Friday, January 11, 2013

The Flavor Thesaurus

The Flavor Thesaurus
Niki Segnit

Glancing through the cookbook section every so often, I'm drawn toward covers with bold colours, delicious, plump produce covered in morning dew, or something that's bubbling over fresh out of the oven.

People say, "Don't judge a book by its cover." Deny all you want--it happens, you do it, I do it. And If I judged a book by its cover all of the time, most of the young adult novels I've seen (blurry girl in dress) wouldn't have been read. Covers are there to draw you in, to entice you to pick a book up and hopefully buy it.

Cookbooks, on the other hand, have another test to pass with eager foodies: one of the biggest criticisms people have when it comes to cookbooks specifically is, "not enough pictures." We want to see what our culinary efforts will produce and what things should look like when all is done. Big glossy pictures not only break up the sometimes-stiff cookbook monotony but also give the cook some hope.

Ironically, it is the classics like The Joy of Cooking and the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook (I get childhood flashbacks to my mum's tattered copy) that hardly have any pictures, other than the dated recipes of the time a la fondue and punch-bowl party surprise. My friends and family members to this day are unmoved by new, hip, colour-paged cookbooks and refer to old faithful. Though they dabble of course!

I own my fair share of cookbooks and can honestly tell you I hardly use them. I'm what you would call a freestyler, a tweaker. As hard as I try, I always change something. If I do need assistance I will take a peek at cooking times, but more often than not I indulge in adding and subtracting on a whim. Maybe it's due to what I have on hand? Or that I love spicy everything, or my intense love of trying new things? Who knows? But things usually turn out great and I would even say I'm a damn good cook.

One of the coolest cookbooks to recently come out for a recipe-breaking girl like me is The Flavor Thesaurus: Pairings, Recipes and Ideas for the Creative Cook, by Niki Segnit. Initially I was drawn to the book's bold colour wheel cover while shelving it. It's a book for rule-breaking adventurers in the kitchen. Open the cover and you have a pie chart broken up into flavours like " mustardy," "marine," and "creamy fruity,"  and then Signit breaks it down even more by showing you 99 foods that fit into these categories.

Segnit explains her methodology with wit and humour, informing the reader that, yes, there are some limitations with categorizing. She says, "The flavour of cabbage, for example, is mustardy when raw, sulfurous cooked. The flavour wheel, in short, is by no means intended to be an inarguable, objective framework for understanding flavor--but it does provide a stimulating and intriguing means of navigating your way around the subject."

Each pairing has its own little story and reference, whether it's a small history lesson, travel story, chef pick, or cheeky recipe. Have you ever thought about pairing cauliflower and capers? I'm intrigued and trying it out this week. Says Segnit,

Cauliflower is broccoli that can't be bothered. Where its dark-green cruciferous cousin is frisky, iron deep and complex, cauliflower is keener on the quiet life, snug under its blanket of cheese. It needs to be livened up a bit, which is where capers come in. You don't so much add capers to cauliflower--you set them on it. Cook a chopped onion in olive oil until soft, add some chili flakes and chopped garlic and stir for a few seconds. Add some blanched cauliflower florets, breadcrumbs and raisins and cook until the breadcrumbs are browned. Finally, add capers and parsley, warm them through and serve the mixture tossed with rigatoni.
Take a peek through and be adventurous!

- Ashley

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