the flavour thesaurus (lamb khoresh with rhubarb)
On the rare weeks where I’m churning out daily blog posts, I become acutely aware of my shrinking vocab as I repeatedly hover over the same adjectives, metaphors and phrases. I sometimes experience a similar mind block in the kitchen – returning to classic food pairings out of familiarity or sheer laziness. In those instances, Niki Segnit’s Flavour Thesaurus comes in handy, providing inspiration with pairings that span from the traditional (Pork & Apple) to the fashionable (Chilli & Chocolate) and unexpected (Blueberry & Mushroom).
The compact volume explores the origins of 99 ingredients, expands on their characteristics and lists what goes best with them; detailing nearly 1000 possible flavour combinations in total. Great for seeking ingredient substitutes or breathing new life into tired side dishes like carrots (spice with cardamom and cinnamon, or toss with coconut) and asparagus (perk up with anise, mint or a peanut dressing). The guide is also filled with interesting snippets, making it not just a useful resource, but a good read as well. One thing to note, this isn’t strictly a cookbook (and doesn’t proclaim to be) – Segnit mostly references dishes, broadly describing them without listing all ingredients or specifying measurements. Where recipes are given, they can be quite simplistic.
I was eager to test out some of the more unusual combinations in the compendium. Cauliflower and Chocolate initially appealed, but a quick glance at the suggested Cauliflower Risotto with Cauliflower Carpaccio and Chocolate Jelly in Heston Blumenthal’s cookbook revealed it to be too much of an undertaking. I was then drawn to the lush pairing of Crisp Pork Belly and Watermelon in a salad recipe from NYC’s Fatty Crab, but knew I’d struggle to find the tropical fruit at this time of year.
I eventually settled on trying the combination of Lamb and Rhubarb, via a Persian Khoresh. The distinctly flavoured stew was a bit peculiar on first taste, but it grew on me and there’s no disputing the combo works – the sharpness of the fruit cutting through the fatty meat. I stirred through a few handfuls of baby spinach at the end to tone down the sourness and add a spot of green. If you don’t fancy adding the fruit, just leave it out for a wonderfully aromatic saffron-infused stew.
Lamb Khoresh with Rhubarb
(adapted from The Independent)
450g (1lb) lamb neck (or other fatty cut)
3 trimmed rhubarb stalks, chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp vegetable oil
flour (for dusting)
knob of butter
pinch of saffron
1 tsp tomato purée
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 litre (4 cups) lamb or beef stock
2 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 tbsp mint, chopped
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp chilli flakes (optional)
100g baby spinach (optional)
freshly ground black pepper
Cut the lamb neck into large pieces, then season and lightly dust with flour.
Heat half the oil in a large pan on a medium high heat and sear the lamb neck, browning on all sides.
Meanwhile, in another heavy-based saucepan fry the onions in the remaining oil for 3-4 minutes until tender and lightly golden. Sprinkle with 1 tbsp flour and stir well to combine. Add the saffron and lemon juice, then gradually pour in the stock.
Bring to the boil, then add the browned lamb (if the stock doesn’t cover the lamb, top up with water), cover and braise gently for 2 hours.
When the lamb is tender, remove from the sauce and set aside. Throw in the rhubarb, parsley and mint and continue to simmer until the sauce thickens. Add the sugar and chilli flakes (if desired). Season to taste and return the lamb to warm through. Stir the spinach through until wilted then turn off heat.
Serve at once with steamed basmati rice.