I love to flip through cookbooks, but lately I’ve been more interested in food theory — books about ingredients, techniques, flavors, etc. Besides not being able to stick to a recipe to save my life, I prefer to learn the concepts behind cooking. It’s like that saying: Give a gal a fish recipe and she’ll eat for a night. Teach her how to cook it and she’ll eat for a lifetime. Or something.
I found an incredibly interesting book in the university library called The Flavor Principle Cookbook. It discusses the flavor principles and cooking techniques of several cultures, and then offers examples of traditional dishes and unique ways of combining ideas from different regions. This seems progressive for 1973.
I loved reading about the flavor principles from each culture, noticing the overlap and slight differences among them. For instance:
- Olive oil + tomato + garlic = Southern Italian
- Olive oil + tomato + saffron = Spanish, Southern French
- Olive oil + tomato + mixed herbs (thyme, basil, oregano) = Mediterranean, Provencal
- Olive oil + tomato + cinnamon and/or lemon = Greece, Balkans, Middle East
You can almost draw a map and follow the cuisine.
And what about Asian food? (That entire continent and nearby islands are so rarely appreciated as individual cultures.)
- Soy sauce + sake + sugar = Japanese
- Soy sauce + sherry + ginger = Chinese
- Soy sauce + garlic + brown sugar + sesame seeds = Korean
- Soy sauce + garlic + molasses + peanuts = Indonesian
These are still very basic formulas, but they get you to start thinking. After reading this book it was so easy for me to explain to my friend Annabelle why she enjoyed Indian food so much. Annabelle’s parents are Venezuelan and she grew up in Los Angeles. Naturally, she grew up eating Latin food. She hadn’t tried Indian until last month, but she loved it. Well if we consider the flavor principles of both cultures, we find a lot in common. Tomato, garlic, cumin, coriander/cilantro and hot peppers are all basic components of many Indian and Latin dishes.
The Flavor-Principle Cookbook is out of print, but if you can find it, I highly recommend it. I learned a lot, and we had a lot of success with her bulgar-stuffed chicken with a honey-sesame glaze.