For the straight dope on cooking ingredients, this is your one-stop compendium. Aimed at global foodies, it explains the differences between similar ingredients, and how they are used in cooking. Unravel your various pastas, cheese types, strange fruits and confusing meat parts. Over 1,500 ingredients are covered, so you get only a brief paragraph or two on each, plus a picture. The only source that comes close to the comprehensive range of this fat, affordable book is Wikipedia, but it lacks this tome’s wonderfully informative photographs. Food likes to be seen. I use this book for both browsing and searching. (It’s out of print, but you can get remaindered copies pretty cheap. The same information is sold in a larger format and much more expensive edition entitled The World Encyclopedia of Cooking Ingredients, but it is not worth it.)
Calf’s and lamb’s sweetbreads
Sweetbreads are the thymus glands taken from the neck and heart of young animals such as calves and lambs. They are pale and delicate with a tender meaty texture when braised or boiled. They are often pressed and fried or sauteed after blanching.
Spelt flour is ground from the small brown grains of an ancient variety of wheat, which is quite different from modern types of wheat.
Spelt is one of the oldest cultivated species of wheat. It is grown in only a few areas of Europe today, but some of the smaller flour mills produce a spelt flour that is available in some health food stores. It is popular in northern Europe, especially Germany, Switzerland and France, and is beginning to enjoy a revival in some other countries. This may be because the gluten it contains is fragile, so people with a gluten intolerance may be able to use it. It contains more B vitamins than other wheat grains.
Shrimp paste is compressed and sold in blocks or packed into tiny tubs.
Also known as blachan, terasi, kapi and ngapi, according to its country of origin, shrimp paste is an essential ingredient in scores of savoury dishes from South-east Asia. It is made from tiny shrimp that have been salted, dried, pounded and then left to ferment in the hot, humid equatorial conditions until the aroma is very pungent. The color of the paste can be anything from pale oyster pink to purplish brown, depending upon the type of shrimp and the precise process used to produce it.
There’s no disguising the main constituent of this paste. The moment you unwrap it or lift the lid, the smell of rotten fish is quite overwhelming. Do not let this put you off, however. The odour vanishes when the paste is cooked, and this is one of those ingredients that really does made a difference to the food, adding depth, pungency and a recognizable South-east Asian signature. it should be used sparingly – a piece about 1-2 cm/1/2-3/4 in long is sufficient for most dishes.