Friday, January 31, 2014

The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit - and Cauliflower and Walnut Salad

How do you decide what flavours go well together? What are some tasty combinations that are not obvious? The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit aims to answer questions like these. What a wonderful book! She breaks foods down into 99 flavours and arranges them on a wheel in categories such as earthy, green and grassy, and floral fruity. Each of the 99 flavours has a chapter in which Segnit discusses pairings with the other flavours. Not all of the possible 9702 pairings are discussed - but the book is extensive, useful, and highly entertaining.

The Flavour Thesaurus was our Kitchen Reader book for January. I have owned it for about a year, though, and I've often found myself relaxing with a cup of tea and this book. Each flavour pairing is discussed in five or so sentences, with anecdotes and ideas, and quite a few recipes from restaurants or world cuisines.

The writing is often hilarious. For example, "Asparagus and Peanut: This might seem as incongruous as playing darts in a ballgown, but the rich, meaty flavour of asparagus is, in fact, very good with peanuts, especially when given an Asian inflection." Or consider this mention of lamb and artichoke stew: "The only drawback… is having to peel and chop globe artichokes. You end up looking as if you've been playing patty-cake with Edward Scissorhands. You could use canned or frozen artichokes, but don't. They're no substitute in either flavour or textural terms. Like beauty, flavour is pain."

I have been inspired by many of the pairing paragraphs. I want to try a salad that was presented by French polymath Paul Reboux more than eighty years ago. It is made with "lettuce leaves and sliced cooked potatoes in a creamy dressing, garnished with orange zest and carrots, both cut into one-inch lengths and 'as thin as pine needles.' This, claims Reboux, is guaranteed to capture the attention of the gourmand. 'Orange? Carrot? How is it that the orange tastes of carrot and the carrot of orange?' A game for the palate to play."

Tangentially related to flavour combinations, I am going to spend the next month on a Shop Your Wardrobe Challenge (pdf), and the first day is to put together two colours I have never combined before. And so I wore this teal and blue outfit, perhaps not as unusual as asparagus and peanut, but new for me. As is this cauliflower and walnut salad (recipe below).

The Kitchen Reader is a food-related online book club. In February we are reading Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid’s Story that Inspired Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey by Margaret Powell. New members are always welcome.

Cauliflower and Walnut Salad
serves 1
adapted from The Flavour Thesaurus

200 g cauliflower
1 medjool date
1/4 c (35 g) walnuts
2/3 c (165 ml) sour cream
2 t lemon
1/4 t sea salt
1/4 t pepper

Chop the cauliflower into bite-sized pieces.
Finely chop the date and walnuts and mix with the cauliflower.
Mix the remaining ingredients to make a dressing. You may not need all of the dressing, so start by mixing half into the cauliflower salad.

Do you have a favourite flavour pairing that is not obvious?

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