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Home > Cooking Tips > Glossary > Glossary S - Z

Glossary S - Z

Chinese Cooking Glossary

Chinese Cooking Glossary



[Back to Glossary Index]


Scallions -  Also called "spring onion", "green onion". A scallion is an immature onion with a white base (not yet a bulb) and long green leaves. Both parts of the scallion are edible. Available in Asian market.

Sea Cucumber -
The sea cucumber is a gelatinous creature that is indeed shaped like a cucumber. Like tofu, it is flavorless, but has the ability to soak up the flavors of the foods and seasonings it is cooked with.  In Chinese cooking it is used in soups, stir-fries, and certain braised dishes.

Other names for the sea cucumber include beche de me, sea rat and sea slug (the latter is somewhat confusing since the real sea slug is another animal entirely). The Chinese name for the sea cucumber translates roughly into "sea ginseng" - it's unclear whether this is in recognition of the sea cucumber's reputed aphrodisiacal qualities, or because it is considered to be quite healthful. (It has been used to treat everything from high blood pressure in humans to joint pain in pot-bellied pigs.) It may also have something to do with its slippery feel, as the texture of food weights more heavily in Chinese cuisine than is generally the case in western cooking. 

Freshly caught sea cucumber requires an extensive amount of preparation before making the transition from the ocean floor to your dinner plate. The complicated procedure takes place over several days and involves slitting open the belly and removing the guts, as well as washing and boiling the animal several times. Fresh sea cucumber that has already been cleaned and soaked is sometimes available in Asian markets, usually in the cold foods section or in containers of water. Many Asian stores also carry dried sea cucumber, which looks and feels almost exactly like a piece of cement, albeit not as heavy. It also must be soaked for several hours before cooking. 

Sesame Oil  - This amber colored, aromatic oil, made from pressed and toasted sesame seeds, is a popular ingredient in Chinese cooking. Not for use as a cooking oil, however, as the flavor is too intense and it burns quite easily.  Instead, sesame oil is normally added as a flavoring agent in the final stages of cooking. Sesame oil has been used since ancient times; the Babylonians cultivated sesame seeds for their oil, and the Persians used it as both a food and medicine. It is still used in holistic preparations for everything from treating infections to stimulating brain activity. (It is also believed to contain antioxidants).

One note: the nonroasted sesame oil you sometimes find in supermarkets and health food stores is not a good substitute for the sesame oil used in Oriental cooking. Sesame oil will keep for several months if stored in a cool, dark, and dry place. Recommended Brand: Kadoya sesame oil from Japan.  

Sichuan - See

Sichuan Peppercorn - See
Szechuan Peppercorn.

Simmer - To cook food gently in liquid that bubbles steadily, just below boiling point, so that the food cooks in even heat without breaking up.

Snow Peas - Also known as mangetout, which is French for "eat it all," snow peas cooked with a bit of
ginger and garlic are a frequent addition to stir-fry dishes.  Their sweet flavor also goes well with seasoned (often salted) meat or poultry. The French name comes from the fact that the whole pea - including the pod - is eaten. Other names include edible-podded peas, and Chinese sugar peas.

Snow peas are available in supermarkets - look for crisp pods with small peas. This means that they were picked when young and have not sat in the store for too long. They can be stored in the crisper section of the refrigerator for 2 - 3 days.
Possible substitutes: Sugar snap peas, another pea with an edible pod, can be substituted, but they won't have the same flavor.

Snow Pea Shoots - The tips of the vines and the top set of leaves of the pea plant are an Oriental delicacy. They can be served raw in salads, quickly cooked in stir-fries, or blanched and used in soups.

Soy Bean Curd - Called doufu in China and tofu in Japan, bean curd is made from soy beans, in a process that has much in common with making cheese. Commonly called "meat without bones" it is extremely high in protein. Although quite bland in taste, it absorbs the flavors of the food it is cooked with and is used in a number of dishes, from soups and sauces to stir-fries. (The firmer tofus are recommended for stir-fries and grilling, while the regular tofus work well in soups and silken tofu is great for blended dishes like pudding). For the connoisseur who wants to expand his or her horizons, there is fermented bean curd (preserved in rice wine), bean curd skins (taken from the film or skin that forms on top when the bean curd is being prepared), and pressed seasoned bean curd - simmered in water with a number of spices.

Soy Sauce - Invented by the Chinese approximately 3,000 years ago, soy sauce is made from fermented soy beans, wheat flour, water, and salt.  The two main types of soy sauce are light and dark.  As the name implies, light soy sauce is lighter in color, and also more sweet than dark soy sauce.  In Chinese cooking, it is used more often than dark soy - always use light soy in a recipe unless dark is specifically called for. Aged for a longer period of time, dark soy sauce is thicker and blacker in color.  It is also less salty than light soy. It is used in certain recipes to add color, and as a dipping sauce. Storage: Store soy sauce at room temperature. Buy soy sauce

Soya Sauce - Also as soy sauce. Please refer to soy sauce.

Spring Onion -
Also called "scallion", "green onion". A spring onion is an immature onion with a white base (not yet a bulb) and long green leaves. Both parts of the scallion are edible. Available in Asian market.

Sui Choy - See Napa Cabbage. 

Szechuan - A province in China. Szechuan food is famous for its spicy flavor. See also Szechwan, Sichuan.

Szechuan Peppercorn - Also called Szechwan peppercorn, Sichuan Peppercorn, Szechwan Peppercorn, Anise Pepper, Brown Peppercorn, Chinese Aromatic Pepper, Chinese Pepper, Flower Pepper, Sancho, Japanese Pepper, Japan Pepper, Wild Pepper, and Fagara Pepper. Reddish-brown peppercorns, native to Szechuan. Much stronger and more fragrant than normal peppercorns. These aren't true peppercorns, but rather dried flower buds. You're most likely to encounter them as part of a mixture, like the Chinese five-spice powder or the Japanese shichimi togarashi. Toast Szechwan peppercorns briefly in a hot pan before using. 

Szechuan Peppercorns

Substitutes: Lemon pepper OR black peppercorns OR equal parts black peppercorns and aniseed



Tabasco Sauce - A very hot red sauce made from peppers.

Tapioca - Made from the starch of the cassava root, tapioca comes in several forms, including granules and flour, as well as the pellets that are called Pearl Tapioca. Tapioca starch is often used to make dumpling dough, or as a thickening agent. If necessary, it can be used as a substitute for
cornstarch. Store tapioca in a cool dark place.

Tequila Rose - A sweet, strawberry-flavored Mexican cream liqueur made from a blend of strawberry cream liqueur and tequila.
Buy Tequila Rose.

Triple Sec - A very refined, white Curacao. Very sweet.







Vinegar - Sour liquid consisting mainly of acetic acid and water, produced by the action of bacteria on dilute solutions of ethyl alcohol derived from previous yeast fermentation.

Vinegar is used as a salad dressing, a preservative, a household remedy to allay irritations, a mild disinfectant, and, in cooking, as a fiber softener.
Read more    
Buy vinegar

Vodka - A clear alcoholic spirit originating in Russia, made from grain.
Buy Vodka.



Water Chestnuts - The knobby vegetable with the papery brown skin is a staple in Chinese cooking. However, the water chestnut is not a nut at all, but an aquatic vegetable that grows in marshes. This is why the ones that you purchase in the store  may have a bit of muddy coating. The name "water chestnut" comes from the fact that it resembles a chestnut in shape and coloring.  Indigenous to Southeast Asia, the water chestnut is valued both for its sweetness and its ability to maintain a crisp texture when cooked.  It is believed to sweeten the breath.

At the store, look for firm water chestnuts devoid of any soft spots. Unpeeled, water chestnuts will keep for up to two weeks in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Prior to cooking, you'll need to cut off the top and peel the skin. If peeled ahead of time, store them in cold water in the refrigerator, with the water changed daily. Fresh water chestnuts are worth hunting for, as they have a sweeter flavor and are quite crisp. However, canned water chestnuts work fine as a substitute. Drain and rinse the canned water chestnuts before using.  You may also want to rinse them briefly in boiling water to get rid of any canned or "tinny" taste.  They can be eaten raw or added to stir-fries. As with fresh, store the unused water chestnuts in the refrigerator in cold water. Change the water daily, and they should last for up to a week.   

White Creme de Cacao - A colorless chocolate-flavored liqueur made from the cacao seed. Buy White Creme de Cacao.

White Curacao - A type of Curacao, usually colorless (see Curacao).

Winter Melon or Dong Gua - Winter melon, or Benincasa Hispida to use its scientific name, resembles a large watermelon with its dark green skin. The flesh inside is white, looking much like it has been lightly covered with snow, and the seeds are white as well. Grown during the summer, it lasts a long time and thus can be eaten during the winter. 

Winter melon has a very mild sweet taste. It is used in soups and stir-fries, where it absorbs the flavors of the ingredients it is cooked with. A famous Chinese dish is winter melon soup, where slices of the melon are simmered in a broth with Chinese dried mushrooms, ham, and seasonings. At banquets the soup is cooked inside a whole carved out melon, which then serves as both steamer and serving bowl. Winter melon is also used in sweets, such as Wife Cake and the Indian treat Petha. 

You may be able to buy a whole winter melon, but normally you would purchase cut pieces. Placed in a plastic bag in the crisper section of the refrigerator, the melon slices will last for a couple of days.

Wok  - The most important piece of Chinese cooking equipment, a wok can be used for stir-frying, deep-frying, steaming, and roasting. While a frying pan can be used in place of a wok for stir-frying (cast iron is particularly good), a wok has numerous advantages in shape, design, and material. While there are several types of wok on the market, from stainless steel to aluminum, carbon steel is best.    

Wood Ears -  Often confused with cloud ears, wood ears are actually a distant relative of the cloud ear fungus. Larger and somewhat tougher, they lack the delicate taste of cloud ears. Storage and preparation of wood ears is virtually identical to cloud ears, except that they can be soaked in cold instead of warm water.  They are used in soups and stir-fries.

Worcestershire Sauce - A spicy sauce made from say sauce, vinegar and different spices.











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