Beyond Bachelor Salad





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Taking the Mystery Out of Cooking Terms

By Danielle Chapman

For those of us who never really learned their way around a kitchen, it’s a lovely experience when you finally get up the nerve to try out a recipe, only to find a food or cooking term that sounds like it’s either a new species of howler monkey or possibly some sort of medieval torture device. Don't get discouraged! Here's some help for the wayward kitchen traveler/visitor!

  • Al dente: from the Italian phrase "to the tooth", pasta cooked until it is firm to the bite, tender not mushy, chewy but not crunchy

  • Bain-marie: also called a water bath, a technique for cooking delicate dishes like custards by putting a baking dish or individual custard cups in a larger baking pan and pouring hot water halfway up the height of the custard cups or baking dish. Can also be used to keep cooked foods warm.

  • Blind bake: to precook pie crusts before filling them to ensure that they cook thoroughly and to control shrinking

  • Braise: to cook food by first browning it in a little fat, then by adding liquid to the pan, covering it and finishing the cooking over moist low heat

  • Broil: to cook food directly under the heat source (like grilling: only the food is below the heat source)

  • Caramelize: slowly dissolving sugar in water and heating the resulting syrup until it turns caramel brown

  • Fold: to incorporate a lighter mixture, such as an egg white, into a heavier mixture by gently lifting from underneath with a rubber spatula or spoon

  • Puree: to finely blend and mash food to a lump free consistency

  • Reconstitute: to bring dried food back to its original consistency by adding liquid

  • Reduction sauce: a sauce that uses, the pan juices that are created from stove top cooking or oven roasting meat, fish, poultry or vegetables as its base

  • Render: to cook a food over low heat until it releases its fat

  • Sauté: French for "jump", sauté means to cook food in fat or butter until nicely browned. To dry-sauté, also called pan-grilling, is to cook food over high heat with no oil at all

  • Sear: to cook meat quickly over intense heat so as to form a crust

  • Shuck: to peel off or remove the shell from oysters or clams or the husk from an ear of corn

  • Steam: to cook food in a closed vessel over-not in- simmering liquid

  • Steep: to soak in boiling water for a few minutes

  • Stew: to gradually cook food in liquid in a tightly covered pot or pan

  • Strain: to remove particles through liquid by pouring through a sieve or cheesecloth

And now for some food terms and their definitions:

  • Arugula: a strangely flavored type green, possessing a distinctive, hot muddiness of flavor

  • Baba ghanoush: a mixture of eggplant, tahini (definition below), olive oil, lemon juice and garlic, served as a dip or spread

  • Baguette: a long, narrow loaf of bread with a crispy crust and soft, chewy interior

  • Balsamic vinegar: vinegar made from the juice of white Trebianno grapes

  • Basmati rice: a white or brown aromatic long grain rice

  • Bok choy: cabbage that looks like oversized white celery stalks with big flat green leaves

  • Bulgur: soft wheat that has been steamed, hulled, dried and then cracked

  • currant- tiny, tart, grape-like berries that are red, white or black

  • Endive: sharp crunchy greens that come in two varieties: Belgian and curly

  • Hummus: thick puree of mashed chickpeas seasoned with tahini, garlic lemon juice and other spices

  • Kimchi: fiery cabbage, seasoned heavily with garlic and chile

  • Leeks: a member of the onion family, looks like a big fat green onion

  • Pectin: used as a thickener in jams and jellies

  • Plantain: a cooking banana, used in sautés, braising or stewing

  • Prosciutto: salt-cured, air dried ham, cut into paper thin slices for appetizers

  • Rice paper: edible paper made from rice to wrap dumplings or other Asian foods

  • Scallion: a green onion, an immature onion with a white base and long green leaves

  • Scallop: a mollusk with a creamy texture and distinctive flavor

  • Soba noodles: buckwheat noodles, brown, flat and usually served in soup

  • Tahini: creamy paste of toasted sesame seeds, used in hummus or baba ghanoush

  • Tofu: bean curd, bland custard like food made from soybeans

  • Wasabi: Japanese version of horseradish

  • Zest: the outermost colored peel of lemons, oranges and other citrus fruits



Studying cooking terms is a great way to familiarize yourself with recipes.

Learn the terms in your cookbooks and you could be studying French, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Thai or Japanese.

Cooking opens up a world of languages, taking you around the world without having to leave home.