12 Common Cooking Terms Defined

Novice chef cooking guide
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Recipes can be intimidating if you're not much of a cook. But no need to run from the kitchen in fear! I’m Hungry Girl Lisa Lillien, and I’ve got your back. Grab your cutest apron and bookmark this handy-dandy rundown of the most common cooking terms.

Chop

You know there’s a knife involved, but just how small are you supposed to cut your ingredients? Aim to cut veggies and other ingredients into evenly sized squares, each about 1/2 inch in size.

If the directions say to roughly chop, this means the pieces can be larger and less even. Finely chop means the pieces should be smaller and more precise.

Dice

Dicing is pretty much the same as finely chopping: Cut small even pieces; think 1/4-inch squares. HG tip: First slice your ingredient into thin strips; then slice the other way to create the diced pieces. If you need some assistance, purchase a veggie chopper with multiple settings.

Zest

Zesting refers to scraping the skin off a citrus fruit. I suggest picking up a grater/zester to do the work for you! This is a great way to add subtle citrus flavor. Bonus: It smells great!

Shred

Grab a grater for this one. Use the side with bigger holes to create long, smooth strips. Just press the food against it, and drag it down to shred. Perfect for cheese (make mine light) and veggies.

Grate

This too calls for a grater, but this time you'll want to use the side with small holes.

The goal is to create teeny-tiny pieces of food. HG confession: When a recipe calls for grated Parm, I usually just buy it already grated to save time.

Boil

This means it’s time to get hot. Or rather, it's time for the liquid in your pot to get hot. Turn up your stove to the max temperature, and wait for bubbles to form.



Simmer

This step almost always follows boiling a liquid. To achieve a simmer, reduce the heat on the stove to low. There should be small, unbreakable bubbles on the surface. Got it? Good! I think you’re ready to whip up a giant bowl of growing oatmeal.

Steam

This is a super-healthy method of cooking. The food is cooked over simmering water. The resulting steam softens and cooks your food—no oil or butter needed. Steaming your veggies retains the nutrients, so memorize this one! If you're at a restaurant, look for this term on the menu or request it. Here are more dining out tips and tricks!

Stir-Fry

One of my favorite cooking methods, this one is simple and a quick-dinner savior! Over high-heat, ingredients are cooked while constantly being stirred. While most recipes call for oil, I often use nonstick cooking spray to keep the calories down. That's some stir-fry inspiration!

Sauté

How fancy are you, knowing this French terminology? Similar to stir-frying, this means to cook food over medium-high heat with oil and/or butter, moving the food around with a spatula. You get great flavor this way. Just use a measuring spoon with that oil or butter to keep calories in check!

Dash

You won’t find a measuring spoon with the term “dash” on it.

A dash is basically a small sprinkle. If you're afraid you'll overdo it, use 1/8 teaspoon when this amount is called for. You’ll usually see it with salt and potent spices.

Slice

This one's easy. A slice is a cut that goes completely through the ingredient. Think of slicing a cake or a loaf of bread. Since we’re talking carbs, how could I not share these better-for-you bread swaps?

There you have it. Consider yourself (culinary) schooled!

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