agar-agar: Made from seaweed, it takes the place of gelatin in Asian cooking. Agar and gelatin can be substituted for each other in recipes — just remember that agar-agar has different setting properties, requiring less time to set the same amount of liquid.
bean curd: Bean curd is made from curdled soy milk in a process that has a great deal in common with making cheese. Tofu, the name by which bean curd is commonly known, is a Japanese modification of the Chinese word for bean curd, doufu. Bean curd comes in a number of different textures, from firm to soft, depending on how firmly the curd is pressed. There is also fermented tofu flavored with spicy seasonings, and dried bean curd sheets and sticks.
bitter melon: A green gourd with a distinctive pockmarked skin, bitter melon has a strong chalky flavor that isn't completely removed by degorging. Bitter melon is normally paired with other strongly flavored ingredients, such as chilies.
black bean sauce and paste: Savory sauces and pastes made from dried black beans. Different varieties include hot bean sauce and yellow bean sauce.
blanch (parboil): In Chinese cooking, blanching generally refers to plunging vegetables briefly into boiling water and then draining thoroughly. Blanching helps preserve the natural color and texture of vegetables, as well as the nutrients.
bok choy: A large cabbage with dark green leaves that is available in both western and Asian supermarkets, bok choy is used in soups, stir-fries, and braised dishes. The thicker stalks require a longer cooking time than the more delicate leaves. Shanghai or baby bok choy is a smaller variety of bok choy with a sweeter flavor and more delicate texture.
chili pepper: Szechwan cuisine wouldn't be the same without these small, hot peppers. Chili peppers comes in a number of varieties, from jalapeno to hot habaneros. In general, the smaller the chili, the higher the heat content. Chili peppers are used to make Hot Chili Oil.
Chinese cabbage: Also known as napa cabbage or Peking cabbage, Chinese cabbage is the other main cabbage besides bok choy used in Chinese cooking. Its pale green leaves readily absorb the flavors of the food it is cooked with. Napa cabbage is used in soups, salads, stir-fries, and even eaten raw.
Chinese sausage: Thinner and redder than sausages normally found in supermarkets, Chinese sausages are made from a number of ingredients, including pork and liver. Look for them under their Chinese name, lop cheong.
cilantro: Also known as Chinese parsley, cilantro consists of the leaves of the coriander plant. While coriander is a popular Indian spice, the leaves feature more prominently in Chinese cooking. Use in sauces and as a garnish.
cornflour: Another term for cornstarch.
deep-fry: Cooking food by completely submerging it in hot oil. This is one of the three main techniques used in Chinese cooking.
dim sum: Literally meaning “touch your heart,” dim sum is a meal consisting of numerous small appetizers or snacks that had its origins in Chinese teahouses. Dim sum may have been the inspiration for the Western and European custom of brunch.
dried mushrooms: Also called black mushrooms, although their color ranges from light to dark brown, these fungi are found on decaying logs and tree stumps. In Chinese cooking, dried mushrooms are favored over fresh, as the drying process enhances their flavor. They must be softened in water before use.
dried tangerine peel: Dried tangerine peel lends a citrusy aroma to simmered dishes, and can also be used in stir-fries. Soften in water before use.
fuzzy melon: Related to winter melon, fuzzy melon is roughly the size and shape of a cucumber, with a dark green skin covered in light fuzz. It is baked, stuffed, and added to soups and stir-fries. If the recipe does not require peeling the melon skin, be sure to remove the fuzz before cooking.
glutinous rice: Glutinous rice is made from short-grain rice kernels. In Chinese cooking, it is normally, although not always, reserved for sweets and desserts.
groundnut oil: Another term for peanut oil.
hoisin sauce: A thick sauce made from soybean paste, hoisin sauce is a mainstay of northern Chinese regional cuisine, and the base for many Chinese satay sauces. Seasonings such as garlic and chilies give hoisin sauce its unique sweet and savory flavor.
kecap manis: The Indonesian version of soy sauce, although it is much more flavorful. Kecap manis is made with an assortment of seasonings, including star anise and palm sugar. Kecap is the source of the word “ketchup.”
oil velveting: A technique to tenderize meat or poultry by submerging it in hot oil very briefly, just until it changes color. It is then cooked by conventional methods such as stir-frying or deep-frying. Prior to velveting, the meat is frequently marinated with a mixture of egg white and cornstarch.
oyster sauce: A savory sauce made with boiled oysters and seasonings such as soy sauce and garlic. Oyster sauce is most commonly used in sauces and dips. For vegetarians, Lee Kum Kee offers an oyster sauce using mushrooms in place of oysters.
red cooking: This cooking technique consists of browning food, and then braising or stewing it in soy sauce for a lengthy period of time. Dark soy sauce is frequently used in red cooking.
rice flour: Made from glutinous rice, it is used in a few Chinese desserts, such as New Year's Sticky Cake.
rice vinegar: Rice vinegar is made from fermented rice. The three main types of rice vinegar used in Chinese cooking are red, white, and black. White rice vinegar comes closest in flavor to Western cider vinegar.
rice wine: A wine made with glutinous short-grained rice, Chinese rice wine is used frequently in marinades and sauces. The most famous rice wine comes from the Shaoxing region in northern China. If rice wine is unavailable, a good quality pale dry sherry can be used as a substitute.
rock sugar: A mixture of refined sugar, honey, and brown sugar, rock sugar is used in desserts and recipes where a stronger flavor than regular sugar is required.
sesame oil: A nutty-flavored oil made from toasted sesame seeds, sesame oil is used in sauces, marinades, and dips. It is frequently drizzled over food in the final stages of cooking. Sesame oil's strong flavor and low smoking point generally make it a poor choice as a cooking oil.
sesame paste: A richly flavored paste made from toasted sesame seeds. If unavailable, peanut butter can be used instead. Tahini, the Mediterranean version of sesame paste, is not a good substitute, as it is made from untoasted sesame seeds.
sesame seeds: The seeds that come from the Asian sesame plant, sesame seeds are used in desserts such as Glazed Bananas and savory dishes such as Sesame Chicken. They are frequently toasted before use.
shoyu: The Japanese version of light soy sauce, shoyu can be used in Chinese cooking.
soy sauce, dark: A soybean-based sauce that is aged for a longer period of time than regular (light) soy sauce, dark soy sauce is commonly used in marinades and red-cooked dishes. Do not use in place of regular (light) soy sauce, as it has a very different flavor.
soy sauce, light: A soybean-based sauce that is one of the most important ingredients in Chinese cooking, light soy sauce has a lighter color, thinner texture, and saltier flavor than dark soy sauce. Japanese shoyu can be used as a substitute.
steaming: Cooking food by placing it over boiling water so that the steam reaches and cooks the food. This is the third most popular Chinese cooking technique.
stir-frying: Cooking food in oil at very high heat for a short period of time, while continuously stirring. It is the cooking technique most commonly associated with Chinese cuisine.
Szechwan peppercorn: Known for the biting sensation it leaves on the tongue, the Szechwan peppercorn gives Szechwan cuisine its distinctive flavor. It is actually not a peppercorn at all, but a berry from the prickly ash tree. Szechwan peppercorns are normally roasted and ground before use.
tapioca starch: A starch made from the tubers of the tapioca plant, tapioca starch is used as a thickener in Chinese cooking. Cornstarch and tapioca starch can be substituted for each other in sauce recipes, but cornstarch takes longer to thicken.
thick soy sauce: Used to lend flavor to fried rice and noodle dishes, thick soy sauce has been thickened with molasses.
water chestnuts: The name can cause confusion, since water chestnuts come from an aquatic plant and are not related to horse chestnuts, which grow on trees. Fresh water chestnuts have a sweet flavor reminiscent of banana. Canned water chestnuts can be substituted for texture but don't have the same flavor. Jicama is also used as a substitute.
white pepper: A seasoning made from ground white peppercorns. A little-known fact is that white and black pepper both come from the same plant; the main difference between them is that white pepper berries are allowed to ripen before processing. In Chinese cooking, white pepper makes a frequent appearance in soups and spicier stir-fries. Use sparingly as it has a sharp bite.
winter melon: A type of squash with an oblong shape and dark green rind similar to a watermelon. The inside flesh is white and pleasantly sweet. Winter Melon Soup is a popular banquet soup.
wok: A bowl-shaped utensil designed to be used in cooking methods requiring high heat, such as deep-frying. A wok is the main piece of Chinese cooking equipment.
wood fungus: This fungus is also called cloud ear fungus because of its unusual shape. Like tofu, it has no flavor but absorbs the flavor of the foods it is cooked with. It is used in soups and stir-fries. Soak wood fungus in water to soften before use.