Perhaps my most exciting holiday present this year was The Flavor Bible, a cookbook with no recipes. It’s more of a reference guide. The book is an alphabetical list of various ingredients (bananas, cardamom) and flavor profiles or cooking styles (Spanish cuisine, grilled dishes). Under each ingredient or style is a list of flavors that work well with it. For instance, under “Cheese, Munster,” you find: apples; bread, crusty; caraway seeds; cherries; fennel; grapes. (Bold indicates a particularly good combination.)
I expect to use this book all the time. For so many things, I don’t need a basic recipe. I could braise cabbage in my sleep, for instance, and I love it, but it gets a little boring. How great to know that I can perk up that cabbage with champagne, or fennel, or a whole list of other interesting additions!
Even more inspiring than the lists are the “flavor affinities” at the bottom of some entries, which connect flavors that work especially well together. The first such suggestion under “pineapple,” for instance, is “pineapple + avocado + watercress.” I never would have thought of that, but I see an exciting winter salad in my near future.
Wanting to play with my new toy, I checked out the ingredients in an interesting-sounding recipe in Nigella Lawson’s new book, Nigella Kitchen. The recipe was Coconut and Cherry Banana Bread. I looked under “banana” and sure enough, cherries and coconut were both listed. In fact, coconut and coconut milk were bolded and capitalized. Sounded good to me – I’m not a big fan of banana bread, but I love coconut. And the ruby tartness of dried cherries peeking from any baked good like buried treasure makes me smile.
I halved the recipe and made muffins instead of a loaf. Maybe I should have made the full recipe, because we inhaled these gorgeously browned, deceptively simple-looking little beauties and wanted more. The crumb was moist and rich, but not too dense, and the flavor was remarkable: tropical and homey at once. The coconut and cherries really lift the banana bread, but without robbing it entirely of its familiarity.
These lovely muffins beg to be served for breakfast with a cafe au lait, a bathrobe, and a crossword puzzle. And of course they make a great dessert or anytime snack, too.
Note: You can use sweetened coconut – just reduce the sugar by a couple of tablespoons.
Nigella’s Coconut and Cherry Banana Muffins
8 tablespoons butter, melted and slightly cooled
4 very ripe medium-sized bananas, mashed
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup dried tart cherries
1-1/3 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a 12-muffin tin with paper liners and spray with cooking spray. (Alternately, prepare a loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.)
Stir the butter and sugar together, then add the mashed banana and eggs. When the eggs are well incorporated, fold in the flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Lightly stir in the cherries and coconut. Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin tin (or loaf pan) and bake: 25 to 30 minutes for muffins, 50 minutes or so for a loaf. They should be done when they are nicely brown and feel springy when lightly pressed with a fingertip.
Let rest in the pans 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool. An advantage to muffins is you don’t ruin the loaf by trying to cut into it warm – you can eat them as soon as you can handle them!