This week it all comes down to flavour. With half a cup of olive oil missing from our Meyer Lemon olive oil cake (Kitchen Garden, August 24) my Food and Wine editor Karen Hardy received more than a dozen phone calls from readers and I had 26 emails seeking the quantity. I could almost smell it baking all over Canberra and the best taste on my lips was a gift slice with a lemon curd layer added when the cake cooled.
Readers' versions of the low-rise cake: Margie added lemon icing, Rebecca suggested a lemon juice and sugar drizzle over the warm cake, Alison and son Rory said delicious, Jennifer added a trickle of cream, Pauline used her "noisy Kenwood" and home-grown hens' eggs and served it with Greek yoghurt. A coincidence, Beth made a gluten-free version for her coeliac husband who gave it "a big thumbs up" and Richard made a gluten-free version which received "two thumbs up" from his son and his wife.
My question: what olive oil did our home cooks use? Most popular by far was Australian Cobram Estate, followed by Spanish Moro a traditional basic cooking olive oil, Australian Red Island, Italian Bertolli, Spanish Remano.
Molecular biologist Nik Sharma in The Flavor Equation: The science of great cooking explained (Hardie Grant Books, $65) delves into the science of cooking and this weighty cookbook explores the sensations of taste, sight, aroma, sound, mouthfeel and emotion with a chapter on each. The photography by Sharma is thrilling.
Following his Saveur Best Food Blog award for A Brown Table and as author of Season, New York Times' best cookbook in 2018, Sharma's work as writer, photographer and recipe developer has won wide acclaim in the United States.
Sharma grew up in Bombay but he is resident in America, living in Los Angeles, hence "flavor" - no U - in the book's title. He says the top six notes you are after are richness, brightness, depth, heat, saltiness and sweetness. Many of the 100 plus recipes get their heat from chilli and the first recipe in "brightness" is grilled hearts of romaine lettuce with chilli pumpkin seeds.
He gives the anatomy of a recipe in seven steps through roasted cauliflower in turmeric kefir and in the chapter on richness he explores all the oils, using olive oil in a crab tikka masala dip, roasted eggplant raita and in cucumber and roasted corn salad.
The edible which epitomises spring is asparagus so we share a recipe, "an explosion of aroma and taste", from the "Bitterness" chapter of Sharma's book. The author says tastes have personalities and we have evolved to be bitter averse but most of us appreciate (and some of us are addicted to) coffee and chocolate, both bitter.
We have one copy of The Flavor Equation by Nik Sharma (Hardie Grant) to give away. Email me with your name and address to email@example.com and tell me what your favourite vegetable is for its flavour, and why.
Charred asparagus with gunpowder nut masala
60ml extra virgin olive oil plus a little extra to brush the pan
455g asparagus, tough ends trimmed and discarded
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp lime zest
sea salt flakes
1 tbsp Sharma's gunpowder nut masala (see below)
1 tbsp chopped coriander or flat leaf parsley
1 lime, cut into quarters (optional)
1. Heat a grill pan or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Brush the grates with a little oil. Place the asparagus on a large plate or baking sheet.
2. Drizzle with one tablespoon of the oil and rub to coat well. Add the asparagus to the hot pan and cook for five to six minutes, turning with a pair of Kitchen tongs until they turn bright green and develop charred spots or grill marks.
3. Transfer the asparagus to a serving dish and drizzle with the remaining three tablespoons of olive oil and the lime juice.
4. Sprinkle with lime zest, salt flakes, gunpowder nut masala and coriander and serve immediately with the quartered limes on the side.
Gunpowder nut masala
100g raw cashews
1/2 cup raw pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
10g dried red chillies
20 fresh curry leaves
2 tbsp white or black sesame seeds
1/2 tsp asafetida
1. Heat a small. dry skillet over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add the cashews, pumpkin seeds, chillies, curry leaves and sesame seeds and toast for four to five minutes until the seeds start to turn brown and the leaves begin to slightly curl.
2. Transfer to a medium bowl and let cool to room temperature. Once cooled, grind the mixture with the asafetida to a coarse or fine powder, depending on your preference, in a food processor or a blender. Transfer to an airtight container and store for up to two weeks in the refrigerator.
Makes 1/2 cup.