The Neighborhood Kitchens Food Glossary

Each week, as Margarita Martínez visits another chef's kitchen, she learns about the unique ingredients and techniques that give traditional recipes their great flavors. Here is a list of helpful terms to help you follow along. Visit the Neighborhood Kitchens blog for recipes each week.

Jicama (Photo: Wordridden/Flickr)
Adobo is a seasoning used frequently in Spanish, Caribbean, and Latin American cooking. This mixture consists of spices including garlic, onion, black pepper, Mexican oregano, cumin, and cayenne red pepper. It is often used as a rub to season meats.

A sauce made of egg yolks, lemon juice, olive oil and garlic.  In simple terms, it is a mayonnaise seasoned with garlic.  Aioli is often prepared to accompany seafood and vegetable dishes. 

Aji amarillo (Spanish for "yellow chili") is an orange-colored pepper with a fruity flavor. They are a staple of Peruvian cooking.

Aleppo chilies, or Aleppo peppers, are used as a spice in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. They grow in pods and when they reach a deep burgundy color they are dried and ground. The name Aleppo comes from the ancient city of Aleppo in Northern Syria. It grows both in Syria and in Turkey.

A rice, named after the Italian town Arborio, is a short-grain rice commonly used to make risotto. 

Arepas are thick, round corn cakes made from white or yellow cornmeal that are used much the way Americans use bread. They are often cut in half and filled with ingredients like cheese,  meat, eggs, or beans. Sometimes they are eaten plain or spread with butter.

The Armenian cucumber is long, smooth, slender, and green. Though it resembles a cucumber in color and taste, the Armenian cucumber is actually a different type of muskmelon. It is usually served skin-on in salads or other mixtures of vegetables.

Baharat spice is a mixture of different spices used in Arab, Turkish, and Iranian cuisine. The typicalingredients in Baharat spice are black peppercorns, cardamom seeds, cloves,coriander seeds, cumin seeds, nutmeg, paprika, cassia bark (cinnamon), and allspice. This mixture of spices is used to season lamb, fish, chicken, beef, and soups. The word baharat is the Arabic word for ‘spices.'

Peruvian botija olives  are traditionally cured in a water and sea salt solution, and then sun-dried, keeping them more pure than many other varieties. They are full of delicious natural olive oil and contain important minerals, including iron and selenium.

A soft and stringy cheese made of a combination of water buffalo and cow’s milk.  It is white in color and mild in flavor. 

Cacik is a seasoned dish of diluted yogurt that is very popular in the countries that made up the Ottoman Empire. It is made of yogurt, salt, olive oil, crushed garlic, chopped cucumber, dill, and mint. 

Causa is a traditional Peruvian potato dish, layered with fish. Created during the War of the Pacific, during which Peru and Bolivia fought against Chile, the dish came to symbolize the efforts of the women to gather food for the causa (cause) of the soldiers. It is relatively inexpensive and easy to prepare, making it popular for those of any economic standing or culinary ability. It is currently a flagship recipe for Peruvian gastronomy, and is generally served chilled as a great summer dish. It can be made with lobster, crab, smoked trout, or other fish.

Chicharrón, often found in Latin American cuisine, is deep-fried pork belly.

A pork sausage with origins in the Iberian Peninsula.  It is seasoned with spices, especially garlic, and is often spicy. It is a popular ingredient in Latin American cuisine.

An edible bivalve that has a rounded or heart-shaped shell that is usually brown, yellowish or off-white. 

A sauce prepared with vegetables and plum tomato sauce. Spices such as oregano and thyme are used to make it. This sauce, which has several variations, originates from Creole culture and is often found in New Orleans cuisine.  

Huitlacoche, also known as corn smut, is a fungus that grows on ears of corn, causing their kernels to turn black and swell to 10 times their normal size. Most American farmers consider it a disease, but it is considered a delicacy in Mexico (the Aztecs are believed to have prized it). It has an earthy flavor reminiscent of mushrooms, but with the sweetness of corn. It is becoming increasing popular among gourmands in the United States.

The guava plant is native to Central America and northern South America, but has been spread around the world to tropical and subtropical regions in the Caribbean, Africa, and Southeast Asia, among others. The fruit varies depending on the specific species, but generally has a sweet flavor and may be served raw, as a juice, or prepared as a dessert (as at Taranta with the guavannoli).

Jicama, also known as the Mexican potato or yam bean, is a large tuber (it can weigh up to four and a half pounds) with thin brown skin and white crunchy flesh. It is sweet and tasty both raw and cooked.

La Chinata is a Spanish smoked paprika powder from the region of La Vera in Spain. It comes in three varieties (sweet, bittersweet, and hot) and has gained international prominence due to its quality and authenticity.

Lamb top is the most tender part of the lamb leg, and it has great flavor. The versatility of this cut of meat makes the lamb top one of the most valuable sections of the lamb.

Mofongo is a typical dish from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic that can be eaten as a side dish or a main course.  It is made primarily of mashed plantains along with pork cracklings and garlic.   Seafood, meat or vegetables are often added to this dish; however, it is mostly served with pork.  As a main course, mofongo is commonly accompanied by rice and beans.

Also known as the arapaima, the paiche is one of the largest freshwater fish species in South America—and, at average lengths of more than six feet and weights of over 200 pounds, it is also one of the largest in the world. Its enormous size—sometimes up to even ten feet long and 500 pounds—and mercury-free white flesh make it highly desirable, yet overfishing and deforestation have endangered the species in its native Amazonian habitat. However, sustainable farming has allowed for the harvesting and delivery of the paiche from the murky waters of the Amazon to restaurants all over the world, including Taranta.

Pancetta is often referred to as Italian bacon, but unlike the smoked American version, it is pork belly meat that is salt cured, seasoned, and dried for several months. It is a good way to include pork flavor into a dish without the smokiness of regular bacon.

Panela is unrefined cane sugar, shaped into a loaf. The darker the shade of brown, the stronger its molasses-like flavor.

A mortar and pestle.  It is traditionally made of wood and is used to crush as well as to mash. 

Plantains are banana-like fruits that are green-skinned and starchy.  They are always cooked before consumption and are a staple food throughout tropical regions.

Quinoa is a grain that was cultivated by the Incas, and is a staple in much of South America. It can be milled for flour or cooked and eaten. Remarkably nutritious, it contains more protein than any other grain and all eight essential amino acids,  and it's high in unsaturated fats and low in carbohydrates. It is gaining in popularity in the United States.

Rocoto peppers are native to Peru and Bolivia, growing on the slopes of the Andes Mountains. The small hot peppers closely resemble miniature bell peppers, but are markedly different due to their fuzzy leaves, thick walls, and black seeds.

Saganaki refers to a number of different Greek dishes prepared in a sagani, a small frying pan. They include an appetizer of seared cheese, and entrées featuring shrimp and mussels.

This Italian liqueur borrows its name from the word for “witch”—appropriate, since Benevento, Italy, where it has been produced since 1860, is considered the City of Witches. Strega contains a mix of 70 herbs and spices, with mint and juniper among its strongest flavors and saffron the ingredient that provides its trademark yellow color.

Tacu tacu is an Afro Peruvian dish, with its roots in the cooking styles of both coastal Peru and the African slaves who were brought to the region by the Spanish. It is a mixture of rice and beans, fried until it is golden and slightly crispy. Tacu tacu can be served alone with a variety of sauces, or as a side dish (as it was at Taranta with the paiche).

In Turkey, tarator is a ground nut-based sauce that is usually eaten with fried fish or squid. At Oleana it is made with almonds and served with mussels.

Tostones are deep-fried plantains.  Prior to frying, these (green) plantains are cut into half inch-thick slices and soaked in adobo-flavored water.  They are popular side dishes in Puerto Rico as well as in the Dominican Republic.

Tuscan black kale, or Lacinato kale, is the second most common type of kale. It is characterized by its long, narrow leaves and wrinkled texture. Tuscan black kale is common in Mediterranean cuisine, but it is usually blanched or sautéed with other vegetables before it is added to a dish.

A Japanese condiment made from the eutrema wasabi root plant.  It is considered to be in the mustard family and has an intense flavor, similar to that of horseradish.  Wasabi is green in color and is used in a paste or powder form when cooking. 


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