Jumping, waving arms, screaming, I recommend this book to you: “The Flavor Thesaurus, A Compendium of Pairings, Recipes and Ideas for the Creative Cook,” by Niki Segnit, published by Bloomsbury.
I don’t even remember ordering it, but just after the blur that was the holidays, I found “The Flavor Thesaurus” on my bookshelf, sat down to browse, and haven’t let go of it since.
What I love about this book, besides the fact that it is smart, sharp, and useful, is that it begins with an ingredient.
Got sage in your refrigerator, but are exhausted with the usual chicken-filled or pasta-and-browned-butter ideas options? Look up sage and a list of things that go well with it appears: anchovy, apple, bacon, blue cheese, butternut squash, chicken, egg, hard cheese, juniper, liver, onion, pineapple, pork, prosciutto, and tomato.
With each combination there is a short explanation, and recipe, or more like a description of a dish, in surprisingly entertaining prose.
Tired of cooking from the Western hemisphere, I recently flipped to “Limes.” Lime pairings according to the thesaurus are: anchovy, avocado, basil, beef butternut squash, chicken chili, chocolate, cilantro, cinnamon, coconut, cumin, ginger, lemon, mango, mint, oily fish, orange, peanut shellfish, tomato, watermelon, and white fish.
“Lime & Anchovy” stopped me, by which I learned the author really means lime and Vietnamese fish sauce, or nuoc cham, made with fermented anchovies.
Segnit describes a Thai salad dressing made with lime and fish sauce — “ lime will always be the underdog trying to shine a light on fish sauce’s dark thoughts and failing beautifully.”
At “Lime & Beef” Segnit recommends the beautiful Thai salad “Weeping Tiger,” in which sirloin steak is briefly marinaded, broiled, and served with the same sweet, salty, cool, and spicy “Lime & Anchovy” sauce from above.