1993 Elizabeth Rozin—Ethnic Cooking
This was a really amazing book that completely changed my relationship with food. It may not seem like anything special at first glance and I can imagine many people using it regularly for years without seeing anything special about it. But for me it chaged the way I looked at and understood food, not just the preparation of food, but also eating food and thinking about food as a cultural artifact.
At the most basic level this book taught me the difference between following a recipe and cooking. What made the difference was a simple idea and Rozin called it “flavor principles.” Instead of providing a list of ingredients and a set of directions Rozin broke it down to basic food techniques. These techniques are often related to climate, geography and culture. There are not that many basic techniques and they are easy to remember. They are then modified by the availability of local ingredients, which often go well together, and provided a basis for the flavor principle.
By looking at food in this way it became easy to a) learn how to cook, as it only involved a few basic principles to learn; b) appreciate and understand eating, as one could break down, understand and then recreate most of what one ate no matter how exotic; c) invent new dishes or modify existing ones in ways that would be predictable, successful and adapted to individual preference; d) have a good basis for further learning and investigation; and perhaps best of all d) understand the remarkable and complex relationship between food and geography and culture.