Culinary Dictionary – N


Linda’s Culinary Dictionary – N

A Dictionary of Cooking, Food, and Beverage Terms


Culinary Dictionary

An outstanding and large culinary dictionary and glossary that includes the definitions and history of cooking, food, and beverage terms.

Please click on a letter below to alphabetically search the many food and cooking terms


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nacho (NAH-choh) – A small tortilla chip topped with cheese and chile peppers or chile pepper sauce.  The word may be from the Spanish for “flat-nosed.”


nap or nappe – French word that means to completely coat food with a light, thin, even layer of sauce or a jelly.


Napoleon pastry (nuh-POH-lee-uhn) – It is known as mille-feuilles in France. Outside of France it is known as “Napoleon.” It consists of layers of puff pastry interspersed with pastry cream or whipped cream and iced with fondant and chocolate or with confectioner’s sugar.

History:  (1) It is believed to have been developed in France during the latter part of the 19th century.  The Danish people have been told for generations that a Danish royal pastry chef invented the dessert way back in the 1800s on the occasion of a state visit between the Emperor Napoleon and the King of Denmark, in Copenhagen.  Some sources believe that the chocolate lines on the pastry appear to form the letter “N” for Napoleon.  (2) A final story or tale is that the dessert was really a French invention after all, and that it was Napoleon’s favorite pastry.  It is said that he ate so many of them on the eve of Waterloo that he lost the battle.


Navajo Fry Bread – The dough used in making this flat bread is a variation of the dough for flour tortillas, consisting of wheat flour, shortening, salt, and water, leavened sometimes by baking powder and sometimes by yeast.  Today, there are endless regional variations of this Native American flat bread.  Each tribe, and also each family, has their own special recipe.  The making of Fry Bread is considered a source of pride.  Navajo Fry Bread is considered a tradition in Arizona and New Mexico, and dry bread with honey butter is a specialty of New Mexico.  Learn more about the history (includes recipes) of Navajo Fry Bread & Indian Tacos.

History:  Navajo Fry Bread actually evolved because of access to European wheat and lard. In 18860, approximately 8,000 Navajos spent four years imprisoned at Fort Summer, New Mexico, and were given little more than white flour and lard to eat.  After returning to their new reservation, the United States’ government provided them with wheat flour as part of their commodities program.  Because of this, lard and wheat flour became the main ingredients in the making of Navajo Fry Bread.  The Indian women had to make the best of what was often considered poor-quality rations in reservation camps and the varying availability of government-issued commodities.


Nesselrode – An iced pudding flavored with chestnuts and dried fruit. Also a cream pie filled with mixed preserved fruits and topped with shaved chocolate.

History:  Nesselrode was invented by chef Monsieur Mony, chef to the Russian diplomat known as Count Karl Nesselrode (1780-1862), in Paris.  Count Nesselrode was a famous Russian gourmet and diplomat.  His contemporaries thought Nesselrode a poor diplomat whose attention was focused only on a good table, flowers and money.  As a patron of the culinary arts, he had a number of dishes named in his honor by chefs.


neufchatel cheese (noof-sha-TEL) – A soft unripened cheese originally from Neufchatel-en-Bray, France.  It has a fat content of 44 to 48%.  It is sold as low-fat cream cheese in the U.S.


Newburg Sauce – An American sauce that was created at the famous Delmonico Restaurant in New York City by their French chef, M. Pascal.  This elegant sauce is composed of butter, cream, egg yolks, sherry, and seasonings.  It is usually served over buttered toast points.  The sauce is also used with other foods, in which case the dish is usually given the name “Newburg.”

nicoise – A descriptive term for dishes served with particular foods used by the chefs of the City of Nice, France.  This garnish usually includes garlic, tomatoes, anchovies, black olive, capers, and lemon juice. Salad Niise is the most famous of all these dishes, consisting of potatoes, olives, green beans, and vinaigrette dressing.


nicoise olive (nee-SHAHZ) – A small, oval olive that ranges in color from purple-brown to brown-black.  They are from the Provence region of France (but some are also grown in Italy).  They are cured in brine and packed in olive oil.


nixtamal – Kernels of dried field corn that have their hull and germ removed and partially processed with slaked lime and water.  The first people of Mexico and Native Americans used ashes dissolved in water.  Today the standard alkali for the nixtamalizing process is purified cal, or calcium hydroxide. Nixtamal is usually found packaged in bags in the refrigerated sections of Southwest markets.  Posole is an excellent substitute.

Hominy can also be substituted for nixtamal, but it generally has a much milder flavor.  Essentially nixtamal is the same as hominy In the Southern U.S. states, nixtamal is called hominy (however, today, hominy has the nutrient-rich germ removed, unlike nixtamal). T he southerners serve it whole, as a vegetable, or ground it into grits.

The main application of nixtamal is to grind the kernels and mix them with seasonings to make a dough, similar to masa, which is used to make tamales.  Nixtamal is also used whole in soups and stews.  In countries where nixtamal is used, it is made fresh daily . It spoils quickly without refrigeration, but even with refrigeration, its flavor and texture are noticeably better on the day it was made.


noisette (nwah-ZEHT) – (1) It is the French word for hazelnut. ( 2) In French, noisette is a small version of noix, which means a “walnut.”  The noix of a leg of lamb or ham means a “small walnut-shaped” which is a juicy morsel.  It is a small, round, or oval slice of lamb or mutton, which is cut from the leg, rib, or fillet. It is cut to provide an individual portion.


non-reactive pan – When a recipe calls for a non-reactive cookware, use clay, copper, enamel, glass, plastic, or stainless steel.  Stainless steel is the most common non-reactive cookware available as it does not conduct or retain heat well (it frequently has aluminum or copper bonded to the bottom or a core of aluminum between layers of stainless steel).  Although expensive, this kind of cookware offers the benefits of a durable, non-reactive surface and rapid, uniform heat conductivity.  Glass cookware is non-reactive and although it retains heat well it conducts it poorly.  Enamelware is non-reactive as long as the enamel is not scratched or chipped.


noodle – Any of a variety of thin strips of pasta made from flour, water, and sometimes egg.  In Japan, noodles are consumed winter or summer, hot in broth or cold in dipping sauce.  There are four main branches in the Japanese noodle family. Soba, which translates as “nearness,” is a thin noodle made from buckwheat flour, good hot or cold.  Chubby udon, made from wheat flour, is usually served hot, with tempura.  Hiyamugi is a medium-thickness wheat noodle; usually eat cold, served on a bed of ice, with fishcakes and chopped boiled eggs.  Somen, a very thin wheat noodle is also served cold with a dipping sauce, often with green shiso leaves, ginger and toasted sesame seeds.  In Japan, it’s considered to be very good form to loudly slurp your noodles.  It is a way of telling your host you approve of the cooking.


nori (NOR-ee) – The Japanese name for a flat blade-like red seaweed belonging to the genus Porphyra.  Nori, which is usually sold as a rectangular sheet measuring 19 x 21 cm, is the most commonly eaten alga in Japan.  Tasters are employed to evaluate the taste, color, texture, and overall quality of cultivated nori, in much the same way that wine tasters select high-quality products for the food industry.  High quality nori has a glossy, black color and good aroma.  It is so tender that it melts with saliva in the mouth.  Poor quality nori has a greenish color with less gloss and aroma, and it has a hard texture.  In Japan, the highest-grade nori is elegantly packaged and presented as a special gift.  The Chinese people call it “zicai” (purple vegetable).

History: The production and consumption of nori in the form of dried or roasted sheets dates back 1,300 years.  The use of this seaweed was introduced into Japan from China.  Nori utilization was first recorded in the “Taiho Ritsuryo,” Japan’s first book of laws in 701 A.D., as a taxable agricultural product. Initially, field-gathered plants were used but when the supply became inadequate, cultivation was started in the 17th century.


nougat – It is a French candy made by whipping egg whites until they are light and frothy.  Sugar or honey syrup is added to stabilize the foam and creating a frappe.  Roasted nuts, such as almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, or walnuts, are added.  A number of other flavoring ingredients are then added to create nougat with different flavors.  Nuts are also added. Nougat is called torrone in Italy and turron in Spain.

History:  The history of the origin of nougat varies with different historians.  Most historians believe that nougat comes from ancient Rome where a sweet made from honey, almonds, and eggs was made and reserved for special functions or as an offering to their gods.  The first known documented mention in Italy of torrone was in the year 1441 in Cremona, where at the wedding of Francesco Sforza to Maria Bianca Visconti, a new sweet was created in the couple’s honor.

(1)  French historians think that the nougat traces back to a Greek walnut confection known as nux gatum or mougo that was originally made using walnuts.  In the 17th century, Olivier of Serres planted almond trees close to Montelimar.  It is thought that the almonds replaced the walnuts in the Greek recipe and evolved into nougat.  Today, Montelimar, a small city in the Drome section of southern France is known for their nougat.  The first commercial factory opened in the late 18th century and now this city has 14 nougat manufacturers producing this wonderful confection.

(2)  Another story tells of a farmer’s wife, taking advantage of plentiful almonds, honey, and eggs on her farm, created nougat candy.


nouvelle cuisine (noo-vehl kwee-ZEEN) – A French term meaning “new cooking.”  This refers to a culinary style that began in the late 1950s by young French chefs led by Bose,  Guard, and Chapel that moved away from the traditional rich, heavy style of classic French cuisine toward fresher, lighter food served in smaller portions.  This style replaced traditional heavy sauces with reductions of stocks and cooking liquids, the presentation of small portions, and visual artistry on over-large plates.  French cuisine today is basically a combination of traditional and nouvelle.


nutella – A thick smooth paste made from chocolate and hazelnuts.  Today, Nutella is the number one spread in Europe

History:  Pietro Ferrero, a pastry maker and founder of the Ferrero Company, created it in the 1940’s.  At the time, cocoa was in short supply due to war rationing, and chocolate was a delicacy limited to a lucky few.  So Pietro Ferrero mixed cocoa with toasted hazelnuts, cocoa butter and vegetable oils to create an economical spread of chocolate, which he called pasta gianduja (pronounced: pasta jon-du-ja).  Pasta gianduja’s success was unprecedented.  In 1949, Ferrero made a supercrema gianduja, which was spreadable as well as, inexpensive.  This product became so popular that Italian food stores started a service called “The Smearing.” Children could go to their local food store with a slice of bread for a “smear” of supercrema gianduja.  In 1964 supercrema gianduja was renamed Nutella (its origin being the word “nut”), and began to be marketed outside Italy!


nutraceutical – A nutraceutical is any food that is nutritionally enhanced with nutrients, vitamins, or herbal supplements.  The most common supplements are calcium, Vitamins E, A, and C and the herbs gingko, ginseng, echinacea, and St. John’s wort.  As consumers continue to look for ways to enhance health and well being, manufacturers continue to respond with products enhanced with supplements, including beverages, rice, frozen desserts, snacks, and many others.




Culinary Dictionary   

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