional British dessert sauce made with egg yolks, sugar and milk and/or cream flavoured with vanilla. Proper homemade custard is an absolute dream, but don't cut corners or it just won't be the same. The key thing when making custard is to heat it just enough to thicken, but not too much so that it curdles. A neat trick is to add a little cornflour which will help stabilise the eggs.




A long, white vegetable of the radish family, also known as mooli. It's crunchy, with a mild peppery flavour, similar to watercress. Unlike other radishes it's as good cooked as it is raw. In Chinese and Japanese cookery it's used for vegetable carving as well as cooking. Daikon is sometimes available in larger supermarkets, but you're more likely to find it in Asian or Caribbean food shops.

Widely grown in Arab countries, the date is the fruit of the date palm. Dates are sweet and rich with a chewy, sticky texture. Fresh dates are plump and dark brown with a glossy sheen. Dried dates look very similar and it can be hard to tell the difference if you buy them packaged.

A classic French method of cooking a type of stew, usually using a single joint of meat braised in red-wine stock, with vegetables and herbs. Once the meat is cooked, the braising liquid is thickened, then reduced and served with the meat and vegetables. A daube usually refers to a piece of beef cooked this way.

Dauphinoise (à la)
To cook something 'à la Dauphinoise' means to bake it in a slow oven with cream and garlic. A gratin dauphinoise is a classic dish of thinly sliced potatoes cooked in this way - with garlic, cream, milk, butter and often gruyère cheese - rich, but very delicious. Serve it as an accompaniment to meat or vegetable dishes.

To deglaze is to add wine, stock or other liquid to a hot pan or roasting tin in which food has been roasted or sautéed. Use a wooden spatula to scrape all the tasty bits sticking to the bottom and sides of the pan and stir them into the juices. Reduce the liquid slightly and serve it with the food as a sauce or gravy.

Demi-glace Sauce
Demi-glace sauce is a rich brown sauce often used by chefs. It's made from a reduction of clear stock and sauce espagnole - stock that has been thickened with a roux, diced vegetables and tomato purée - and is the basis for classic sauces such as Madeira, Diane and reform sauce. As an easier alternative for home cooking, you could use a good quality homemade beef stock that has been boiled and then reduced. Add a splash of Madeira or sherry for flavour.

Dim Sum
The collective term for an array of little dishes eaten mainly by southern and Hong Kong Chinese and served in tea houses and restaurants all day long. It's sometimes called 'yum cha' after the Chinese tradition of taking tea, and tea is the drink usually served with dim sum.

Sometimes served from trolleys that are wheeled around the dining room, dim sum comprises a variety of small steamed or deep-fried dumplings with different fillings, but also other tasty morsels such as steamed spare ribs, rice in lotus leaves, stuffed peppers, fried whole prawns and steamed or fried meat or vegetable buns.

Dover Sole
The superior sole, Dover sole is a member of the flatfish family, fished from the North Sea to the Mediterranean. It has a light brown/grey speckled skin and a creamy underside. It has a firm but delicate and flavourful flesh and is best cooked as simply as possible. It's traditionally skinned on the darker side only, leaving the white skin of the underside in place. The skin separates easily from the flesh and the flesh falls easily from the bone.

A large, green, spiky, South-east Asian fruit about the size of a football. To all but its fans, the durian has a nauseating smell - in fact its transport has been outlawed by many airlines. How something so delicious can smell so dreadful is one of life's great mysteries. The creamy, slightly sweet flesh has an exquisitely rich, custard-like texture and a flavour reminiscent of strawberries. It's considered a delicacy in South-east Asia. Use it in an exotic fruit salad.



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