(Originally Posted 1/3/2014) Why 26 courses? Because when I invited friends over to dinner I was reading articles about Alinea where Peter Sagal had a 26 course dinner as part of his research for the Book of Vice – gluttony section (Alinea’s courses are only one very intense bite so it was calorie-contained gluttony).
I didn’t have Alinea level aspirations, just a series of 26 bites of food with one ingredient per “course”. Which turns out to be easy.
I began with the Flavor Bible, a tome that lists what flavors match with particular ingredients. So, for example, if you have guavas you need to use, the Flavor Bible will tell you that curry powder, pork, bananas, cashews, and white chocolate will all go well with the guava flavor. Maybe not all at once.
Starting with mozzarella because it was what I happened to be craving at the time, I flipped my way from ingredient to ingredient until I had a road map of 26 that came back around to the starting point (below).
26 items are a manageable grocery list, especially since some of them were already in stock. Prep for the full complement of dishes only took an hour from start to finish, although it helped to have a partner washing dishes as I went along. I added in a basket of bread and butter because that goes with everything.
Once we’d arranged the circle of dishes, we each took plates and worked our way around the table. I learned that buttermilk tastes surprisingly good sipped alone and even better with dates, that cooked apples and mustard pair well together, same with celery and capers, and lentils and coconut, and there is still nothing much better in this world than good beer and cured meats.
When we’d gone around once, we had flavor combination ideas to go back and start to mix and match. Tomato and anchovies on buttered bread. Shrimp and mozzarella wrapped in a slice of salami. Apples, potatoes, onions and mustard. Celery, capers and potatoes. Lentils, bacon, arugula and orange. . . and so on. You didn’t have to be good at coming up with new dishes on your own, because the original sequence (set by the Flavor Bible professionals) gave the starting ideas.
I’ll credit fondue with sparking popular interest in dinner parties where guests assembling different ingredients creates both dinner and entertainment. Condimentia was a good variation on the theme. And now we have the 26 (or however many) course dinner to add to the list.