I am often asked how I go about creating new recipes. I once tried to take notes about how I went about it, but found that such self-conscious observation created “cook’s block.” One thing I can say say for sure is that back in the 70s, I was very influenced by a book called THE FLAVOR PRINCIPLE COOKBOOK by Elizabeth Rozin, first published in 1973.
In this tome, Rozin differentiates among the world’s great cuisines by calling attention to their predominant flavors. In fact, she offers formulas for the major flavor combinations used by traditional cooks in about a dozen different countries. I’ve come to call these combinations “flavor stamps.”
The approach seems obvious, yet apparently no one else had undertaken a cross-cultural survey of cuisines in quite this way before. What became evident to Mrs. Rozin after research through travel and in cookbooks was that every cuisine is based on a predominant theme, plus variations. For example, lemon-oregano is the flavor principle of Greek cookery, and olive oil-tomato, plus garlic, that of southern Italian cuisine. Variations are created when other flavors are added or when one of the major ones is left out.
Rozin concedes that to reduce the world’s cuisines to predominant flavor principles is to paint with rather broad strokes. She feels, nevertheless, that her formulas enable cooks to understand the essence of a country’s cookery quickly and that this should increase their confidence in preparing dishes from an unfamiliar cuisine. Perhaps more important to me was Rozin’s belief that adventurous cooks can use the flavor principles systematically to come up with combinations and variations of their own.
This is just what Mrs. Rozin does with some of the most fascinating recipes in THE FLAVOR PRINCIPLE COOKBOOK. For example, she takes the Chinese flavor principle of soy sauce plus sherry-ginger and combines it with an Indian curry blend to create an unusually delicious stir-fried vegetable dish. In another recipe, she adds sour cream and caraway seeds, both common flavoring in northern Europe, to pureed eggplant, a vegetable rarely used in that part of the world.
Once I had her invitation to create new recipes in this way, I was off and running. You’ll see examples of ways I use the “flavor stamp” in many of the recipes in my published books. For a current example, see the recipe for Mediterranean Quinoa with Broccoli posted a few days ago. Here I toss the South American grain with flavorings of Southern Europe. To put it simply, once you have an idea of the principles involved, the possibilities become endless.
THE FLAVOR PRINCIPLE COOKBOOK has never gotten the attention it deserves, but those cooks who know it revere the inspiration it provides. The book was updated and re-issued in paperback with the title ETHNIC CUISINE: THE FLAVOR PRINCIPLE COOKBOOK. Alas, both titles appear to be out of print, but second hand copies are available.