Friday, May 20, 2011

The Flavor Thesaurus

Last weekend, I was browsing the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston store after seeing the Dale Chihuly exhibit (breath-taking!). I naturally gravitated to the cookbook section, when I came across a relatively new (2010) book by UK author Niki Segnit called The Flavor Thesaurus. At first glance, I didn't get what it was about, but something made me take a second look and I ended up buying it.

Segnit was motivated by a desire to gain a deeper understanding of how flavors work together and, ultimately, become a better, more improvisational cook. She identifies 99 flavors, from Almond to White Fish, that she organizes around a "flavor wheel" classified by categories she calls "flavor families" such as Fresh Fruity and Sulphurous. You can look up a family, or a flavor within a family and get a list of pairings. For example, looking up cauliflower (grouped under Sulphurous), I find pairings with ingredients as diverse as anchovies, chocolate, and saffron! The entries include descriptions about the combinations. Some entries include recipes. In the back of the book are a bibliography and several helpful indices: a recipe index, a general index, and a pairings index. The latter lists the 99 flavors alphabetically as headings, and then the pairings underneath. BTW, it must have been "translated" to American English, because she talks of eggplant and zucchini, not aubergine and courgette.

Although, based on research of combinations commonly used in different cultures' cuisines and those used successfully by innovative chefs, there is also an element of subjectivity, which she explains forthrightly in the introduction. For example, she does not include one of my favorites, zucchini, because it is not a favorite of hers. (You can find it in the general index, in a pasta recipe under "Basil & Mint,") Nor did I sees spinach or chard and kale gets only a passing mention. But you can always look for something close or browse the flavor family and go from there.

I'm hoping this book will serve as an inspiration, especially as I struggle to deal with the impending bounty of my veggie CSA. I will keep you posted (no pun intended)!

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