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  Most Commonly Used Terms in Cooking

Food's Glossary

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



A relatively expensive nut that 's native to Australia but is now grown commercially in Hawaii and California, particularly for the American market where they're widely used in cookies, ice cream and cakes.

The shell is incredibly hard to crack, but inside is a creamy, almost buttery, white nut with a flavour that tastes somewhere between hazelnut and coconut. In Asia macadamia nuts are used in curries and stews.

A small light biscuit, crunchy outside and soft inside, made with ground almonds, sugar and egg whites. Macaroons are sometimes flavoured with additional ingredients such as coffee, chocolate, nuts or fruit. They're particularly good made with freshly ground blanched almonds. Ratafia biscuits are tiny macaroons with almond essence added.

This is the lacy outer layer (or 'aril') that covers the nutmeg, a nut-like seed of the nutmeg tree. Mace is sold either in blades or ground. It adds a mild nutmeg flavour to soups and sauces as well as sausages, pâtés and fish dishes.

Similar to marinating, this means to soak raw, dried or preserved fruit or vegetables in liquid (usually alcohol, liqueur, wine, brandy or sugar syrup) to soften or take away bitterness, and to allow the ingredients to absorb the flavours of the liquid.

A firm-fleshed, oil-rich fish with a torpedo-like shape and beautiful silvery-blue skin. It's delicious and nutritious - packed with omega-3 fatty acids.

Fresh mackerel is usually sold whole with or without the head on. It can be grilled, fried, barbecued or poached and is perfect for stuffing and oven-baking. It also suits being pickled, marinated, salted and smoked.

Madeira is a fortified wine that comes from the island of the same name. Different grape varieties are used to make the four types (Sercial, Verdelho, Bual and Malmsey), which range from dry to sweet. It can be served chilled and drunk as an aperitif, but is also used extensively in cooking in the same way as you would dry sherry.

Buttery French sponge cakes traditionally baked in scallop-shaped Madeleine moulds. They're made with sugar, flour, melted butter and eggs, often flavoured with lemon or almonds. The English version is often baked in dariole moulds and topped with jam, desiccated coconut or icing sugar.

One of Spain's best-known cheeses, made from ewes' milk. It originated in La Mancha but is now made all over the UK. It's sold fresh or slightly aged in olive oil, and has a deep yellow rind and creamy white interior. It's firm to the touch with a buttery nutty taste that's slightly sour. It's a good grating cheese that melts well.

A tropical fruit from South-east Asia, the mangosteen is the size of a small peach with a leathery skin which, when peeled away, reveals five sweetly scented white segments which have a very delicate taste and melt in the mouth. Eat as it is or add a few to a tropical fruit salad.

Maple Syrup
The boiled-down sap of the maple tree, this syrup is very popular in the US and Canada. It's expensive because of the low yield from the sap (40 gallons of sap are needed for one gallon of syrup!) but the cheaper imitations labelled 'maple-flavoured syrup' made from a mixture of maple syrup and cane syrup just don't compare with the real thing.

A chicken or veal dish made with cognac or white wine, tomatoes, eggs, crayfish, garlic, olive oil and bread. Chicken Marengo is said to have been created by Napoleon's chef Dunand, who was ordered to create a meal for Napoleon while he was on the battlefield in the Italian town of Marengo in 1800. Napoleon apparently enjoyed it so much that he asked for it to be served after every battle.

Margarine was invented in the 1860s by a French chemist as a cheap replacement for butter. Nowadays it's bought as a product in its own right, frequently in the belief that it's a healthier option than butter. All margarine contains as much fat as butter, but some are lower in cholesterol and saturated fats.

However, the health benefits of many of these types of spreads has been called into question in recent years because most of them are made with hydrogenated (chemically hardened) vegetable oils and this process is believed to convert the polyunsaturated fat into trans-fats which have a negative effect on cholesterol and are now thought to be linked with heart disease even more than saturated fat.

To steep fish, meat or vegetables in a highly seasoned and flavoured liquid (the marinade) usually containing oil, wine or lemon juice, herbs and spices, in order to tenderise and add flavour.

Marinière (à la)
A method of preparing shellfish or other seafood, especially mussels, by cooking them in white wine, usually with onions or shallots.

This is the big catch for big-game sport fishermen and catching it's a huge challenge! Found in the waters off Hawaii, Florida, Venezuela and Australia, marlin is available in other parts of the world sold as steaks. These are best cooked under the grill, on a barbecue or as kebabs. The firm flesh can be used interchangeably for tuna in most recipes.

A thick, creamy, soft Italian cheese with a high fat content (40 per cent). It can be used in savoury and sweet dishes. It's good for stirring through savoury sauces to thicken and add a distinct rich flavour.

A thick, creamy, cold sauce or dressing made by beating oil and egg yolks, usually with some wine vinegar, salt, pepper and mustard. Used to dress salads or combined with seafood, poultry, eggs or vegetables to make cold starters or main dishes.

This is a flatfish from the brill and turbot family. It can be cooked like sole or plaice, but doesn't match them for flavour or texture. It's inexpensive, but giving it flavour is up to you. Good for using in fishcakes and stock rather than taking centre stage.

Meringue refers to a mixture of whipped egg whites and sugar and the light sweet confections made from this mixture when it's oven-baked. Recipes might call for a specific type of meringue.

This is the name given to a mixture of salad greens. The term comes from the Provençal word for 'mixture' and refers to a mix of young field greens such as wild and cultivated chicory, lamb's lettuce and dandelion leaves, but may also include rocket, chervil, purslane and oak leaf lettuce. The idea is to create a good balance of strong- and mild-flavoured greens.

Meunière (à la)
A method of cooking fish. This method is traditionally used to prepare whole trout and fillets of sole. The fish is coated in seasoned flour, fried in butter and served with some more melted butter with the addition of a squeeze of lemon juice and a few freshly chopped herbs.

Literally 'thousand leaves' this is a light and airy pastry dessert made of thin layers of puff pastry, whipped cream and jam or some other filling such as fresh fruit. Millefeuilles are usually small rectangular pastries but can also be made as large gateaux.

A spicy preserve comprising a mixture of dried fruit, apple, suet and candied fruit and spices steeped in rum or brandy. It's the traditional filling for individual mince pies, served warm at Christmas, but can also be used to fill tarts, pastries or even pasta.

A thick Italian soup containing a mixture of vegetables, beans and pasta or rice. The name derives from the Italian word 'minestra' meaning thick soup. Made in the Italian way there should be just enough stock to float the mixture of vegetables and pasta.

A mixture of diced vegetables - usually onion, leek, carrot and celery - and sometimes bacon and herbs. It's sautéed in butter and is the basis of many sauces, soups and stews. It's often used as a foundation for braising meat, poultry or fish as well.

Mirin is a sweetened sake or rice wine with a light syrupy texture, used in Japanese cooking. It gives a mild sweetness to sauces and dishes and is particularly good with grilled food because the alcohol burns off, leaving just the sweet taste. Sherry could be used as an alternative, but mirin is becoming more widely available.

A fermented paste made from soya beans and rice, barley or rye, used in Japanese cookery for making miso soup, as a dressing, as an ingredient in pouring sauces, to flavour pickles and on grilled food.

A thick, dark, heavy syrup that is a by-product of sugar refining. It's far less sweet than syrup or honey and the darker the molasses, the less sugar it contains. Molasses has a slightly bitter flavour that's favoured in traditional North American recipes such as Boston baked beans and it also goes into the making of rich fruit cakes, gingerbread and treacle toffee.

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
An additive made from sodium salt crystals and used to enhance the flavour of food, especially in oriental cuisine. MSG is much used by commercial manufacturers of foods, particularly in soups and sauces.

A long white Japanese vegetable of the radish family, also known as daikon. 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. Mooli is sometimes available in larger supermarkets, but you're more likely to find it in Asian or Caribbean food shops.

Morels are wild mushrooms found all over the British Isles. With a creamy white stem and conical cap they grow in dry, sandy areas so it's important to wash them well to get rid of any grit. They're often used dried (but never raw) and are excellent in all mushroom dishes and as additions to stews and casseroles. They're particularly good with chicken and are considered among the best mushrooms, along with ceps and chanterelles.

Mornay Sauce
A béchamel sauce enriched with egg yolks and flavoured with grated gruyère cheese. It's used to coat dishes to be glazed under the grill or browned in the oven, including poached eggs, fish, shellfish and vegetables.

A large, cooked Italian salami originating from Bologna. It's made with finely minced pork, garlic, salt and pepper stuffed into a natural casing and is sometimes studded with pistachios or green olives.

Moules Marinière
Mussels prepared à la marinière - that is, by cooking in white wine with chopped shallots, parsley, thyme and a bay leaf.

A classic aubergine casserole associated with Greece. It's made using minced lamb, slices of aubergine, potatoes and onions, covered with a creamy white sauce and oven-baked until golden. There are many variations, including vegetarian moussaka.

A mousse is a light fluffy mixture, either sweet or savoury; it can be served hot or cold. There are no hard and fast rules, but sweet mousses are often flavoured with chocolate or fruit purée and many contain whipped cream.

An Italian fresh or unripened cheese traditionally made from water buffalo's milk (Mozzarella di Bufala) around the Naples area.

A classic Anglo-Indian dish. Mulligatawny is a spicy soup based on chicken or mutton/lamb stock. According to Madhur Jaffrey, the original mulligatawny soup can be traced back to the early days of the East India Company in Madras, and was more like a curry. The word is based on the Tamil name for 'pepper water', 'milligu-thannir', also called 'rasam'.

A condiment made from the seeds of the mustard plant, of which there are three varieties: black mustard (spicy and piquant), brown mustard (less piquant), and white or yellow mustard (much less piquant but more pungent).




Nachos in their simplest form are usually tortilla chips covered in melted cheese. Common additional toppings are Ground beef or chicken, Jalape?o pepper slices, Refried beans, Salsa, Guacamole, Sour cream, Olives. Nachos are usually made by laying out tortilla chips on a baking dish, covering it with cheddar or jack cheese, placing Jalapeno pepper rounds on top, and baking it in the oven.

Also called an Asian pear, this fruit has a flavour somewhere between an apple and a pear, combining the shape and crispness of an apple with the grainy texture and flavour of a pear. It's excellent in fruit salads or served with a cheeseboard. In cooking, use it as you would with any other apple or pear recipe.

Nam Pla
A thin brown fish sauce that's fundamental to Thai food. It's made by fermenting small whole fish (usually anchovies) in brine and drawing off the liquid, which is then bottled. It smells quite fishy and tastes very salty so use it sparingly as a flavouring and as a condiment (although cooking greatly reduces its fishiness and simply adds a richness and depth of flavour to dishes).

Napa Cabbage
Napa cabbage is also known as Chinese cabbage or celery cabbage. Chinese cabbage is an East Asian leaf vegetable related to the Western cabbage. They are of the same species as the common turnip. There are many variations on its name, spelling, and Scientific classification. This is a common vegetable used in Chinese cuisine.

Nasi Goreng
Nasi goreng is an Indonesian version of fried rice. (That is what the Indonesian words literally mean). The main difference compared to fried rice is that it is cooked with sweet soy-sauce (kecap manis). It is often accompanied by additional items such as a fried egg, fried chicken, satay, or keropok. When accompanied by a fried egg it is known as nasi goreng special. The dish is not only popular in Indonesia, but in Singapore and Malaysia.

Edible flowers are great for adding colour and peppery flavour to dishes. The nasturtium is an annual flowering plant whose edible leaves and orange, red and yellow petals have a flavour that's similar to watercress.

A classic French stew of lamb or mutton with potatoes and other root vegetables, often carrot or turnip. It's traditionally cooked using cuts of young spring lamb and new vegetables. Fresh peas and beans are sometimes added at the end of cooking. The stew is skimmed of any fat on its surface and is left to cook for a few minutes more until the vegetables are just tender.

Nibbed Almonds
These are specially prepared skinned almonds cut into pieces about 2mm square. They're mostly used for decoration. Brown them for a minute in a hot oven to add colour and to bring out their true nutty flavour.

Nicoise Olive
A small dark brown or purple olives with a rich, nutty flavor from the Provence region of France. Nicoise olives are cured in brine and packed in olive oil.

Beurre Noisette ('hazelnut butter', sometimes loosely translated as 'brown butter') is frequently used in French pastry production. Unsalted butter is melted over low heat and allowed to separate into butterfat and milk solids. The milk solids naturally sink to the bottom of the pan and, if left over gentle heat, will begin to brown. As the milk solids reach a toasty hazelnut color, the pan is removed from the heat. Beurre noisette may be used in its liquid state, or cooled to a solid form. It imparts a warm, nutty flavor, and is particularly included in the batters for madeleines and financiers.

A type of pasta made with flour and water and sometimes eggs, cut into thin strips. The strands come in numerous shapes and sizes and can be fresh or dried. Noodles are used extensively in Far Eastern cuisine to accompany soups, sauces and stir-fried dishes.

Paper-thin toasted sheets of seaweed (laver - also used in Wales, Scotland and Ireland) used in Japanese cooking for wrapping sushi. There are lots of different varieties - dark green is the most common, but it also can be black, purple or dark red and comes in varying thicknesses.

A confection made from boiled honey and/or sugar syrup mixed with beaten egg white, almonds and sometimes pistachios and preserved fruit.

Nutmeg is a spice from the nutmeg tree, which is native to several Indonesian islands. Both nutmeg and mace come from the same plant. Nutmeg is the 'nut', while mace is the surrounding lacy 'aril'. Nutmeg has a warm, spicy aroma and flavour and can be used in sweet and savoury cooking. It's a component of the classic béchamel sauce and is used to flavour a host of cakes, puddings and custards. Buy nutmeg whole and grate it as you need it. Avoid using ready-ground nutmeg, which quickly loses its flavour.



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