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Home > Cooking Tips > Glossary > Glossary A - B

Glossary A - B

Chinese Cooking Glossary

Chinese Cooking Glossary



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Abalone - A mollusk that is popular ingredient in Chinese and Japanese dishes.  In China it is featured in Cantonese cooking. Abalone is a member of the genus Haliotis, which means sea ear, referring to the flat shell.  It is available fresh, dried, or canned.  In dried form it must be soaked for several days before using.

- Crystals of potassium aluminum sulfate, commonly used in canning before it was discovered that it can cause gastic distress in some individuals. Although still considered safe in small quantities, depending on individual tolerance, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) no longer recommends its use for home canning. Alum is also sometimes used as a home remedy; treating canker sores for example. In Chinese cooking, it is one of the ingredients used to make deep-fried crullers.

Amaranth - A beautiful name for a group of plants that are found primarily in tropical areas. While some are grown for their seed which is used as a grain, and others are treated as weeds, there are several varieties which are grown as a leaf vegetable. These fall into two groups: those with green leaves and those whose leaves are tinged with beautiful red and purple colors. Amaranthus Tricolor, a red-leafed species, is also known as Chinese spinach.

Angles or Angled Luffa - A great name for a gourd that is vaguely related to the luffa brush in your shower. It also goes by the rather unattractive name of "dishwater gourd," as well as silk squash and Chinese okra (it bears some similarity to okra in taste and texture). Like tofu, angled luffa absorbs the flavors of the foods it is cooked with. It is used in stir-fries and deep-fried dishes.  
See also Silk Squash)

Aubergine - The North American word for aubergine is eggplant. While there are many varieties grown in Asian, the term Chinese eggplant refers to the narrow, purple variety that can be streaked with white (it looks somewhat like a purple zucchini). Interestingly, Asian recipes don't normally call for eggplant to be salted and degorged, as is the custom in western and European cooking. 



Baby Bok Choy  - Also called Shanghai cabbage, the name is appropriate as this is a smaller version of bok choy (see below for description of bok choy).

Bailey's Irish Cream - A unique Irish spirit made from a mix of cream, sugar, cocoa and the finest Irish spirits. Each bottle of Bailey's is 50% fresh cream, combined with triple distilled Irish Whiskey. It contains no additives or preservatives, and has become the best known Irish cream in the world since it's initiation in 1974.
Buy Bailey's Irish Cream.

Bamboo Shoots  - The shoots of the bamboo plant, native to Asia, and a popular item in Chinese cooking. Edible bamboo shoots fall into two broad categories, winter and spring shoots. Spring shoots are larger and tougher than winter shoots. In general, canned bamboo shoots are easier to obtain than fresh shoots. After opening the can, you can rinse them in hot water to get rid of any "tinny" taste. Unused bamboo shoots should be stored in the refrigerator in a jar of water, with the water changed daily.

Barbeque Sauce -
Chinese barbecue sauce is very different from western barbecue sauces, which are often tomato or mustard-based. While there are variations, Chinese barbecue sauces often contain
hoisin sauce, vinegar, sesame oil or paste, and perhaps bean sauce.  

Bean Curd - See Soy Bean Curd

Bean Sauce -
A thick (really more like a paste than a sauce) aromatic sauce that is made from soybeans mixed with flour and salt, and fermented. There are a number of varieties, including brown bean sauce, yellow bean sauce and bean paste. Keeps indefinitely when stored in the refrigerator.

Bird's Nest - 
Authentic bird's nest soup is made using the nests of the swiftlet, a tiny bird found throughout southeast Asia.  Instead of twigs and straw, the swiftlet makes its nest from strands of gummy saliva, which harden when exposed to air.  Once the nests are harvested, they are cleaned and sold to restaurants, where they are served simmered in chicken broth. Authentic bird's nest soup is quite popular throughout Asia, perhaps because it has the reputation of being an aphrodisiac.  It is also quite costly; many western restaurants serve a less expensive version consisting of soup with noodles shaped to resemble a bird's nest.  

Bitters - Bitter tasting spirits made of/flavoured with plant extracts, barks and roots.

Bitter Melon  or Foo Gwa - Also known as Balsam Pear, this is a very strange looking gourd, shaped something like a cucumber with a rough, pockmarked skin. The flavor  is unusual as well - like cilantro, it's an acquired taste. Fortunately, blanching it before cooking will help reduce the bitter taste. (You can also degorge them as you would with eggplant). In addition, you'll often find bitter melon paired with strong flavors such as black beans, which counteracts the bitterness. In one well-known Chinese recipe bitter melon is stuffed with pork, garlic, and mashed black beans, and steamed. Bitter melon has long been thought to have medicinal value, and has been used to treat low blood sugar and infections. More recently it has been used to treat HIV.

Stored in a plastic bag in the vegetable crisper section of the refrigerator, bitter melon should keep for four to five days. Before using, cut in half, seed and core, and then blanch if desired. 

Blanch -
Blanching is a process whereby the food is briefly plunged in boiling water for a moment, then immediately transferred to ice water to stop the cooking process. It is a technique commonly used with Chinese vegetables prior to stir-frying. The goal is to bring out the color and flavor of the vegetable without overcooking.

Bok Choy -
A type of cabbage, the most common variety of which is the distinctive vegetable with the white stem and dark green leaves readily available in most supermarkets.  There is also Shanghai or baby bok choy, a smaller version of the same vegetable. Besides being used in soups and stir-fries, you'll also find it in braised dishes.  Keep in the vegetable crisper section of the refrigerator. Rinse thoroughly before using.

Braise -
As in western cooking, braising is a technique used with tougher cuts of meat. After browning, the meat is boiled and then slowly simmered in a stock, usually accompanied with seasonings. Red cooking, popular in eastern China, is a method where the food is braised in
soy sauce, imparting a dark color. Vegetables such as bok choy can also be braised.


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