A list of the most commonly used terms that you will most-often see in a menu. These terms are usually exact words or derivations from their originating country’s cuisine, so the country of origin is listed along with the term.
Ahi is the Hawaiian name for yellowfin and bigeye tuna.
Aioli is garlic-infused mayonnaise and a specialty of Provence. It is served as a condiment with meats, fish, and vegetables and it is used to thicken soups.
Beignets, which means “fritters” in French. These yeast pastries, deep fried and served hot, are a traditional specialty of New Orleans. They can be savory or sweet.
Bocconcini means “a mouthful” and refers to small nuggets of fresh mozzarella. It can also describe tempting Italian dishes.
Brodetto is the name most often used for fish soup along Italy’s Adriatic coast. On the Tuscan coast, fish soup is called caciucco while on the Riviera, ciuppin. The profusion of names, though, does not begin to capture the variety of Italian fish soups, a special recipe for which each town and everyone of its families creates.
A flaky pastry like filo is stuffed with cheese and baked.
Carpaccio presents shavings of raw meat fillet, drizzled with olive oil. Traditionally, the raw item was beef fillet served with lemons and a mayonnaise or mustard sauce and garnished with capers. Nowadays, you can find all sorts of carpaccio including tuna, venison, buffalo, and even ostrich. Incidentally, the name is a tribute to the Renaissance painter Vittore Carpaccio, who was quite liberal in his use of blood-red paint.
Soba is a noodle made from buckwheat and wheat flour. Cha is Japanese for tea. Chasoba is soba made with green tea powder.
A specialty of the Gascony region, confit is a preserved food item, usually a meat like duck, goose, or pork. The meat is salted and cooked slowly in its own fat. It is then packed into a pot and covered with the cooking fat, which works as a seal and preservative. Confit as a preparation is not applied to meat alone. For example, a head of garlic or a lemon can be cooked and preserved in oil or lard.
Consommé, a clarified broth made from meat or fish stock, can be served hot or cold or used as a base for soups and sauces.
Originally coulis referred to the juice of cooked meat, but now the definition is broader. A coulis is a thick purée or sauce, which can be made from fruits or vegetables — like tomatoes or raspberries — as well as meat. Coulis can also describe a thick, puréed seafood soup.
Prominent in Mexican cooking, this herb (some would say weed), which is also known as pigweed and Jerusalem oak, has a pungent smell, a strong taste, and, like cilantro, can take some getting used to.
Foie gras is the oversized liver of a goose or duck (goose is preferred) that has been force fed for four to five months. Because the specially-bred fowl are not allowed to exercise, the livers become huge and fatty. Pâté de foie gras by law must contain 80 percent pureed goose liver and could also contain items like pork liver, truffles, or eggs. Often paired with truffles, both are characteristic of the cuisine of the Périgord region of France.
Fumet is the name of a variety of concetrated liquids that are used to enhance the flavor or body of stocks and sauces. Fumets are made by boiling chicken or fish or mushrooms or vegetables (depending on the kind of fumet you’re making) in stock or wine.
A galette is a round, flat cake made from flaky-pastry, yeast dough, or unleavened dough. It is the traditional cake made for Twelfth Night celebrations in France. The term is also used for a variety of savory and sweet tarts.
Granita is the Italian term for an ice made of water, sugar, and a flavoring such as wine, coffee, or fruit juice.
These thin, sweet, fan-shaped wafers are often served with desserts like puddings and ice creams. Sometimes, their surface is waffled and sometimes, they’re folded to form an ice cream cone. Gaufrettes made from potatoes (gaufrettes pommes de terre) are latticed crips.
As agriculture became big business in the U.S., the focus on plant hybrids caused a depletion in the variety of native, non-hybrid plants. About 25 years ago, some farmers became convinced that diversity and flavor were being sacrificed to the corporate need for uniform, pretty produce tough enough to stand trans-continental transport to the supermarket. They started saving and growing the old-fashioned, open-pollinated (without human intervention) seed varieties. These are now known as heirloom seeds, and their offspring are available in specialty produce and farmers markets.
Also called Peking sauce, hoisin sauce, is a mixture of garlic, soybeans, chiles and various spices. It is thick, reddish-brown, spicy-sweet and used often in Chinese cooking.
When herbs or fruit or tea leaves are seeped in a hot liquid, like water or milk, the result is an “infusion” (all teas are infusions).
Jicama is sometimes called a Mexican Potato. It is, after all, a root vegetable with a light brown skin and white flesh. Unlike a potato, though, its nutty, apple-like flavor tempts when served raw or cooked.
Fished in Europe, John Dory is a strange looking fish with a big head and a flat, oval body. This midl-flavored fish is rarely exported to the U.S.; good substitutes for it are flounder, porgy, and sole.
Jus, the French word for juice, can refer to fruit, vegetable juices, and meat juices. When a dish (generally a meat dish) is served au jus, it is served with its own juices.
A member of the mustard family, mizuna is a Japanese bitter green with spiky leaves. It is often mixed into mesclun
Shellfish may be prepared a la nage, literally “swimming.” They are cooked in a court-bouillon flavored with herbs and served hot or cold in this broth.
A thin, oval piece of meat, usually veal or beef, that is quickly sautéed or grilled.
Pâté names a mixture of ground meats and meat fats, game or liver, truffles and perhaps, butter, port, Madeira or cognac, herbs and spices. It can be smooth or coarse. If the mixture is served cold, in its baking dish or molded in aspic (a savory jelly), it can be called a pâté or a terrine. Pâté en croûte is pâté inside of a pastry crust. A galantine is a bird that has been boned and stuffed with pâté.
This Italian bacon is cured with spices and salt, but it is not smoked. It is slightly salty, very tasty, and comes in a sausage-like roll.
These small turnovers or dumplings have an infinite number of filling, savory and sweet. They can be baked of fried. Pirogis are bigger pirojkis.
French for a small, young chicken.
Literally “pot on fire,” this is a dish of meat and vegetables that have been slowly cooked together in water. The rich broth which results is served with croutons as a first course. Then, the meat and vegetables are served as an entrée. The combination of meats and vegetables varies by region. If the meat has bones with marrow, the marrow may be served on toast as another course before the entrée.
These light dumplings of seasoned ground fish, meat or vegetables are bound with eggs and poached in stock.
This classic French sauce mixes mustard, capers, gherkins, herbs and anchovies with mayonnaise. It is served chilled.
Food that has been fried to a crisp.
An Italian rice specialty, risotto is prepared by mixing hot stock into arborio rice (short, fat, Italian-grown rice) that has been sautéed in butter. Risottos can take many forms; some are soupy, others rich and solid.
A French sauce whose name translates literally as “rust.” Chiles, garlic, bread crumbs and olive oil are pounded into a spicy, rust-colored paste and lightened with fish stock. It often garnishes bouillabaisse.
For a roulade, meat is thinly sliced and rolled around a savory filling. The packet is secured with a string or pick, browned, then braised or baked in stock or wine. In Italy, it is called braciola and in Germany, rouladen. A roulade can also be a dessert made with an airy egg-white mix, like a souffle, that’s spread in a jelly roll pan, baked until firm but moist, slathered with a sweet or savory filling and rolled up.
Salsify, a root vegetable, is also called an oyster plant because of its delicate, oyster-ish flavor. Shaped like a parsnip, a salsify usually has white flesh and greyish skin (there are other varieties with golden skin and black skin).
This jagged leaf of the perilla plant is widely used in Japanese cooking.
Tadziki is a cool salad of cucumber and yogurt seasoned with mint, garlic, and sometimes a spritz of lemon.
Tagine, like terrine, names both a pot and a dish. It is an earthenware pot with a distinctive, conical lid as well as a spicy meat or poultry stew.
This creamy spread is made by mixing tarama, the pale orange roe of carp, with lemon juice, olive oil, milk-soaked bread crumbs, and seasoning.
This potato-esque root has brown skin and grayish flesh that is sometimes tinged with purple. Grown in tropical regions, it is important in the diets of West Africa, the Caribbean, and the Polynesian islands. When cooked, taro root has a nutty flavor. The large edible leaves of the root, called Callaloo in the Caribbean, can be prepared like mustard or turnip greens.
Tartare is raw meat (beef, tuna, salmon, etc.) that is coarsely ground or finely chopped and seasoned with salt, pepper, and herbs.
A terrine is a molding dish used for pâté, which can be made of coarsely- or smoothly- ground meat, fish, mushrooms, or whatever. It used to be that when a pâté was served in its dish, it was called a terrine. Today, the terms pâté and terrine are used interchangeably.
Timbale names a drum-shaped, tapered mold and a dish cooked in such a mold. The dish Timbale usually bakes custard, risotto, or forcemeat into the timbale mold. Once turned out of the mold, the dish is served with a sauce like béchamel.
Tournedos is a piece of beef about 1 inch thick and 2-1/2 inches in diameter that has been cut from the tenderloin. It is a very lean cut of beef.
A tuile, the word for “tile” in French, is a thin cookie that is rounded while hot (by being placed over a curved object, like a cup or rolling pin, or by being baked in a tuile mold) so that when cooled and hardened it looks like a curved roof tile. A traditional tuile is made from crushed almonds.
This puff pastry is shaped like a pot with a lid. It can be small or large and is traditionally filled with a cream-sauce mixture and chicken, fish, meat or vegetables. Vol-au-vent means “flying in the wind,” and is meant to describe the lightness of this pastry pot.
This delicate, all-purpose dessert combines egg yolks, sugar, and Marsala over simmering water until they thicken into a frothy custard. It is known in France as sabayon.
(Middle East and North Africa)
Zahtar mixes sesame seeds, powdered sumac, and dried thyme for a spice blend that’s used to flavor meats and vegetables. It is also mixed with oil and used as a spread for bread.