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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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 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 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
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.
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.
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.