The recipe calls for burdock, and you haven't a clue--what it looks like, how to buy it, and what to do with what's left over. This is where the Visual Food Encyclopedia
shines. Burdock is easily located in the section on root vegetables. The Encyclopedia provides pictures of the whole plant and of the root in question (a whitish, spongy thing with a thin, brownish skin), a short history of the vegetable (originally from Siberia, now cultivated in Japan), buying tips (look for firmness), and ideas of what to do with the leftovers (try a stir-fry, or grate some for a stew).
No food categories are overlooked. The pasta section tells how to make pasta from scratch, and illustrates all manner of pasta types. There are detailed instructions on preparing snails, sea urchins, and frog (this is a translation from a French edition)--and all manner of foods are included, from fruits, grains, and vegetables to seaweed, fats, and tea to dairy, fish, and meat. Some ingredients get more attention than others (all the pear varieties, for example, from Anjou and Bosc to Comice and Passe-Crassane, are pictured and described in detail, while the various chili peppers don't get as full a treatment), but with more than 1,000 ingredients, 1,200 illustrations, and a goodly number of recipes as well, this is a corker of a food reference, of value to any cook, from novice to weekend gourmet to professional chef. --Stephanie Gold
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