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buffet Glossary

All you can eat Guide for Thailand

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A French term referring to a light alcoholic drink taken before a meal. Ideally an aperitif should stimulate the appetite and tantalise the palate, preparing it for greater things to come. The French often enjoy a glass of pastis before a meal.

Other popular aperitifs include drinks based on wine (for example, vermouth) or alcohol (for example, anise, bitters) and certain spirits and liqueurs. Arak (an aniseed-flavoured clear spirit) is drunk as an aperitif in some Arabic countries, ouzo in Greece and a glass of fino or manzanilla sherry in Spain.

Amaretti Meaning 'little bitter things' in Italian, amaretti are small almond biscuits similar to macaroons. Some are made using ground sweet and bitter almonds, baked with egg and sugar, others from ground apricot kernels. They're light and airy, crunchy on the outside and chewy in the middle.

Serve them as an after-dinner treat with sweet wine or liqueurs. They can be used instead of sponge fingers in trifles and tiramisu, or ground up and used in cakes and desserts. Amarettini are the mini version. For an easy dessert, sandwich them together with buttercream, or serve a large plateful alongside your favourite ice cream so guests can just dip in.

Antipasto An Italian word, meaning ‘before the meal’, these delicious plates of hot and cold starters are the equivalent of French hors d'oeuvres. A mixture of antipasti could include platters of cheeses, smoked meats, salamis, olives, a selection of seafood, marinated vegetables and various breads with olive oil for dipping. Although it's all too easy to eat for Italy, they're dishes intended to whet the appetite, not to sate it!



A versatile and widely used aromatic herb. There are numerous species of basil; some have scents reminiscent of pineapple, lemon, cinnamon or cloves; others have beautiful purple leaves. The plant grows well in warm climates and is widely used throughout southern Europe, particularly the Mediterranean, and in many parts of Asia.

The variety called holy basil (tulsi) is an essential part of an authentic Thai curry. In Mediterranean regions, basil and tomato are a classic combination. Pesto, made from basil leaves and pine nuts, with parmesan or pecorino cheese and olive oil (traditionally pounded together in a mortar and pestle) is another classic dish.

Balsamic Vinegar A dark-brown syrupy vinegar with a smooth sweet-sour flavour, produced in the Modena region of Italy. It's made from reduced grape juice that's aged in wooden casks. The best quality balsamic vinegar can be more than 100 years old but is more commonly sold at three to four years of age.

True balsamic vinegars are very expensive but have an exceptional flavour. Balsamic vinegars made on a commercial basis are less pricey (although still fairly expensive) but luckily a little goes along way. Use with a dash of olive oil for a subtle salad dressing or add a few drops to meaty stews, when frying steak or chops or in marinades. Alternatively, lightly sprinkle sliced strawberries with it. It really brings out the flavour of the fruit.

Bay Leaves The aromatic leaf from the bay laurel tree, it is an essential component of the classic bouqet garni: parsley, thyme and a bay leaf. It's one of the few herbs that doesn't lose its flavour when dried. Although fresh leaves are becoming more widely available, they're usually sold dried.

The dried bay leaves are more strongly flavoured than fresh ones, but the uses for both are the same. The bittersweet, spicy leaves impart their pungent flavour to a variety of dishes and ingredients, making bay a versatile store-cupboard ingredient. Bay leaves can be used to flavour vinegars, in pickling and in marinades or to flavour pâtés.

Brisket A cut of beef taken from just below the shoulder along the length of the chest/breast. It's a fairly firm cut, so it's inexpensive, and benefits from long, slow cooking. Sold on the bone, or boned and rolled, it's often cooked in one piece. Delicious pot-roasted, poached or braised and used in casseroles or stews.
Bolognese sauce Ragù Bolognese, often known simply as ragù, is the all-purpose thick Italian sauce made from minced beef and tomatoes. It can form the basis of lasagne or be served with spaghetti. Slow cooking is the key, until the sauce has reduced to a thick, mahogany richness.


Calzone A pizza that's folded in half and baked so that the filling is enclosed completely - similar to a Cornish pasty or turnover. Calzones are usually made as a single serving. It's popular street food in Italy, particularly in Naples where pizza is said to have originated. People fold them in quarters and eat them with their hands while they're on the go.
Canapés The term 'canapé' means sofa or settee in French - so traditionally canapés were little platforms of pastry or buttered, fried or toasted bread for tasty things to sit on. It now encompasses all kinds of bite-sized appetizers that can be eaten with the fingers, leaving the other hand free to hold a drink.
Capers The pickled flower buds of the caper bush, which grows wild all over the Mediterranean. Fresh capers are picked and immediately preserved in brine or wine vinegar, or are packed in salt (these should be rinsed before use to remove any excess salt). Their tangy, bitter flavour adds piquancy to many sauces and condiments, such as tartare sauce, and they're a good match for fish. They can be used as a garnish for meat and vegetable dishes and in tapenade. Caperberries are well developed capers, slightly larger and a little sweeter. They're often sold with the stalk left on and can be used in the same way as capers.
Chowder A thick, chunky seafood soup from North America, of which clam chowder is the best known. The word chowder comes from the French 'chaudière' - a heavy, three-legged iron cauldron in which fishermen made stews fresh from their day's catch. Chowder is believed to have originated in French Canada and made its way down the coast to New England.
Cinnamon This warm, sweet spice comes from the bark of a tree native to Sri Lanka. The bark is removed, dried and rolled up to make a tube. Cinnamon is sold dry as sticks and as a powder. You can try to grind your own cinnamon from the bark but it's difficult to get it fine enough. It's best to buy ground cinnamon in small quantities because the freshness and flavour quickly disappear. The warm, sweet flavour of cinnamon is an essential ingredient in many sweet dishes, but it's also used in savoury dishes. It's gorgeous in baked goods, used to flavour buns, cakes, sweet pastries and puddings. Baked apples or apple pies wouldn't be the same without the flavour of cinnamon.
Clotted Cream Thick, rich and indulgent with the consistency of soft butter, clotted cream is made by heating normal cream to evaporate some of the liquids. It has at least 55 per cent butter fat giving it a pale yellow colour, often topped with a deeper yellow crust. It's traditionally made in Devon and Cornwall and served with scones or desserts or made into ice cream. If you buy an ice cream in Devon or Cornwall it's usual for your ice cream to be topped off with a spoonful of clotted cream.
Cloves Cloves are the dried flower buds of an evergreen tree native to eastern Indonesia. It's a versatile spice that can be used in drinks and in sweet and savoury dishes. The pungent, sweet flavour of the clove lends itself perfectly to meats such as beef or venison, as well as fruits such as apples, oranges and plums and to pickled vegetables. Spike an onion with cloves and place it into a meat stew or casserole, add a few cloves to chilli con carne, spice up boiled rice or pop a clove into a bouquet garni. When baking a ham, spike the boiled ham with cloves so that the flavour permeates the meat during baking. Apples and cloves are a perfect combination and cloves are also an essential ingredient of mulled wine or warm punches.
Crème Brûlée A rich custard dessert covered with a hard caramel glaze. The glaze should be just thick enough so it gives a lovely crackle and shatters when gently tapped with a spoon. To produce the perfect golden-brown crust it helps to have a blow torch, but a very hot preheated grill will do a pretty good job. A good tip is to make the custard ahead of time and keep it well chilled, then sprinkle with sugar just before you put it under the grill. This will prevent the sugar from sinking into the warm custard and resulting in a poor glaze.
Crêpe Thin French pancake, served with sweet or savoury fillings or toppings. The best known is crêpes Suzette, which are crêpes served with a sauce made from fresh orange juice, orange zest, sugar, butter and Grand Marnier, flamed at the table before serving.

If you invest in a proper crêpe pan it can make life easier - it's a short-sided frying pan about 20cm/8in across. The non-stick versions are best.

Crêpes can be served as soon as they're made but they can be pre-made. Layer each crêpe between a sheet of greaseproof paper then wrap them in cling film and either store them in the fridge for use the next day. They freeze well, too, for up to a month.

Croûtons Small cubes of bread that have been fried and then drained and cooled. As they cool, they develop a crisp texture and are used as a garnish for soups or in salads such as Caesar salad or fattoush. In salads, add them at the last minute to prevent them from going soggy, and leave them out if the salad is served with a starchy meal such as pasta, potatoes or rice. They can also be used for stuffings.


Dim Sum The collective term for an array of little dishes eaten mainly by southern and Hong Kong Chinese and served in tea houses and restaurants all day long. It's sometimes called 'yum cha' after the Chinese tradition of taking tea, and tea is the drink usually served with dim sum.

Sometimes served from trolleys that are wheeled around the dining room, dim sum comprises a variety of small steamed or deep-fried dumplings with different fillings, but also other tasty morsels such as steamed spare ribs, rice in lotus leaves, stuffed peppers, fried whole prawns and steamed or fried meat or vegetable buns.

Double Cream Cows' milk contains butterfat which is removed from milk using a centrifuge system. The longer the milk is centrifuged, the thicker the cream becomes.

Double cream is very rich, with a fat content of 48 per cent, making it the most versatile cream because it withstands boiling, whips and freezes well. Take care not to whip it too much though, because it goes grainy and separates. And if you keep whipping you'll end up with butter! It will keep for up to five days in the fridge.

Serve it with desserts for pouring or spooning over fruit salad, cake or puddings, or use it as the basis for desserts - whipped up in a trifle, on top of a pavlova, mousse, crème brûlée, soufflé or cheesecake.


Escalope A thin slice of boneless meat, often beaten even thinner for quick cooking. It's cut from the leaner parts of certain animals, in particular veal, pork and turkey. It can also be used to refer to thick slices of fish with a strip of skin on one side. The classic method of preparing veal escalopes is to coat them with breadcrumbs before frying them.


Falafel A popular Middle Eastern street food made of spiced chickpea fritters, often served in warm pitta bread with tahini sauce. It's often served as part of a selection of hot meze dishes.
Feta Cheese A creamy white Greek cheese traditionally made from ewes' milk or ewes' and goats' milk mixed together (but now sometimes made using cows' milk) and preserved in brine or oil. It has quite a salty flavour but it shouldn't be so salty that it detracts from the flavour of the cheese. If you want to remove some of the saltiness, just soak the cheese in milk or water for a couple of minutes.

In Greek cooking feta is used mostly for gratins and pastries and, of course, the classic Greek salad. It holds its shape quite well so can be carefully skewered and grilled or barbecued. Cut it in cubes and serve as a snack with olives and crusty bread. You can buy feta pre-packed in most supermarkets or it's available ready-cubed in jars of oil, often flavoured with herbs.

Fettuccine Long flattish noodle-shaped pasta, similar to tagliatelle. A very good pasta to serve with oil or butter-based sauces because the sauce goes a long way to coat the pasta evenly and also helps to prevent the strands of pasta from clumping together.
Fillet The term used to describe a boneless, lean cut of meat, fish or poultry. Fillet of beef is a prime cut and different parts of it are called different names depending on which part of the fillet they're cut from, including filet mignon, tournedos and châteaubriand. You also 'fillet' a fish to remove the bones.
Flan An open pie with a pastry base containing a sweet or savoury filling in a custard of eggs and cream. Spinach flan or leek and bacon flan are examples. In Spain and Latin America 'flan' is used to refer to the egg custard dessert that we know as crème caramel.
Foie Gras Literally French for ‘fat liver’, this term refers to the rich pâté made from the liver of ducks and geese that have been force-fed and fattened until their livers become enlarged.

The south-west of France is the major foie gras producing area and the method of production isn't practised in Britain. After preparation, the livers are soaked overnight before being marinated in Armagnac, port or Madeira, depending on the chef's recipe.

Foie gras is sold fresh or cooked. For cooked foie gras, the livers are baked in a bain-marie and then chilled. It's a great French delicacy, and very expensive. Foie gras has a rich flavour and the texture is silky smooth. It's usually served in thin slices at the start of a meal with a sweet wine. It has become more widely available to buy in recent years - fresh or mi-cuit (partially preserved) and in cans.

As it's such a luxury it's best eaten simply, just spread on toasted brioche. Small slices can be fried and used to top meat or fish dishes.

Fondue A glorious Swiss dish of melted cheese and wine served at the table in a large pot (also called a fondue) set over a burner to keep the cheese warm. Each person spears bite-size pieces of bread with a long-handled fork and dips it into the melted cheese. It's a dish associated with ski chalet cuisine - perfect for eating when you get back tired and weary from the slopes!

Classic dinner party fare during the 1950s and 1960s, it's now enjoying something of a revival. The classic cheeses to use are gruyère and emmental flavoured with kirsch or white wine - the alcohol keeps the cheese below boiling point so it can be heated without going stringy. It’s best to stir the fondue occasionally as you eat so the cheese and wine don’t separate. Rubbing garlic around the pot adds a hint of flavour.

Other types of fondue include fondue bourguignon in which cubes of beef are dipped in hot oil at the table until cooked, and then eaten with dips and sauces; and chocolate fondue served with fresh fruit and biscuits for dipping. If you do a lot of entertaining it might be worth investing in a fondue set which includes the pot, stand, burner and forks.

Fontina A very popular semi-soft Italian cows'-milk cheese, fontina is deep golden yellow in colour with a reddish brown rind. It has a firm, slightly springy texture and melts easily, so is great to cook with. It has a delicate flavour and makes a good dessert cheese. When fully matured, it can be grated and used like Parmesan.
French Dressing Also known as vinaigrette (French for 'little vinegar') this is a fairly thick salad dressing made from a mixture of olive oil, wine vinegar (red, white or balsamic) and salt and pepper to which various flavourings can be added such as herbs, mustard, honey or chilli.

The standard ratio is three parts oil to one part vinegar but it's best to experiment until you find a combination you like.

Drizzle it over raw or warm salads, or salad starters such as avocado halves or pan-fried asparagus. There are plenty of ready-made bottled versions to try, but it's very quick and easy to make - just put all the ingredients in a jar and shake well.


Gelatine A product derived from the bones of animals, and used as a setting agent for sweet or savoury jellies and pudding fillings. Gelatine comes in powder form or in leaves and is tasteless.

Powdered gelatine is sprinkled over cold water and left to soak and swell before being stirred into hot liquid to dissolve.

Leaf gelatine is soaked in a little cold liquid for a few minutes to soften it, then the excess liquid is squeezed out before adding hot liquid to dissolve it. Agar-agar is the vegetarian alternative.

Gratin A gratin is any dish that's topped with cheese or breadcrumbs mixed with knobs of butter, then heated in the oven or under the grill until brown and crisp. The terms 'au gratin' or 'gratinée' refer to any dish prepared in this way. Special round or oval gratin pans and dishes are ovenproof and shallow, which increases a dish's surface area, thereby ensuring a larger crispy portion for each serving!
Gravy Traditionally, 'gravy' meant simply the naturally concentrated juices that come from meat as it roasts. The juices can also be combined with a liquid such as chicken or beef stock, wine or milk and thickened with flour, cornflour or some other thickening agent to make a thicker, more sauce-like gravy.

Although it frightens a lot of people, making gravy just needs a little practice to get right. Simply add enough flour to the fat and juices in the roasting pan and stir over the heat until the flour has browned and you've scraped any sediment loose. Add up to 570ml (1 pint) of stock and, using a balloon whisk, stir until boiling. Season to taste and simmer for a couple of minutes.

Guacamole A Mexican dish of mashed avocado mixed with lemon or lime juice and various seasonings (usually chilli powder and red pepper). Sometimes finely chopped tomato, onion and coriander leaf are added. You can make it as chunky or as smooth as you like.

Guacamole can be used as a dip, sauce, topping or side dish. It's delicious as a topping for burgers or jacket potatoes and is usually served as an accompaniment to fajitas, along with soured cream.

If you're making it in advance, cover well with cling film because avocado goes brown quite quickly once it’s exposed to the air.


Halibut By far the largest of all flatfish, halibut is available mostly in steaks, fillets and cutlets. Its firm, meaty white flesh has a delicious flavour but, as it can dry out quite easily, it needs careful cooking and is probably best prepared with plenty of liquid, such as melted butter or olive oil for basting, and served with a sauce. Allow a 200g fillet or steak per person. If you can't find halibut then turbot is a suitable substitute. Cook until the flesh has turned opaque and is just starting to flake.
Hummus A Middle Eastern chickpea purée made from cooked crushed chickpeas flavoured with tahini (pounded sesame seeds), oil, garlic and lemon juice. As part of Arabic mezze it's served as a dip with hot pitta bread.

In Egypt hummus is often flavoured with cumin. If you’ve got a blender or food processor then it’s very quick and easy to make your own hummus - use dried, soaked chickpeas rather than canned for a better flavour.


Irish Coffee A coffee drink made from strong black coffee, sugar and Irish whiskey, topped with fresh whipped cream and sometimes garnished with a coffee bean. It's served in a warmed Irish coffee glass - a tall glass with a handle.


Jambalaya A spicy Cajun rice dish popular throughout the American south but most often attributed to the cooking of New Orleans. There are lots of variations but essentially it's made with rice, ham or sausage, chicken, prawns, chillies, tomatoes and other vegetables.


Kebab A kebab is essentially small chunks of meat threaded onto a skewer and grilled or cooked over coals. Kebabs can be served on their own with dips or sauces, with rice, or removed from the skewer and used to stuff an open pitta bread.

Kebabs are part of the culinary tradition of the Caucasus, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and other parts of Asia, as well as numerous other cuisines. Vegetables can be used instead of or as well as meat. Kebabs are particularly good for barbecuing because you can satisfy all kinds of tastes on a single skewer - from veggie kebabs to chicken, lamb, beef or fruit.

A kofta kebab is made using flavoured, minced meat that is formed in a long sausage shape around the skewer. A doner kebab is thin slices of marinated lamb packed tightly onto a revolving vertical spit to form a solid mass from which slices of meat are cut off the outside as it browns and used to fill an open pitta bread along with salad and hot sauce.


Ladies' Fingers An alternative name (because of its appearance) for okra, an ingredient that's widely used in Indian, Middle Eastern, Caribbean and southern US cookery where it's an essential ingredient in gumbo.

A long green pod with a slightly fuzzy skin, it's full of edible creamy seeds. Okra exudes a glutinous juice in cooking which thickens stews and braised dishes. It's not as popular in the UK as elsewhere but is usually available in supermarkets and grocers. Choose stems that snap cleanly and don't bend.

Okra can be eaten raw in salads or cooked with curries or vegetable stews - add a handful of chopped okra to a ratatouille.

Lasagne Rectangular sheets of Italian pasta, about the size of a standard envelope. The baked dish that incorporates them is also called lasagne and is usually prepared with alternate layers of Bolognese sauce, lasagne sheets and béchamel sauce, topped with grated Parmesan cheese and baked in the oven until browned.

Lasagne can be made with many different fillings, such as roasted vegetables, spinach, aubergine, fish or chicken. A simple tomato sauce could be used in place of béchamel or different cheeses can be grated on top.

There are various types of lasagne sheets to choose from - the simplest is made from durum wheat semolina and water. Lasagne all'uovo is made with eggs and is slightly ridged. Lasagne verde is made with spinach and is dark green in colour. Lasagne sheets are available fresh, semi-fresh or dried and some need to be pre-cooked in boiling water for a few minutes before baking, so it's best to follow the packet instructions to get it right.

Linguine A flattened spaghetti-like pasta. It's best served with a medium-thick sauce which will cling to the thin strands well. Cream-based sauces go well with linguine and it's often served with seafood. Allow about 75g/2½oz of pasta a person. Use spaghetti if you can't find linguine, although it's available from most supermarkets either fresh or dried.


Macaroon 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.
Madeleine 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.
Margarine 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.

Aside from this, margarine is a highly processed food made by combining water and vegetable oils and usually containing emulsifiers, preservatives, additives, artificial colourings and flavourings and salt.

There are many types available using different fats and with differing flavours and uses. Some are purely vegetable-based, containing no animal products at all, and are labelled dairy-free or vegan. Others contain a mixture of animal and vegetable fats. Some are designed for spreading, and others are hard and designed for baking so always read the packaging before cooking with margarine.

Mascarpone 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.

Serve it with fresh fruit, use it in cheesecakes, as a cake filling, or as a topping for desserts.

Mascarpone is an essential ingredient in the Italian coffee trifle tiramisu. It can be flavoured with various ingredients such as lemon or lime juice and zest, crushed nuts or dried fruits to add taste and texture.

Minestrone 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.
Mint Sauce A thin savory sauce made from chopped mint, vinegar and sugar, traditionally served in England as an accompaniment to roast lamb.
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.

It has a unique taste that doesn't fit into the existing categories of sweet, sour, bitter and salty and has been labelled 'umami'.

Some people have reactions to MSG that cause them to suffer from a variety of symptoms, including dizziness, headache, flushing and burning sensations. This has caused many food writers to advise against adding it to food and in some countries it's banned as an additive in baby food.

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

Mozzarella is now also made predominantly from cows' milk and is made all over Italy as well as in other countries, including the UK (where some producers are making mozzarella from water buffalo milk). It's a firm but creamy cheese that tastes like fresh milk with a slightly sour edge to it. It melts well and has a unique stretchiness, making it the classic pizza topping cheese.

It's too soft to grate but cut thin slices and layer them in pasta bakes or put a slice on top of pieces of meat or chicken before grilling them. Italy's classic salad - insalata Caprese - is made with slices of mozzarella and ripe tomatoes drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and scattered with torn basil leaves and a little salt.

Mozzarella is sold in rounds about the size of a small fist. Because it has no rind it's packed in plastic bags, surrounded by water to keep it fresh. You're more likely to find buffalo mozzarella from good delis or cheese shops and also look out for small mozzarella balls called 'bocconcini' which are sold in tubs.


Noodles 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.

Noodles are made from flour that is the staple food of the area, so they can be made from wheat flour, mung bean flour, buckwheat flour, potato flour or rice flour.

Chinese egg noodles, made with wheat flour, can be used in soups, stir-fries or in sauces for dishes using shredded meats, prawns or vegetables. Mung bean flour is used to make thin bean cellophane noodles which can be served as a noodle dish with a sauce or served with rice.

Rice noodles are used in soups or in meat and vegetable sauce dishes. They're perfect store cupboard ingredients - quick to cook and very versatile.

Nutmeg 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.


Olive The small oval fruit of the olive tree, widely cultivated in Mediterranean countries such as Spain, Italy, France and Greece.

Olives are harvested and preserved in oil or brine at various stages of their development. The early olives are green, while the later, more mature olives are black but there are hundreds of varieties and more shades of colour in between.

They all taste very different; black olives tend to have a more intense flavour. Kalamata olives are rich purple, almond-shaped olives grown in southern Greece; Spanish green olives have a milder flavour but because of their large size, they're often stuffed with anchovies or almonds.

Experiment with different varieties until you find a favourite. The fleshy pulp of the fruit is also the source of olive oil. The whole fruit is available in a variety of guises: flavoured, stuffed, stoned or with stones, in oil or in brine, sliced or whole. They’re used a great deal in Mediterranean cuisine, as hors d'oeuvres, in salads, stuffings, sauces or dips such as tapenade and as an ingredient in main dishes.

Olive Oil Pressed from olives, this is a rich, fruity oil used for marinades, dressings, baking and shallow frying. Hundreds of varieties of olive are used to make olive oil so the range available is huge, varying in colour, flavour, aroma and character.

Produced mainly in France, Spain, Italy and Greece, olive oil is similar to wine in that it varies with the climate, country, area of origin and seasonal factors. The oil from the first pressing is pure, pale greenish-yellow in colour and is the best quality. This is sold as 'extra virgin' olive oil and is best used for salads, marinades and pasta dishes.

The pulp is then pressed again to yield a darker oil that is less flavoursome than the first pressing and sold just as 'olive oil' or 'pure olive oil'. Olive oil has many health-promoting properties because it's relatively high in monounsaturates. Picking up on this fact, food manufacturers have turned to making spreads similar to margarine but containing up to 20 per cent olive oil.

Olive oil can be bought with additions such as herbs, garlic or chilli. Store it in a cool dark place away from direct sunlight but not in the fridge or it will turn cloudy.

Oregano A pungent green culinary herb with a great affinity for a variety of foods, from lamb to vegetables, stuffings and egg dishes. There are many species and varieties of the genus Origanum, each with quite different characteristics and flavours.

Oregano is closely related to marjoram. It grows wild in many parts of southern Europe and the Mediterranean and some parts of Asia. It's characteristic of many Greek dishes (particularly lamb) and in the UK is often sprinkled liberally on pizzas.

Oregano grows easily in well protected areas in the UK. Because of its high oil content, it retains its flavour and aroma when dried. You can replace dried oregano for fresh, but reduce the amount used by about half. Dried oregano is a kitchen essential, but ensure you replace it frequently, because it quickly loses its pungency. Oregano is one of the herbs in the mixture called herbes de Provence.


Pancetta An Italian type of bacon produced from belly of pork which is seasoned, then rolled up and dry cured. Flat slabs of pancetta are also available and this is normally how you'd find it in Italy.

It can be bought in the UK pre-packed and either in cubes (cubetti di pancetta) or slices, the latter often smoked. The cubes are fried and used in soffrito (the Italian version of a mirepoix) to give a base flavour to dishes or incorporated in pasta dishes such as spaghetti carbonara.

Sliced pancetta can be served as part of a selection of cold meats, or grilled until crisp and then crumbled over pasta, rice, salads and soups. Wrap pieces of fish, chicken or meat in slices of pancetta and oven-bake them, or use it as a pizza topping. Thinly sliced, unsmoked, streaky bacon rashers will make a suitable substitute if you can't get pancetta.

Panna Cotta The name for this cold dessert from Italy means 'cooked cream', although not all recipes call for the cream to be actually cooked.

To make panna cotta, cream is added to gelatine and then flavoured, usually with vanilla or cinnamon but sometimes with alcohol or other flavourings. The mixture is then cooled until it sets and is served with a sweet sauce.

Parmesan Originating from around Parma in the north-west of Italy, this is one of the world’s best-known cheeses. It's stamped with the official Parmigiano Reggiano mark as a guarantee of origin. Fragrant and tangy, it has a hard, grainy texture and a buttery yellow colour. Buy fresh parmesan where possible; the taste is far superior to pre-packed cheese - and avoid ready-grated cheese at all costs.

Grate Parmesan into cooked dishes, add it to risotto, serve a generous chunk on its own with fruit after a meal, or use a potato peeler to make parmesan shavings and scatter them on pasta dishes or salads. Because Parmigiano Reggiano cheese isn't made with vegetarian rennet, strict vegetarians avoid it. However, there are good vegetarian Parmesan-style cheeses available in most supermarkets, including cheese made in the UK.

Parsley No kitchen should be without a good supply of this multi-purpose herb. It can be used as a garnish and flavouring and as a vegetable.

There are two main varieties: curly leaf and flatleaf. Both can be used for the same purposes, although flatleaf parsley has a stronger flavour and tends to be favoured in Mediterranean cooking.

Parsley can be used in almost any savoury dish. It's especially good used in great quantities in fresh salads or in soups and sauces. Chop or shred it and mix with butter to melt over fish or to glaze vegetables.

There's just as much flavour in the stalk as in the leaf and both are used in bouquet garni to flavour stews and stocks. It's delicious briefly deep-fried and served as a vegetable to accompany chicken, veal or fish. Use it in marinades, stuffings, in omelettes - the list goes on!

Pasta Made from a dough of durum-wheat semolina, water and sometimes eggs, which is kneaded and cut into a wide variety of shapes. There are basically two types - fresh or dried.

Fresh pasta is often made with eggs, giving it a richer flavour and texture than the dried varieties; it has the consistency of a soft dough and only needs to be cooked for a very short time compared with dried pasta.

You need to serve slightly more fresh pasta compared with dry because it doesn't absorb as much water as dried so doesn’t swell up as much. It should be kept in the fridge and used within two days (or check the packet information), but it does freeze well for up to a month. You can buy filled fresh pastas with a variety of meat and vegetable fillings - they make a simple supper served with a home-made sauce. Dried pasta is convenient and widely available.

Choose good quality pasta made only from durum-wheat semolina. It will store unopened for more than a year in a cool dry cupboard and for about a month once opened. The choice of pasta these days is quite overwhelming and it's eaten around the world from Italy to China.

It can be served simply with sauces, stuffed, baked or added to soups for bulk. See individual entries for different types available: farfalle, fettuccine, fusilli, gnocchi, linguine, penne, ravioli, rigatoni, tagliatelle, vermicelli. See also noodles.

Pâté A rich paste made of liver, pork, game or other meats, cooked in a terrine or wrapped in pastry and cooked. Fish can also be used as the basis of a pâté, combined with soft cheese, mayonnaise or soured cream.

Pâté can be smooth or coarse and is delicious simply spread on warm toast or crusty bread. It can also be used as a component in main dishes such as beef Wellington in which fillet steaks are spread with duxelles and enclosed in pastry.

Pesto An Italian dark green sauce for pasta originating in Genoa. It's made from pine nuts blended with fresh basil, parmesan or pecorino cheese, garlic and olive oil.

Red pesto is made similarly but is based on either sun-dried tomatoes or grilled red peppers. It's uncooked and can be bought preserved in jars or fresh in tubs. The contents of jars, once opened, should be kept in the fridge and used within a couple of weeks. Keep the surface covered with oil. Fresh pesto in tubs should be used within two to three days. It can easily be made at home but you do need a generous amount of basil leaves to make just a small portion of pesto.

Variations include using rocket, watercress or parsley instead of basil and nuts such as walnuts, hazelnuts or pistachios instead of pine nuts.

The sauce can be stirred into freshly cooked pasta, spooned onto thick soups, spread on bruschetta, fillets of fish or chicken before grilling, or added to mayonnaise and salad dressings.

Prosciutto Prosciutto means 'ham' in Italian and is a term particularly used to describe ham that has been seasoned, cured and air-dried. 'Prosciutto cotto' is cooked and 'Prosciutto crudo' is raw although, because it has been salt-cured, it's ready to eat.

Prosciutto is sold in most UK supermarkets pre-sliced and vacuum-packed. If you buy it from a deli it's more likely they'll have a whole leg of prosciutto from which they will cut fresh slices, whatever thickness you need. It's most famously eaten as a starter with melon or figs or with a selection of other cold hams, meats and cheeses. It can be used in cooked dishes, but only add it at the end of cooking - otherwise it will go tough.

Parma ham, or prosciutto di Parma, is a kind of prosciutto crudo.

Purée A word used to describe either the act of making a smooth sauce or paste from various ingredients (verb), or the final result of such a process (noun). Meats, fruits and vegetables can all be puréed. Purées can be made in seconds if you have a blender or food processor. Otherwise use a sieve and push the ingredients through with a spoon into a bowl.


Quiche An open flan or tart with a savory custard filling, usually of egg and milk with other ingredients added to taste - fish, meat or vegetables. Originally from the Lorraine region of north-east France (hence quiche Lorraine with bacon, onion and cheese), the quiche has become a classic of French cuisine but is eaten across Europe and in many other countries.


Ratatouille A rich vegetable Provençal stew, made from aubergines, courgettes, sweet peppers, tomatoes, onions and garlic simmered in olive oil with herbs. It can be eaten hot or cold, as a main course or served as an accompaniment to meat dishes. It also makes a good filling for other vegetables or a stuffing for chicken.
Ravioli Small, square pasta cases that are stuffed with meat, cheese or vegetables, then cooked in a pan of boiling water and served with tomato or other flavoured sauces and, often, grated cheese.

They're quite time-consuming to make from scratch, but there are lots of fresh raviolis to choose from in supermarkets with all kinds of delicious fillings - amatriciana, spinach and ricotta, roasted red pepper, and so on.

It makes an easy supper dish, or you can serve it as a starter either with a sauce or just drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and scattered with fresh herbs.

Ricotta A soft Italian curd cheese made from whey which is drained and then lightly cooked. It's light and creamy with a slightly grainy texture. It has a delicate flavour and is quite low in fat, making it a good substitute for mascarpone. Ricotta can be used on its own or in sweet and savoury dishes. It's used in many Italian dishes, especially as a stuffing for ravioli or in pastries such as cannoli.
Risotto An Italian dish that was originally eaten by peasants for breakfast, but which has risen in stature to become a highly regarded restaurant dish. It's simple to make at home, but requires a bit of attention.

Risotto is made from risotto rice cooked with stock. Other ingredients (such as vegetables, shellfish or meat) are then added, and the dish is usually finished off with a knob of butter and some Parmesan cheese, which is stirred through at the end of cooking.

The key to a successful risotto is the rice and the stirring. There are three main types of Italian risotto rice - arborio, carnaroli and vialone nano. Essentially they're all starchy short-grain rices. The stock is added bit by bit to the rice and stirred frequently resulting in the classic creamy texture of a risotto. It shouldn’t be overcooked, but should still retain its characteristic al dente bite.

Classic risottos include mushroom risotto, often made with a combination of fresh and dried mushrooms, and Risotto alla Milanese which contains saffron and is usually served as an accompaniment to osso bucco. Arancini ('little oranges') are classic Italian rice balls made from leftover saffron risotto.

Rosemary Rosemary is a most versatile herb with a flavour that complements a wide variety of dishes and ingredients. Native to the Mediterranean, its bittersweet green leaves look similar to pine needles. The plant is an evergreen shrub, so the leaves are available fresh all year round. (If fresh isn't available then dried rosemary is useful to have in the store cupboard, but replace it often because it loses its potency and flavour after a few weeks.)

When used sparingly, the flavour of rosemary goes well in subtle and delicate dishes such as ice creams, sorbets, fools and fruit salads. The robust and highly aromatic flavour of rosemary can also be used as part of a bouquet garni in soups, stews and casseroles.

Whole sprigs can be added to flavour roasted vegetables. Meat, poultry and game can be spiked with rosemary and it can be chopped and used in stuffings and sauces for fish, lamb or chicken. Some Italian breads are flavoured with rosemary leaves.

Remove leaves or sprigs after cooking; it's also a good idea to crush dried rosemary before adding it to your dish because the sharp leaves can be difficult to remove after cooking.


Saffron The most expensive spice in the world fortunately goes a long way! It's derived from the stigmas of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativa), which can only be picked by hand. It takes 250,000 stigmas to make just half a kilo of saffron.

Saffron can be bought whole in threads or strands (stigmas), which should be crushed just before using, or in powdered form. Spanish and Kashmiri saffron are reputed to be among the best quality. Saffron gives a distinctive aroma and flavour and a yellow colour to Spanish paella and Italian risotto. Saffron is also a classic ingredient in the French fish soup bouillabaisse.

Sage Sage (Salvia officinalis) is native to the Mediterranean. The colour of the downy leaves and the flavour varies but, in essence, it's a very strong aromatic herb with a slight bitterness that can withstand long cooking times and still retain flavour.

The strong flavour of sage means that a little goes a long way, especially if you're using dried sage, so use sparingly. It goes well with pork, beef, duck and chicken recipes, and fatty meats in particular. In Italy it's commonly served finely chopped in a butter sauce for pasta or gnocchi. It's also fried with liver or kidneys. Use a cocktail stick to pin a couple of sage leaves to a chicken breast wrapped in prosciutto for a herby flavour. Try dipping sage leaves in a light batter and deep-frying them as a vegetable or to eat as canapés with drinks.

Salami Salami is the Italian name for a family of 'cut-and-keep' sausages made from a mixture of raw meat, such as pork, beef or veal and flavoured with spices and herbs. Innumerable varieties are made around the world. Salami can be salted, smoked or air-dried. Salami makes great sandwich fillers, pizza toppings or salad ingredients, particularly in potato salads.

Some salamis are good for cooking with - add them to risottos, pasta sauces and other meat and vegetable dishes. Salami can be bought sliced and pre-packed or freshly sliced at deli counters.

Salsa A spicy relish or dip served cold and made from chopped tomatoes, onions, chillies and peppers. 'Salsa' means 'sauce' in Spanish.

Most supermarkets sell fresh salsa as well as mild or hot salsa in jars, but the flavour is never as good as homemade. It's easy to make either a coarse salsa with just a knife and chopping board, or to whizz the ingredients in a blender for a smooth salsa.

Serve salsa with other dips such as guacamole and soured cream with tortilla chips or use it as a sauce or a topping for pasta. Fruit salsas using mango or pineapple go well with grilled fish or chicken.

Sashimi A Japanese dish of raw fresh fish and shellfish (without rice), beautifully presented and served with dipping sauces, vegetables and wasabi.
Savory The herbs summer savory (Satureja hortensis) and winter savory (S. montana) are both related to the mint family. Both are highly aromatic and can be used to season a variety of meat, poultry, egg dishes, soups or sauces. Both types of savory are particularly useful in stuffings. Winter savory tends to be more strongly flavoured.
Scone A small round teacake made from a soft dough and cooked in a hot oven. Scones can be sweet or savoury. Sugar, fruit and spices are often added to sweet scones and they're often served with clotted cream and jam.

Savoury scones might incorporate cheese, herbs or potato. A drop scone isn't a scone at all - it's more of a small thick pancake.

Sorbet A semi-frozen water ice, usually made with fruit, sugar syrup or a liqueur, traditionally served as a palate cleanser between courses but now eaten more commonly as a refreshing dessert.

Granita is a slightly coarser, crunchier Italian style of sorbet that doesn't require an ice-cream maker.

Strudel An Austrian dessert made from very thin layers of strudel pastry - similar to filo pastry - wrapped around a filling of fresh fruit, most famously apple, dried fruit and spices. Strudels are usually sweet but savoury versions can be made too.


Tabasco Tabasco is the trade name of a range of hot, spicy chilli sauces made in the US state of Louisiana. The original Tabasco sauce is fiery red and made from a variety of chilli pepper called Tabasco, combined with vinegar and salt and matured in oak barrels. Other varieties include a milder green Tabasco sauce made from jalapeño peppers and green peppers. Just a few drops of Tabasco adds a spicy, chilli flavour to meats, sauces, burgers, salad dressings or cocktails.
Tandoori A tandoor is a tall, cylindrical clay oven found in countries stretching from the Arabian peninsula to India. Naan breads, as well as various meats and kebabs, are traditionally cooked in a tandoor. The term 'tandoori' pertains to dishes cooked in such a clay oven. In the UK, the word tandoori is frequently used to describe food that has been marinated in a spice paste made of ginger, cumin, coriander, paprika, turmeric and cayenne mixed with puréed garlic, puréed ginger, lemon juice, oil and, frequently, yoghurt. The paste coats the food, which turns a red-orange colour. It's then cooked in the tandoor (although for home cooks, a very hot oven will have to do). The tandoor imparts a wonderful smoky aroma to the food.
Teriyaki Usually, a Japanese dish consisting of beef, chicken or fish that has been marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, sugar, ginger and seasonings before being grilled or fried. However, the term can be used to describe the sauce itself or the cooked dish made with the sauce. The sugar in the marinade gives the cooked food a slight glaze.

Teriyaki sauce is made with the above ingredients and is sold in bottles, although it's easy to make your own. Teriyaki was traditionally used as a glaze for fish or meat after it had been cooked, but now is more commonly used for marinating the meat prior to cooking. The ingredients used in teriyaki sauce tend to be loosely interpreted by many chefs and can include a range of ingredients including sesame oil, honey and Tabasco.

Thyme No kitchen should be without the heady, aromatic character of thyme. There are many different varieties, both cultivated and wild, but the most widely used is the common garden thyme (Thymus vulgaris). The intensely pungent flavour complements most meats, including chicken and game. Its robust nature means that it can withstand long cooking times and it's a good complement to slow-cooked dishes such as stews and daubes.

It's one of the herbs used in bouquet garni, along with parsley and bay. Its flavour also marries well with other robust and heady herbs such as rosemary and sage. Chop it up in stuffings for poultry or lamb or use it chopped in a marinade for olives. Add sprigs to marinades for meat, fish or vegetables or tuck a few sprigs with half a lemon and an onion inside a chicken before roasting.

Tiramisu An Italian dessert, similar to a trifle, made with Italian sponge biscuits or macaroons soaked in coffee, brandy or liqueur, with mascarpone cheese and chocolate. Tiramisu translates as 'pick me up'.
Truffle By weight, this knobbly fungus is one of the most expensive foods in the world. Although attempts have been made to cultivate truffles, the majority are still found wild, growing around the roots of oak, chestnut, hazel and beech trees.

There are two main types: black (Tuber melanosporum) and white (Tuber magnatum Pico). The finest black truffles are found in the Périgord region of France; the best white truffles (in fact they're more beige) in the Piedmont region of Italy. Truffles are sniffed out by pigs or dogs trained to recognise the smell.

Black truffles are peeled and can be used raw or lightly cooked, while white are just carefully wiped clean and should never be cooked. They have a distinct peppery taste and are usually sliced raw directly onto the dish. You can buy a special slicer that cuts razor-thin slices, or use a mandolin.

The truffle's unique aroma and taste does something magical to foods - shave it over pasta or add it to scrambled eggs, omelettes or risotto.

Truffle oil is the next best thing - a combination of olive oil and truffle extract that can be drizzled over pasta, risotto and salads or used in salad dressings and sauces. There's no substitute for the unique taste of a fresh truffle though.

The word truffle also refers to a chocolate confection, usually filled with cream flavoured with a liqueur, the shape of which resembles a freshly dug black truffle.


Unleavened Bread Bread that has been made without 'leavening' - that is, no raising agent such as yeast or baking powder.

Unleavened breads include chapattis and tortillas and they play an important role in Jewish ritual during Passover when it's forbidden to eat leavened bread.


Vermicelli Vermicelli is very fine, long strands of pasta - like a skinny spaghetti - often used in soups. The name means 'little worms' in Italian. It's available fresh or dried.

Dried vermicelli is usually sold boxed in coiled nests to prevent the delicate strands from breaking. Serve it with delicate oil-based or thin creamy sauces, because thick sauces will soak into the pasta and make it go soggy.

The term is also used to describe Asian noodles, which are also sold dried, and which come in varying widths, from very thin to wide.

Rice vermicelli can be used in soups or stir-fries, served cold in spicy Asian salads, or used as the basis for some sweets.


Wasabi Although this bright green condiment is often referred to as 'Japanese horseradish', it isn't actually related to horseradish at all. It comes from the root of a perennial herb that grows in Japan and eastern Siberia.

Wasabi is a traditional accompaniment to sushi and sashimi, but it can also be used to make dressings and sauces. Fresh wasabi is rarely available outside Japan, but in the UK it's available in paste or powdered form. The latter is a better choice, because you can use it as you need it by mixing to a paste with water.

Whipping Cream A lighter version of double cream with a fat content of over 35 per cent - the minimum amount necessary to allow it to stay firm once beaten. It's the fat globules that trap whisked air, creating the characteristic foam and texture of whipped cream. Whipping cream whips well without being quite as rich as double cream and also makes a slightly lighter pouring cream. It makes a good topping for desserts, meringues and puddings that need a slightly lighter touch.
White Sauce The most basic white sauce, from which numerous other sauces stem. White sauce is made with a roux of butter and flour mixed with milk and cooked over a gentle heat until smooth and slightly thick. Béchamel is the king of white sauces. It differs slightly from the basic white sauce in that the milk is flavoured first with onion and seasoning (often nutmeg).

You can add a variety of ingredients to a basic white sauce to transform it into something more flavoursome, such as chopped parsley, grated cheese, white wine, cooked chopped mushrooms, cooked onions, and so on.

Worcestershire sauce A classic English bottled sauce that is said to have originated from an Indian recipe. It's a thin, spicy, dark-brown fermented sauce made from a variety of ingredients including anchovies, shallots, garlic, soy sauce, tamarind, salt and vinegar, which is then left to age in barrels.

The final sauce has a spicy, concentrated flavour, so you only need a dash. It can be used to give a little boost to meat stews and casseroles, pies, soups, sauces and marinades. Sprinkle it over sausages, steaks, chops and kebabs or use it as a table condiment or in drinks such as a classic Bloody Mary.


XO XO stands for 'extra old' and is used to show that a cognac has been aged for an extended period of time. The legal minimum for this designation is seven years old but most XO cognacs are much older than that, many ranging from 20 to 50 years old. The minimum age of the youngest cognac in the blend must be at least seven years old. The minimum age of VS (very special) cognac is two years old and that of VSOP (very superior old pale) is four years old.

XO sauce is also a sauce and condiment used in Chinese cooking. Ingredients include dried shrimp, dried scallops and garlic, along with other flavourings, often chillies. XO sauce can be used as a dip or in stir-fries.


Yakitori Bite-sized pieces of chicken skewered and grilled, Japanese-style. In Japan, all parts of the chicken, including the head, skin and gizzards, would be cooked, but in the UK, it's usually just pieces of breast meat. The meat is threaded on to bamboo skewers, dipped in a type of sweet teriyaki sauce, and then grilled for four to five minutes.
Yoghurt Yogurt is made from fermented milk and has a great many uses. It can be consumed as a drink (such as the Indian lassi) or eaten as a kind of relish (such as the Indian raita, a cooling mixture of yoghurt and cucumber), or made into a kind of cheese (such as labneh). It can also be used as a dressing or as a marinade to tenderise meats, as in tandoori chicken.


Zacchini The Italian and American word for courgette. Zucchini are very versatile to cook with, but buy the younger, smaller ones, because older vegetables tend to have large, tough seeds and can be very watery.




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