Cookbooks: 6 posts

Lateral Cooking by Niki Segnit : Unlocking the Secrets of Flavors

Why does pork pair well with peaches? Why does jasmine uplift the aroma of green tea? And why does chocolate and coffee marry so well together? Great cooking is based on an understanding of flavors and the way in which different ingredients can pair together.  Yet, it’s a skill that can seem elusive, especially to those who are new to cooking.  While there are numerous resources with excellent recipes, few of them teach novices how to approach flavors and techniques. This is an especially unfortunate oversight since one of the easiest ways to improve one’s cooking—and to enjoy the process more–is to cook using one’s nose and palate to their fullest.

This is a subject the food writer Niki Segnit explored  in her 2010 book The Flavour Thesaurus. Covering a wide range of ingredients, from almonds to washed rind cheeses, the author deftly intertwines food science and her own experience to unlock the mystery of aromas and tastes. The book suggests hundreds of combinations and explains why, for instance, coriander and blueberry pair well together. Coriander contains up to 85% linalool, a compound with a bright, floral-citrusy fragrance. The same molecule is responsible for the aroma of blueberry, and adding a bit of ground coriander to a blueberry dessert magnifies the flavors.

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Culinary and Aromatic Journey Across the Islamic World

“My most vivid scent from Beirut was that of gardenias. Our neighbor’s garden was full of gardenia trees and when they flowered, the smell was so heady and divine that I would stay outside just to enjoy it,” recalls Lebanese-born Anissa Helou. As a journalist, chef and prolific cookbook author, she has traveled the world collecting recipes and learning how different nationalities prepare their food. Yet when I ask her for a favorite scent memory, it’s the perfume of Lebanese gardenias that she describes.

I was inspired to reach out to Helou after I spent a few weeks in a haze of coriander, rosewater and saffron, thanks to her magnum opus, Feast: Food of the Islamic World. Published this spring after many years of extensive research, it’s a fascinating compendium of recipes from countries united by their Islamic heritage. As I describe in my article for FT Magazine, A Cultural And Aromatic Journey Across the Islamic World, another common link among the diverse cuisines Helou describes is their attention to aromatics.

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Menu for a Georgian Feast, with Three Cookbook Reviews

My trip to Georgia was a culinary epiphany.  This small country in the Caucasus has one of the world’s most interesting cuisines, full of vibrant combinations of herbs, nuts, pomegranate and spices. It’s also one of the healthiest, offering a wide repertoire of vegetable dishes and herb rich stews (such as chakhokhbili, the chicken tomato stew I shared recently). Among my other favorites are pkhali, vegetable salads in walnut sauce, khachapuri, flatbreads stuffed with cheese, lobio, beans cooked with coriander leaves and walnuts, mtsvadi, grilled meat, and khinkali, juicy, peppery meat dumplings. It is a kaleidoscope of flavors. And just like the Georgian language is related to no other tongue, Georgia’s cuisine is uniquely distinctive.

Three Cookbooks

This fall gives me and other Georgian food lovers a reason to be happy, because there are three new Georgian cookbooks on the market, and all three are excellent. The first one I bought was Supra: A Feast of Georgian Cooking by Tiko Tuskadze. As an introduction to Georgian cuisine, it’s the ideal book. It contains recipes for most of the classics, including five types of khachapuri, the cheese stuffed flatbread, six types of pkhali, a vegetable dish that’s between a salad and a paté, and a wide array of meat, fish and poultry dishes.  I also liked discovering several recipes for adjika (also spelled as ajika), herb and chili pastes that function both as condiments and seasoning sauces. Tuskadze’s red adjika (p.30) is a symphony of chili, parsley, basil, coriander and celery leaves, with a basso profondo note of fenugreek.

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Top 15 Cookbooks for Fall : From Venice to Sri Lanka

If like me, you haven’t accepted the end of summer and would like to carry a sunny note through fall, there are several means to achieve it. For instance, scents can help but so can flavors. One of the reasons I love cooking is that it allows me to blend two of my passions–and savor the results. This fall, cooking is even more exciting because 2017 has been a year with many excellent cookbook releases. I had difficulty picking just a couple, so I decided to show you my favorite 15 books, from which I’ve cooked already and which I recommend wholeheartedly. They will satisfy your hunger as well as your wanderlust.

Europe

Veneto: Recipes from an Italian Country Kitchen by Valeria Necchio

Venice is on the well-trodden tourist trail, but its food and that of its region isn’t. This is a shame, because Venetian dishes blend a full spectrum of flavors and ingredients like polenta, pine nuts, rosemary, raisins, shellfish, white wine, and saffron. Veneto is Valeria Necchio’s debut cookbook, and it’s exquisite. I don’t mean the photographs and styling, beautiful though they are. The recipes are the only thing I’m interested in. For a taste of real Venetian cooking, I suggest trying fried marinated pumpkin with onion, pine nuts and raisins, prawn and Prosecco risotto, stir-fried beans with basil and garlic, and ricotta pudding cake.

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Summers Under The Tamarind Tree and Grilled Spicy Chicken

Picking a favorite cuisine is not easy for me. I adore the lusty Ukrainian flavors of my childhood as well as the subtle interplay of nuances of Japanese cooking. Italian dishes, especially the Abruzzo specialties I learned as a teenager living in southern Italy, are the mainstay in my repertoire, food I turn to if I don’t know what else to cook. Persian delicacies like layered rices and stewed meats are what I make when I feel like playing with colors and flavors. And the cooking of the subcontinent, especially Pakistan and India, satisfies my perfumer’s sensibilities. Diverse though the cuisines are in different parts of the countries, they give me a chance to compose a dish as I would a fragrance by building accords and creating top, heart, and base notes.

Pakistani cuisine may be less known in comparison to Indian, but it boasts a splendid variety of dishes, from grilled meats to banana leaf steamed fish, from breads perfumed with saffron to rice garnished with dried fruit and nuts. It’s both a new and an old country. Formed in 1947, Pakistan bears the imprints of civilizations that succeeded each other, from the Indus Valley Civilization to the Greeks and the Mughals. As a place where different faiths met and different people traded, fought, loved and lived, it has a varied and rich food culture. Short of visiting a Pakistani family, one way to discover it is via Sumayya Usmani’s cookbook, Summers Under The Tamarind Tree: Recipes & Memories from Pakistan (public library).

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Latest Comments

  • MK in Chanel Coco Mademoiselle Giveaway: Hello, I recommend Ambre Fetiche by Annick Goutal. It’s a long-lasting amber and a comfort scent great for fall days. I also recommend Serge Lutens Vetiver Oriental. It has a… October 15, 2019 at 12:18am

  • Vani in Chanel Coco Mademoiselle Giveaway: Thanks for the lovely giveaway. Hermès Ambre des Merveilles and Eau des Merveilles edt are both lovely in the autumn! Ambre des Merveilles especially has a lovely drydown without being… October 14, 2019 at 11:29pm

  • rickyrebarco in Chanel Coco Mademoiselle Giveaway: Tara, I would recommend Teo Cabanel’s Barkhane, a woody, spicy amber that is totally warm and comforting. Also you may wish to try Nicolai’s Ambre Cashmere Intense, a beauty. Yes,… October 14, 2019 at 10:39pm

  • Armando in Chanel Coco Mademoiselle Giveaway: Hi Tara, I would recommend Woodissime by Mugler, from their Les Exceptions line. It is woody, warm, balsamic, but not too sweet and entirely inedible. It has great sillage and… October 14, 2019 at 9:51pm

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