On this page you will find information about unusual and sometimes everyday ingredients that will help you become a better cook by understanding your ingredients. Please feel free to post a comment if there is a particular ingredient you would like to know more about.

Bicarbonate of soda

Bonito

Cooking Pasta

Dashi

Feta Cheese

Fondant Icing

Garlic

Green Papaya

Kaffir Lime

Lentils

Mascarpone Cheese

Mirin

Miso Paste

Palm Sugar

Parmesan Cheese

Pastry (Pate Sucree, Pate Sable, Pate Brisee)

Preserved Lemons

Ricotta Cheese

Sake

Sesame Seeds

Soba Noodles

Sumac

Tagines

Tahini

Tamarind

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Bicarbonate of soda

Bicarb is also known as sodium bicarbonate, bicarb soda, baking soda, bread soda and cooking soda. This fine white powder has a slightly salty, alkaline taste and is used in cooking as a rising agent. When it is combined with moisture, an acidic ingredient (like sour cream, cream, cream of tartar, lemon juice, yoghurt, vinegar, buttermilk, cocoa, honey), or heated above 80 degrees centigrade, it begins to decompose. This chemical reaction produces bubbles of carbon dioxide that expand, causing baked goods like cakes, pancakes and bread to rise. It also increases the crispness of crumbed or deep fried foods when a little is added to breadcrumbs or batter.  Because the reaction begins immediately upon mixing the ingredients, it’s best to cook or bake recipes with baking soda, as soon as possible, to get maximum lift.

Bonito
Bonito refers to a few different kinds of fish but in culinary terms it is a Japanese skipjack Tuna (a type of mackrel). It’s Japanese name is Katsuo and is dried to make a fish flake called Katsuobushi. Katsuobushi (Bonito flakes) are used to make Dashi stock (see below). It is also used as a garnish in many Japanese dishes and has a strong salty and fishy flavour.

Cooking Pasta

Both fresh and dried Pasta cook best in plenty of boiling water, you’ll need at least 3 litres for 200g of dried pasta (this is 2 cups or a 2” diameter bunch). Because most of us don’t know where our water has come from or what pipes it has been sitting in, cold water brought up to a boil will have less impurities and a better flavor than hot water brought to the boil. Salting the water is a must, essential unless you like insipidly flavored pasta. But adding salt changes the temperature at which your water will boil, it makes it higher, meaning you have to wait longer and use more fuel. So Salt is always added after the water is at a good rolling boil. Traditional Italians use about 1 teaspoon for each litre or quart of water so experiment to see what you like. Do not add oil to the water, it achieves nothing except wasting a beautiful product and your money. And pasta coated with oil either during or after cooking is too slippery to hold your wonderful sauce. When you add your pasta to the pot, the water will drop off the boil, so keep the temperature up high, or add a lid temporarily to get it boiling as quickly as possible again. Remember to remove the lid as soon as it does this or you will have a spluttery, muttery, dangerous mess. You can reduce the heat a little now but keep it at a slow roiling boil at all times. Move the pasta around a few times as it cooks to stop it sticking to the pan bottom or each other. Italians also like their pasta cooked ‘al dente’, with a little firmness still in its heart, but the same color all the way through. Pasta labeled Duram, Semolina or Wheat Semolina will hold its shape the best when cooking and is less likely to go mushy. Forget about the myth of throwing cooked pasta at the wall to see if it will stick, unless you just want to show-off and entertain children. Just taste it. There are no rules. Cook it to the level of softness you prefer, but please, try to educate your palate backwards from mush. It may take a few tries, but you’ll thank us in the end. Turn off the heat, add a cup of cold water to the pot to stop the cooking process then drain your cooked Pasta through a colander over the sink. Never rinse cooked pasta, except lasagna sheets, just run a little cold water over to cool it just slightly, but not too much, and use it wet. Most sauces benefit from a little extra moisture so don’t drain it too much. Transfer to serving plates, add your sauce, but don’t drown it and eat immediately with grated cheese and fresh chopped herbs. If you’ve never tried un-sauced left over pasta re-fried in some oil the next day, try it. Put your cooked pasta in a hot pan with some olive oil. Let it go crispy on one side, flip, add chopped fresh herbs, pine nuts, or olives or anchovy, butter, salt and pepper and eat hot with grated cheese or sauce. Other simple additions for your ‘sauce’ could be bacon and cream or artichoke hearts, capers, herbs and a squeeze of lemon.

Dashi
Dashi is basically a type of Japanese stock that is made from either Kelp or Fish. The most common kind is made from soaking shavings of fermented bonito (fish) flakes – also called katsuobushi. It is mixed with miso paste to make the common miso soup and is used in many Japanese recipes, particularly soups. Dashi flakes can be purchased from most Asian grocers and may be found in some supermarkets in the Asian section. Try this Glazed Eggplant Recipe that uses Dashi.

Feta Cheese

Feta is a white, medium fat, rind-less, curd cheese sold cut into blocks and stored in water or brine. In Greece it is a protected designation of Origin cheese, traditionally made from sheep’s milk or a mixture of sheep and goat’s milk. Many popular cheeses sold today as ‘feta’, are actually made from cow’s milk. The flavour is tangy and salty and can range from mild to sharp. Feta texture is soft and moist which crumbles easily. Cheeses labeled as either Danish or Persian feta are popular in Australia. Both have a very different taste to traditional feta cheese being milder, milkier, whiter and sweeter.  They also have a smoother texture than traditional feta, which makes for a smaller crumb when broken-up and gives them a luscious melt in the mouth quality. Danish feta is a great all-rounder for salads, quiche, pizza, gnocchi and general cooking. It is the cheaper of the two and available at most deli counters in supermarkets. It can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for weeks, covered with water that is changed every few days. Persian feta is more expensive, usually sold in jars, marinating in oil with herbs or spices and is used generally in salads.

Fondant Icing

Fondant icing is a dough like icing made from sugar, water, glycerin and gelatin. It can be bought from most cake decorating stores and is stocked by some supermarkets in the cake baking section. Typically it is bought white and then can be coloured with food colouring at home. Check out this cake recipe which discusses colouring and modelling of fondant for a vege garden themed birthday cake. You can also buy ready coloured fondant, it is just a bit more expensive. Typically fondant icing is used for sculpting decorations on cakes and it can also be rolled out in sheets to cover an entire cake with a smooth finish (typical for wedding cakes).

Garlic

Raw garlic tastes strong, spicy and pungent because it contains allicin and sulphur containing compounds. Unfortunately if you cook garlic at too high a temperature for too long, these will breakdown and become powerfully bitter. To mellow garlics raw flavor it needs to release its sugars and it does this when you cook it either very quickly at a high temperature or very slowly at a low temperature.

Garlic is rich in antioxidants and helps to prevent heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. It also helps to strengthen the immune system and therefore ward off the common cold and can help the body fight cancer. The allicin in garlic is reported to have antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-fungal properties.

Green Papaya

A green papaya is simply an unripe papaya or paw paw. When choosing a green papaya, look for one that is firm and green all over. Ensure you peel your green papaya before shredding. Green Papaya has a fresh crisp taste and is commonly used in Thai cooking, particularly to make a fresh green papaya salad or in curries. It is a rich source of provitamin A, Vitamin C, B Vitamins and dietry fiber. It can be purchased at Asian Grocers or Markets.

Kaffir Lime

Kaffir Lime, also known as kieffer lime, Thai makrut, and limau puru, is a citrus native to Indo-China and Malaysia. The small, warty fruit grow on a thorny bush that has distinctively shaped, double, glossy green leaves, attached end to end.  They are popular in Thai, Indonesian and Cambodian cuisines where the peel, zest and leaves are used as aromatics. Buy the larger, darker, more mature leaves because they have a sharper, more acidic lime-lemon flavor than the younger, smaller ones. The leaves are quite tough and are used either whole to infuse flavor before being removed or are very finely sliced as a pungent garnish or addition to marinades and dressings. To sliver kaffir lime leaves finely, stack a few leaves of similar size together or roll together tightly and slice them diagonally very thinly with a sharp knife. Kaffir Lime leaves can be purchased at most good green grocers, Asian grocers and supermarkets.

Lentils

Lentils, from the Latin word for lens, are tiny legumes that grow on a small climbing vine plant, similar to peas. Nature grows only 2 per pod so they are very precious. At 26% protein and low in fat, they are great for weight watchers and are in the world’s top 5 healthiest foods. Lentils do not need pre-soaking unlike beans and chickpeas.

There are 3 main types of lentils to choose from.

Brown Lentils: These are the most common and cheapest of all lentils. They vary in colour from pale to dark brown and have a mild flavour. They take about 30min to cook.

Red Lentils: These are lentils without their hulls that have then been split. Also known as Mansoor,  Channa or Dahl, they are popular in Middle Eastern, African and Indian cuisines. They vary in colour from crimson, red, gold, orange to canary yellow and have a delicate lightly sweet nutty flavour. They take about 20min to cook.

Green Lentils: The most expensive of the Lentils, coveted by chefs, these are also known as French green, puy or du Puys lentils. These small fat pillows come originally from the volcanic rich soil of the du Puys valley in France. They are a dark speckled blue-green colour with a slightly peppery flavour. They take about 45min to cook from dry.

Black Lentils: Also known as Beluga Lentils. They are an old, almost extinct cultivar and they do exist. They can be found, for example under the label, lenticchie nere delle colline ennesi, from Enna in Sicily. They have an earthy flavour and look like shiny caviar when cooked. Most of the ones on sale outside Italy are not the real black lentils but Urad beans impersonating them and White Lentils are just these naked pretenders without their skins.

Mascarpone Cheese

Mascarpone, often thought of as a thick cream, is actually an Italian cheese made from cream. It has a texture and taste somewhere between a cream cheese and double cream and is used mostly in desserts however is sometimes used in place of cheese or butter to thicken risotto. Mascarpone is the traditional ingredient of Tiramisu (a coffee and liquer soaked sponge dessert). Check out two recipes using Mascarpone here: Tiramisu Cupcakes and Lemon Mascarpone Cake.

Mirin

Mirin is type of sweet rice wine that has about 40-50% sugar. It is lower in alcohol then Sake and is used in Japanese cooking in sauces, dressings and marinades. Because of its sweetness, Mirin is often used to add a sweetness or to counterbalance stronger flavours such as Soy Sauce or Miso Paste. It is one of the main ingredients in the sauces for Soba Noodle Salad (recipe here), Miso Glazed Eggplant (recipe here) and Teriyaki sauce.

Miso Paste

Miso is a Japanese paste made by fermenting soy beans (or less commonly, rice and barley) with a fungus called kōjikin. Miso is a staple of the Japanese kitchen and is mixed with Dashi stock to make the much loved Miso soup. It has a salty and savoury flavour and its flavour profile depends on the time and temperature of fermentation and the region it was made. The two main types of Miso are White Miso, Shiromiso, and Red Miso, Akamiso. White Miso has a yellowish hue and has a milder flavour while Red Miso has a deep earthy colour and is stronger in flavour. Miso can be found in Asian grocers and most supermarkets and must be stored in the fridge after opening. Highly nutritrious, Miso contains protein, vitamin B and antioxidants and has long been revered for its health benefits in Japan. Miso is often used to make sauces and marinades for fish, meats and vegetables, particularly Eggplant. Click here for a Miso Glazed Eggplant Recipe.

Palm Sugar

Palm sugar is made from boiling down the sugary sap of the palmyra palm, date palm or the sugar date palm. It is commonly used in South-East Asian cooking to balance salty flavours in savoury dishes or as an alternative to sugar in sweet dishes. It has a coarse, sticky texture and is sold in blocks or cubes. It is available in Asian Grocers, markets or the Asian section in supermarkets. Grate or shave it with a knife before using in cooking. Use brown sugar if palm sugar in unavailable.

Parmesan Cheese

Parmesan cheese is a pale yellow, sweet, slightly buttery Italian, extra-hard, matured cheese. It should not be overly salty, acid, bitter or piquant. Both Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese are protected brand names under the French Appellation d’Origine Controlée system known as AOC. This means the way they are made, and the region where they are produced (Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna and Mantova) are strictly regulated. Traditionally made from raw cow’s milk, this “King of cheeses” is aged for at least 12 months and has a deep, robust flavour. But many countries make imitation hard cheeses they call Parmesan. It is usually served grated over pasta or soups and mixed in risottos.

Pastry

The two main ingredients that determine the structure of pastry are flour, specifically how you let its gluten develop and fat and how it is incorporated.

Controlling the flour and fat determines if pastry  crumbles, flakes  or laminates in sheets.

Crumble pastries break into small particles which come from minimal gluten development or low protein flour. Any fat can be used including butter, lard, vegetable shortening, oil, chicken, duck or goose fat. Examples are Pate Brisee (savory pastry), Pate Sucree (sweet pastry) & Pate Sablee (sweeter sandy pastry).

Flake pastries break into thin flakes when cooked. They benefit from higher protein flour than crumble pastry and a controlled gluten development. The Fats used are butter, lard or vegetable shortening. The last gives the best flake. Examples are Flaky pastry.

Lamina or sheet pastry is made into thin sheets that shatter into shards when cooked. They require the highest protein flour and controlled gluten development The fats used can be butter, which gives the best flavour, lard or vegetable shortening, which gives the best texture. Examples are Philo (Filo), Pate Feuillete or puff. I recommend you Buy good quality commercial sheet pastry. (For the purists who are right now complaining about this we are more than happy for them to make the 729 layers of moistened flour sandwiched between 728 layers of fat over the several hours required to make a good puff.

Texture is also determined by the amount of moisture added. More tender pastry needs very little moisture, too much results in tough, chewy pastry. Other liquids than water can be used which add additional flavor , sugars, fats and proteins, such as eggs, milk, cream, sour cream, crème fraiche and cream cheese.

Salt is added to pastry for flavour and it tightens gluten.

Tips and tricks for Pastry making:

Pate Sucree is rolled after chilling on a well floured board and roller. It will break up but don’t worry, just get it rolled if you can a bit at a time, flouring as you go. Lift pieces with a pallete knife and just push them together around the mold. It is so buttery its like soft play dough or fudge so when you push edges and bits together they make a solid shell and they cook buttery and tender.    Other pastries types, with less butter, may not seem to have enough ‘wet’ to bring them together. That’s because keeping pastry as dry as possible gives a shorter, richer result and if you live in a very dry climate or are making pastry in the hot dry Australian summer, like us, you will find your flour is drier and therefore lighter than the recipe inventors was. Just add an extra teaspoon or two of cold water to the egg yolk and be grateful you’re not baking in a damp, underground cellared, French kitchen of the 1700’s where most of these recipes were developed. Keep everything cold for the best pastry. You can even freeze the butter and grate it before mixing with the flour. Work quickly and don’t overwork the dough once the egg goes in. Moisture triggers gluten to begin forming and the more gluten the tougher the pastry. Pastry must be cooked at high temperature initially (or without a filling as in ‘cooking’ blind’). This is so the starch can get hot enough to absorb the water quickly from the gluten, to dry and set the crust quickly. Slow cooking (or wet fillings on uncooked pastry) will melt the fat before this process happens and result in a soggy, oily, porous pastry with a slumping protein starch network.

Pate Sable: Mix the flours and salt with a whisk together very lightly and place in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Pate Brisee: Where Pâte Brisée is best suited for lattice and covered pies as well as many other savoury applications With Pâte Brisée you are trying to stop the formation of gluten protein to produce that flaky texture.

Pate Sucree: The French call Sucree, “sweet dough’ and we call it tart dough. The addition of sugar and egg yolks make it rich, crisp and slightly crunchy but also tender and help it stand upright after being un-molded from a tart case. It also browns evenly thanks to the sugar.

Preserved Lemons

Also known as lemon pickle, leems and country lemon. Preserved Lemons are simply a lemon pickle made with salt and water. They are most often used in North African and Moroccan Cuisine. The pickling enhances the intense lemon flavour while retaining just a small amount of tartness. The zest and rind are the most prized but the pulp is also good added to sauces and braises. They can be served in their wedges, sliced or chopped and pair well with fish, spicy foods, artichokes, chicken, rich lamb and game dishes.

Ricotta Cheese

Ricotta is a white, milky dairy by-product made by coagulating the whey left over from the cheese making process. It can be made from sheep, cow, goat or buffalo milk. Ricotta curds are creamy white in appearance and slightly sweet in flavour. Fresh ricotta is often sold in a basin shape or wicker basket shaped plastic mould, or in sealed plastic containers. It is popular as a component in desserts like cheesecakes, cannoli or zucotto and in savoury dishes like lasagne, ravioli, cannelloni, calzone, frittata or pizza. Delicious simply spread on crusty wholegrain toast with figs or bananas and honey for a simple but indulgent breakfast.

Sake

Sake is a Japanese Rice Wine that is a common beverage served hot or cold. It is also a key ingredient in Japanese cooking, used to make sauces and marinades. Try this Miso Glazed Eggplant Recipe that uses Sake in the sauce.

Sesame Seeds

Most cooks have used white sesame seeds but did you know they also come in buff, tan, gold, brown, red, gray and black? We are so spoilt, we take sesame seeds and their oil for granted today. In reality they are the oldest known cultivated seeds (5000yrs+ in India) and there is a world wide shortage of sesame oil because production cannot compete with demand. Just imagine how many sesame seeds are needed to get a small bottle of oil! Black & brown sesame seeds are un-hulled white sesame seeds. Light coloured sesame seeds are used in the West and Middle East, and black sesame seeds in the Far East, so they’re easy to find in Asian grocers. We use them together and separately. All Sesame seeds have a long shelf-life and are rich in both vitamins and minerals but the Black seeds, as well as having more flavour also have more calcium than hulled white seeds. Ground, hulled sesame seeds are called Tahini and are used in Hummus and Middle Eastern sauces.

Soba Noodles

Soba Noodles are a Japanese noodle made from buckwheat and wheat flour. They are traditionally used both cold in salads or in hot soups. Ni-hachi Soba contain 2 parts wheat to 8 parts buckwheat, and Juuwari Soba contain 100% buckwheat and are usually more expensive. There are also flavoured varieties of soba such as Cha Soba (flavoured with green tea) and Hegi Soba (flavoured with seaweed).

Soba Noodles are naturally high in fiber and protein, and are a very nutritious food. They contain all 8 essential amino acids and are therefore are a complete protein source. Buckwheat contains Thiamin that is needed for healthy brain function and healthy skin and hair. It also has a large amount of manganese has been shown to help the body metabolize cholesterol.

Tagines

A tagine or tajine is the name of a cooking pot, traditionally a glazed earthenware dish with a tall conical lid used to both cook and serve food. It is also the name of the dish cooked in it, the deeply aromatic Moroccan flavoured stews of chicken, lamb, vegetable or beef. The clay tajine has an unglazed outside base, which sucks up water when soaked, and releases it into the oven during cooking. This makes them very heavy and unwieldy but, along with the condensing steam inside the clay lid, results in earthy succulent foods. Scientifically, the slow cooking in a sealed unit, rather than the actual clay, is the key to the tajines silky soft texture and moisture. They can also be used on top of the stove but must be kept on a low flames or temperature at all times. Ensure that you soak your tagine in water for 24hours before use.

When purchasing a tagine avoid some of the imported ones from Morocco because they may damage your health. When the baked ceramic glaze is fired at too low a temperature it may still contain lead oxide or cadmium, which can seep into cooking food.

The good news is that a non traditional pot will still give a fantastic result eg any heavy pot with a lid, a solid baking dish covered with foil, even a slow cooker. But if you are culinary romantics like us and in love with the idea of having a traditional tagine, many options are available, in safe clays, metals and enameled cast iron.

Tahini

Tahini, sometimes also known as Tahina, is a smooth, runny paste made from ground, lightly roasted, sesame seeds. It is a common ingredient in Arab, Asian and African cuisines and comes labeled as water hulled, hulled or un-hulled. Water hulled is the lightest in color and sweetest in flavor and we like to buy the organic version of this. The one made with un-hulled seeds is darker in color and stronger in flavor. Tahini is a long shelf-life super-food, a fast acting powerhouse of minerals, vitamins and calcium with more protein than milk, soy or nuts. As well as making hummus, try it on toast and in sandwiches instead of butter. Most food suppliers stock it now but it’s also easy to make at home. Just lightly toast 2, 3 , 4 or 5 cups of sesame seeds, stirring in a warm pan, cool, then blitz in the food processor drizzling in normal olive or vegetable oil. Stop when it is the consistency of thick honey.

Sumac

Sumac is a tangy red middle eastern spice made from the ground berries of Sumac bushes. It has a bright red colour and is lemony in flavour and can be found at middle eastern grocers and is now starting to appear in larger supermarkets.

Tagines

A tagine or tajine is the name of a cooking pot, traditionally a glazed earthenware dish with a tall conical lid used to both cook and serve food. It is also the name of the dish cooked in it, the deeply aromatic Moroccan flavoured stews of chicken, lamb, vegetable or beef. The clay tajine has an unglazed outside base, which sucks up water when soaked, and releases it into the oven during cooking. This makes them very heavy and unwieldy but, along with the condensing steam inside the clay lid, results in earthy succulent foods. Scientifically, the slow cooking in a sealed unit, rather than the actual clay, is the key to the tajines silky soft texture and moisture. They can also be used on top of the stove but must be kept on a low flames or temperature at all times. Ensure that you soak your tagine in water for 24hours before use.

When purchasing a tagine avoid some of the imported ones from Morocco because they may damage your health. When the baked ceramic glaze is fired at too low a temperature it may still contain lead oxide or cadmium, which can seep into cooking food.

The good news is that a non traditional pot will still give a fantastic result eg any heavy pot with a lid, a solid baking dish covered with foil, even a slow cooker. But if you are culinary romantics like us and in love with the idea of having a traditional tagine, many options are available, in safe clays, metals and enameled cast iron.

Tahini

Tahini, sometimes also known as Tahina, is a smooth, runny paste made from ground, lightly roasted, sesame seeds. It is a common ingredient in Arab, Asian and African cuisines and comes labeled as water hulled, hulled or un-hulled. Water hulled is the lightest in color and sweetest in flavor and we like to buy the organic version of this. The one made with un-hulled seeds is darker in color and stronger in flavor. Tahini is a long shelf-life super-food, a fast acting powerhouse of minerals, vitamins and calcium with more protein than milk, soy or nuts. As well as making hummus, try it on toast and in sandwiches instead of butter. Most food suppliers stock it now but it’s also easy to make at home. Just lightly toast 2, 3 , 4 or 5 cups of sesame seeds, stirring in a warm pan, cool, then blitz in the food processor drizzling in normal olive or vegetable oil. Stop when it is the consistency of thick honey.

Tamarind

Tamarind is a tropical evergreen tree native to tropical Africa and commonly used in South-East Asian and Latin American cooking. The fruit of the tamarind tree grows in a long brown pod. It has sour fleshy brownish-reddish pulp with many seeds. The fruit pulp has vitamin B and calcium and tastes fruity, sweet and sour. The fruit is used in many ways to flavour dishes, as sauce or chutney, as a souring flavouring, with sugar added as a dried fruit candy and powdered or fresh squeezed for refreshing drinks. Find tamarind in your Asian Grocer or in some supermarkets. Tamarind paste is the pulp from the ripe pod and tamarind water is made by adding water to the paste and discarding any fruit fibers.

 

6 Responses to Glossary

  1. […] cups cooked Chickpeas (this is the equivalent of 3/4 cup dried or 2 cans, drained) ½ cup Tahini 1 ½ tsp flaked sea salt (less if using table salt) cracked black pepper juice of 1 ½ lemons (6 […]

  2. […] of my favourite quick and easy meals to make is soba noodle salad. The nutty wholegrain soba noodles, made from buckwheat, have a wonderful flavour that goes […]

  3. […] 1 long red chilli, deseeded, finely sliced 1 clove garlic, finely sliced 2 kaffir lime leaves, finely sliced pinch flaked sea salt cracked pepper juice 1 […]

  4. […] of coriander leaves, roughly chopped 2 tbsp palm sugar* (or substitute with brown sugar) 1 tbsp tamarind water (or 1tsp tamarind paste mixed with 1 tsp water)* 1 tbsp fish […]

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