Crystie's Reviews > The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America's Most Imaginative Chefs

The Flavor Bible by Karen Page
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Nov 04, 10

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I spend a lot of time with this book. A lot of basic things, like soup or quiche, don't require a recipe. But knowledge of which herbs go with which vegetables, meats, and other herbs is always important.

"The Flavor Bible" alphabetically lists most ingredients with any sort of flavor (vegetables, meats, vinegars, herbs, spices). Under each ingredient is a list of everything that tastes good with that particular item, according to creative chefs across America. Complementary items that go very well are in bold, and items that make an excellent pairing are in caps and bold. So under "cherries" we learn that allspice, fennel, and vodka are good options; caramel, cognac, and duck are really good options; and almonds, vanilla, and wine are excellent options.

I've used this book many times to pull together disparate ingredients successfully. There was the cherry and zucchini cobbler with cream cheese, or the time I wanted an all meat chili with more notes than "meat" and "hot." I also learned that bacon and basil can pull many random casseroles or soups together -- if you can find what other 2-4 flavors (e.g. thyme, parsley, balsamic vinegar) will finish rounding out the harmony.

A couple times I got overly excited and decided to do a custom curry type blend with 10 different spices that would harmonize perfectly together and with a bunch of vegetables. A bit overwhelming. I checked a few recipes to get an idea of how much cumin versus cinnamon, fenugreek, or brown mustard seeds. And found that I cannot do a cross-reference comparison of 4-6 vegetables to 10+ spices and their ratios in my head.

Also note that the right ingredients won't necessarily cover up a lack in technique. For example, if I threw in fenugreek seeds at the end not knowing that seeds go in solo at the beginning until they pop, then I might think the seeds are to blame for the somewhat unpleasant taste and texture.

So now I pick a couple things in my pot that I really like, do some cross-referencing to enhance those particulars, then pick a few more enhancers that are fairly common to everything in the pot (probably garlic, tomatoes, thyme, parsley, or lemon). And I leave complex spices blends to recipes.

This book is wonderful. I love it. It's mostly geared for creative American cooking, so you won't find new ways to use lemongrass or millet. But you will find tidbits from chefs about their favorite flavor combinations and how they use the ingredients. This book is a great addition if you like to experiment.

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