December 6, 2021

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Thesaurus – Into the Labyrinth of Flavors

Readers of my column will probably get the impression that I cook a lot and love to cook. Not professionally and without claiming perfection but with great joy. The impression is correct. For me, eating is not just a matter of survival or a place to socialize at home. For me, food has a lot to do with enjoyment and the joy of life. Of course, dining in restaurants can also be fun. But in the end, another element of my culinary enthusiasm is missing – creativity, and the desire to experiment, which can sometimes go wrong. There are undoubtedly great and creative chefs out there, but I have no control over what is on my plate. And I – a fate I share with most people – simply do not have enough money to regularly visit culinary places of worship

The more universal, the more random

I certainly wouldn’t want to do anything else with the globalized standard gastronomical delicacy that dominates the daily gastronomic offer – at least in Berlin. In a special column, I created the (not too serious) slogan “I don’t go out to eat anymore because I can cook so well”. Strolling the inner city-related neighborhoods feels like a choppy, round-the-world trip. However, almost everything seems arbitrary and interchangeable. On the other hand, you have to research regional cuisine with a magnifying glass or take other methods into consideration. Beyond the seemingly limitless variety, there is plenty of simplicity, too when shopping. There are countless suppliers of all kinds of exotic ingredients here, but there is no butcher where I can get my bone marrow.

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The usual cookbooks, that is, collections of fairly practical recipes, did not interest me anymore. When it comes to cooking, I’m not looking for IKEA-style craft instructions, but the basics. I want to understand the basic ingredients used, their specific properties and their interactions with each other and not just imitate recipes.

Mix of flavors instead of recipes

A few years ago I stumbled upon a cookbook (still available) that takes a somewhat radical approach. “The Taste Thesaurus” doesn’t look particularly funky at first, but it has it all. The 99 kinds of foods, including herbs and spices, are classified into 16 categories such as moldy, earthy, fruity, salty, etc., and then divided into several hundred combinations of two, whose taste impression is described. The focus is on the successful “mating” of the scents in question and answering the question of why they work. Seasoned with a few anecdotes and everything written in a very relaxed and stylized manner. There are no images in this 544-page feed – they were created in the head. The preparation instructions involved are short and precise, and sometimes there are small recipes as well. The New Zurich Times The concept was aptly named in one of the reviews as “exchange dating for groceries.”

New horizons of taste

Nobody will just read this book from start to finish, so why would they? You just look at the husband’s history – and you will always find something that you can not even imagine. At first glance, “Seafood and Mushroom” sounds as strange as “Speck & Anise.” Of course, personal taste should always remain the standard for all things, but if you want to expand your taste horizon significantly beyond ancient scent trails, you’ve got a posh guide here.

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Every now and then I risk a bit of a “blind date”. Open the book somewhere and make the first pairing that catches my eye. This is how I’ve now marked this column and ended up with “Mango & Coriander Green”. To illustrate, she says, “Mango has a great affinity with green coriander, with which it shares notes of pine, citrus, and flower.” And what can I say: you succeeded!

Niki Segnit: “The Taste Thesaurus”
Piper Verlag Munich
Paperback edition (also available as laminated)
544 pages, 16 euros
ISBN 978-3-492-30633-1