Maybe it’s just me, but when I cook I keep getting derailed at the bookshelf. Lists of ingredients cry out for explanation: what *is* couscous really, or semolina wheat, or ladyfish? What about gum arabic, marshmallow, or cream of tartar? Where do these stuffs come from, not just long ago, but now, and why are they in my dish? And please tell me again what’s so extra about “extra virgin” olive oil — I mean it is or isn’t, yes?
I’ve longed for a single source of answers to my endless gastronomic questions and after years of scouring libraries and bookstores, I’ve found my guru. The Penguin Companion to Food is a 1,000-page behemoth of concise information about several thousand types of food and ingredients. It lets me cook smart, guiding substitutions, and illuminating the logic of a recipe. And eat smart too. In a global market, cuisine varieties are booming; here’s a who’s who.