It may look and sound like a weed, but lemon grass actually is one of the most important ingredients in Southeast Asian cooking. And it can transform the all-American foods you love.
Lemon grass is a reed-like plant that grows as a thin, firm 2-foot stalk with a small bulb at the base. It varies in color from pale yellow to very light green.
True to name, lemon grass has a pleasantly assertive lemon taste and aroma.
Lemon Grass Chicken Stir-Fry »
If ever there was a vegetable dogged by misunderstanding, fresh fennel is it.
Because while it may taste like anise and look like a bulb, it’s neither. And don’t let the grocery workers who love to label it that way tell you otherwise.
Fennel may taste like anise, and is a relative of it, but they are separate plants. And while the base of fennel is bulbous, that’s a shape, not its plant variety.
So now that we’ve cleared up what fennel isn’t, let’s focus on what it is.
Fresh fennel resembles a cross between cabbage, celery and dill. The taste is assertively (though not unpleasantly) licorice and sweet. The base of the fennel is round with tightly overlapping pale-green leaves. Sprouting out of that are long celery stalks topped with fine frilly leaves.
Fennel Egg Salad Sandwiches »
There’s nothing wrong with showing a bit of skin. Especially if it’s steamy.
Because while they may appear a rather mundane ingredient, wonton skins are an inexpensive and easy way to jazz up your cooking. And with the demands of holiday cooking barreling down upon us, anything that produces snazzy and simple company-worthy treats is worth taking notice of.
So let’s start with the basics. Wonton skins (also called wonton wrappers) are thin sheets of dough made from flour, egg and water. That’s basically the same formula as Asian egg noodles, and not all that far off from Italian pasta. Except wonton skins are cut into round and square sheets.
Get the recipe for Steamed Spicy Pork Dumplings »
People have been eating it for thousands of years, yet still no one can tell me why it should be peeled. So I don’t peel it, and neither should you. “It” being fresh ginger, the gnarly brown root that lives among the grocer’s Asian produce. And the flavor is so much better than dried — you must get to know it.
Most of us think of ginger as the powder in the spice cabinet and use it mostly for baking. In Asia, where ginger originated, it’s more a savory ingredient. That’s because fresh ginger packs tons of warm, pungent, peppery flavor that works so well with meats and vegetables.
Though they can be used interchangeably, the flavor of fresh ginger is more pronounced than dried, sporting heavy citrus, even acidic, notes. In Asia, fresh ginger is an essential part of numerous classic dishes, including stir-fries, soups, sauces and marinades, as well as Indian curries.
Ginger-Orange Chicken Cutlets »
It’s hard to not love an ingredient that loves fat.
And that’s exactly what sage does — it partners up perfectly with foods rich in oils and fats. So why not give it a try? It’s nearly the holidays and time to indulge.
Actually, that’s part of sage’s problem — and why it has a relatively low profile in American cooking compared to other savory herbs, such as basil and oregano.
While we think of all manner of uses for other herbs in all seasons, we tend to pigeonhole sage as a Thanksgiving herb suited mostly for stuffing and turkey.
But the richly peppery-rosemary flavor of fresh sage can more than earn its keep year round. You just need to know how to use it.
Fried Sage and Parmesan Penne »
Who knew coconut milk could be so confusing?
It shouldn’t be. At heart, it’s a delicious liquid made from coconuts (duh!) that can effortlessly add an exotically creamy richness to so many meals.
Except that grocers sell about half a dozen different products that go by the same or very similar names. And they aren’t interchangeable.
So let’s start with what coconut milk isn’t.
Coconut water is a hip new drink that is made from the liquid inside coconuts. Drink it, but don’t cook with it.
Coconut milk beverage is a sweetened drink made from coconut milk and sugar. It’s usually sold in boxes alongside the soy milk.
Coconut-Lime Pulled Chicken Tacos »
Pretty to look at, but what do you do with it?
That about sums up how most of us feel about star anise. And that’s why it’s mostly been relegated to the backwaters of spice cabinets in the U.S.
What most people don’t realize is that star anise actually is a deliciously potent spice that can do amazing things for your cooking, especially for meat.
But first, the basics. Star anise is the fruit — yes, fruit — of an evergreen tree native to southern China (where most of it still is produced).
When dried, that fruit resembles a 1-inch, rust-colored star, usually with six to eight points. Each point contains a small, shiny seed.
Get the recipe for Cinnamon-Star Anise Sugar »
Mirin is all about getting sauced.
Because that’s where Japanese cooking wine really shines — in sauces.
But first, a misconception. The wretched American product known as “cooking wine” probably has you reluctant to try anything similar.
Relax and prepare for a delicious discovery. They are nothing alike.
Though once sipped similar to sake, today mirin is exclusively a cooking wine. The clear, viscous liquid has a clean yet intensely sweet-salty flavor.
Mirin-Marinated Short Ribs With Shiitakes and Egg Noodles »
You’ll probably feel pretty stupid calling it “squeaky cheese,” but as soon as you take a bite you’ll understand why it makes sense.
Sometimes called Greek grilling cheese, halloumi is just that — a dense cheese that holds its shape and won’t drip through the grates when grilled.
And when you chew it? It makes a squeaky sound against your teeth.
Luckily, mouth noises aren’t the real selling point of this cheese. Taste and versatility are what will drive you to find this relative of feta cheese.
Traditionally made from sheep’s milk on the island of Cyprus, halloumi today often is made from a blend of milk from of sheep, goats and cows.
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Imagine crossing a monster potato with a water chestnut.
That’s jicama for you. And while not much to look at on the outside, the crisp, crunchy texture and clean, sweet flavor inside make this veggie worth seeking out.
First, the basics. Jicama (pronounced HICK-a-MA) is a tuber — a big brown round root. A relative of the bean family, it is native to Mexico and South America.
Though most often eaten raw, such as chopped into salads, jicama can be steamed, boiled, sautéed or fried. And so long as you don’t overcook it, jicama retains its pleasantly crisp texture (think fresh apple) when cooked.
The flavor is on the neutral side, with a hint of starchy sweetness. It really is quite similar to water chestnuts, and can be substituted for them.
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