Peanut butter and jelly. Tomatoes and garlic. Oil and vinegar. We can all name foods that go together. We learn about food pairings throughout our lives when we are given food combinations at our meals. Peas always come with carrots. Meat loaf always has mashed potatoes and gravy. An important part of cooking is putting together flavors that complement each other. Foods have flavor profiles which are like classification systems for tastes. Flavor and taste are actually scientific processes. Foods contain flavor compounds and aromas so foods that have similar flavor compounds, such as vanilla and basil, work well together.
Taste is a different thing. Taste is about our sensations and the texture of different molecules on our palates. So far we have 6 tastes that have been identified and located on our palates – salty, sweet, acidic, fat, bitterness and umami. Taste pairing is all about balancing these tastes. While we know that the sweet, wet jelly balances the sticky peanut butter and that cool, fatty sour cream helps balance a spicy, savory plate of nachos, there are some flavor combinations we may have never thought of. There are some foods that we might think would never go together and somehow, they are delicious. It’s time to experiment with new and different food pairings. Here are some flavor combinations you may or may not know but should definitely try.
You may know that olives pair well with tomatoes, lemon, artichokes and onions, but did you know olives also pair with oranges? The olive-orange combination is frequently seen in Italian, Spanish and Mediterranean dishes. My Orange Fennel Salad is a beautiful dish of 3 sliced celery stalks, 2 sliced fennel bulbs, 1 orange cut into segments, black pitted olives, and toasted walnuts garnished with fennel fronds. The dressing is a vegan version of honey-mustard made with agave. Simply whisk together 2 Tbs. Dijon mustard, 2 Tbs. lemon or lime juice, ½ minced garlic clove, 1-2 Tbs. agave nectar, 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. For a spicy version, mix in ½ jalapeno pepper that has been seeded and minced.
Try olives with all its complements with this Moroccan Tofu in a Lemon-Olive Sauce over Spaghetti, Caramelized Vegan Tart with Olives, Artichoke and Onion Pizza and this Tempeh, Date and Olive Marbella .
The sweetness of orange pairs beautifully with soy sauce which is salty and filled with umami. Orange is also a delicious flavor to add to spicy barbeque sauce. Put those two flavor pairings together and you get my Orange Hoisin Cashew Tofu. Cut 1 block of extra-firm tofu that has been pressed and drained into small cubes. Put them into a large storage bag along with 2 Tbs. arrowroot powder, 1 tsp. garlic powder, 1 tsp. fresh minced ginger, 1 tsp. kosher salt and ½ tsp. black pepper. Shake well to make sure the tofu is fully coated. In a large skillet, heat 2 Tbs. of oil over medium-high heat. Cook the tofu until browned and crisp, flipping occasionally, about 5 – 6 minutes. Remove the tofu from the pan and set aside. Heat 2 Tbs. of oil in the skillet. Add 1 diced onion and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add 2 diced bell peppers, 3 cups broccoli florets, 4 cloves minced garlic and 1-inch of grated ginger. Stir-fry for about 5 minutes or until the vegetables are tender but still have some crunch. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, toast ½ cup raw cashews under medium-low heat until they are slightly browned. Be careful not to let them burn. In a small bowl, stir together 1/3 cup hoisin sauce, 1/3 orange marmalade, 3 Tbs. soy sauce, 1 Tbs. Sriracha, and ½ cup vegetable broth. Return the tofu to the skillet and pour in the sauce. Add the cashews, toss to coat and cook until the sauce thickens, about 2 minutes. Serve with brown rice.
You might think apples and onions are as different from each other as…well, apples and oranges, but these two flavors pair together well. The sweet apples balance the pungent onions for a savory flavor with a hint of sweetness. Apples and onions come together to make an amazing relish that is perfect over tofu. To make my Tofu with Apple and Onion Relish: cut a block of pressed and drained extra-firm tofu into 8 rectangular slices. Season ½ cup flour with 1 tsp. dried sage, 1 tsp. ground cumin and kosher salt and pepper to taste. Coat the tofu with the seasoned flour and shake off any excess. Heat 2 Tbs. vegetable oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the tofu slices (in batches) and cook until they are browned on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer the tofu to a 200 degree oven to stay warm. Add 1 large onion that has been chopped into medium-sized pieces and 2 sweet apples, cored and chopped into medium-sized pieces to the skillet. The onions and apples will both give off a lot of water, so increase the heat to high and cook until the onion is wilted and the apples are golden brown. This should take about 5 minutes. Add 3 Tbs. apple cider vinegar to the pan. Bring it to a boil, then lower the heat and cook until the vinegar thickens and becomes syrupy. Add 1 ½ cups vegetable broth and return it to a boil. Cook until the broth reduces to half. Remove the pan from the heat, add kosher salt and pepper to taste and whisk in 2 Tbs. vegan butter until smooth. Serve the tofu and top with the onion and apple relish. Add fresh chopped parsley for garnish.
Other recipes that combine apples and onions include this Potato and Onion Kugel with Sauteed Apples and Sweet Potato Latkes with Chutney Sour Cream and Curried Onion-Apple-White Bean Topping.
Savory balsamic vinegar brings out the beautiful color of berries, while enhancing their sweet flavor. Combine the two by macerating strawberries or any berries you love with balsamic vinegar. In a large bowl, mix together 4 cups of sliced or halved strawberries, 2 Tbs. sugar and 1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar. Toss it all together and let the strawberries sit at room temperature until they release their juices, about 30 minutes. You want them softer but not mushy. When serving, garnish the berries with 10 thinly sliced basil leaves. Eat as is or serve the berries inside sweet crepes or over pound cake, ice cream or waffles.
Salad dressing is another way to pair berries and balsamic. I make an Orange Spring Salad with a mix of greens, chopped red onion and orange slices. It gets dressed with my Balsamic Berry Vinaigrette: 2 Tbs. fresh orange juice, 1/3 cup berries of your choice, 2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar, 2 tsp. agave nectar, 1 small minced shallot, ½ tsp. kosher salt, and ½ tsp. black pepper. Blend all ingredients until smooth. Also, try this Oil- and Nut-Free Berry Miso Dressing.
Curries often have some type of fruit in them such as mango. The sweetness of the fruit or even a sweet veggie like butternut squash balances the spice of the curry. Banana pairs well with curry so the next time you make a curry with tofu or veggies, try adding some banana.
To make Banana Curry: heat 2 Tbs. coconut oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in 1 large diced onion and cook until the onions have softened and turned translucent, about 5 minutes. Add 2 minced garlic cloves and 1-inch piece of grated ginger. Sprinkle in 2 Tbs. curry powder, 1 Tbs. brown sugar, 2 tsp. ground cumin, 2 tsp. ground coriander, 1 tsp. ground turmeric, 1 tsp. dry mustard, 1 tsp. kosher salt, ½ tsp. ground cinnamon, and ¼ tsp. black pepper. Cook and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add 3 Tbs. curry paste and 1 cup coconut milk. Add in 2 large bananas cut into pieces. Stir to combine everything and bring the sauce to a simmer. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat and add the zest and juice of one lime. Add cooked tofu or tempeh cubes to the sauce. Add more banana slices and fresh chopped cilantro for garnish.
A flavor combination I love is cumin and beets. The warm, savory flavor of cumin pairs well with the earthy, sweetness of the beets. The next time you roast beets, try this combo as in my Cumin-Roasted Beets: wash beets and trim the ends. Toss the beets with olive oil, ground cumin, a pinch of cinnamon and kosher salt. Wrap the beets in foil and place on a baking sheet. Roast the beets at 375 degrees for one hour or until they are fork-tender. Allow them to cool before unwrapping the beets and slicing them. Other ways to combine beets and cumin are in these Roasted Beet Burgers, Spicy Moroccan Chickpeas with Beet Noodles and Cumin-Spiced Ketchup.
Beets also pair well with chocolate. Since beets are sweet, they work well in desserts and bring some earthiness to the dish. Not only do beets add sweetness, they add color, so they are a natural food coloring to make pink, red and red velvet desserts. Check out Here’s 3 Easy Ways to Make Vegan Ice Cream and use beets to make a beautiful batch of beetroot chocolate ice cream. Try these Chocolate Beet Cupcakes and these Beetroot Chocolate Frosted Cupcakes for a dessert that’s not only yummy, but good for you. In this Fudgy Beetroot Chocolate Cake with Pink Frosting, the beets are used in both the cake and the frosting. For an amazing dessert that will have your guests amazed, make this Raw Layered Banana Ice Cream Cake. It has a chocolate layer, vanilla layer, mint layer and a beet layer with a coconut maple drizzle on top. Yum!
Speaking of chocolate, chili and chocolate is a match made in heaven. The chilis add spice to the sweet chocolate but chocolate and chiles also have some common flavors. Some chocolates have a smoky character and pair well with smoky chilis like chipotle. Brighter, fruity chilis such as Fresno chiles can lighten up a deep, dark chocolate. Chilis and chocolate both tend to be rich in flavor and together, they form a more complex, layered flavor. One thing about chiles: they don’t like to be cold so use this combination in warm and hot dishes. Try pairing chocolate and chili in these Mexican Chocolate Waffles, Chipotle Chocolate Chili and Churros with Coconut Sugar and Chili Chocolate Sauce.
It’s probably not a big surprise that these two foods would go well together. Technically, they are both fruits and they are the same color. The tomato brings acidity to the sweet strawberry for a delicious balance of taste. Make a simple and refreshing Strawberry and Tomato Salad: combine 1 ½ cups chopped strawberries, ½ lb. of quartered heirloom or cherry tomatoes, 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil, 1 tsp. dried oregano, kosher salt and black pepper to taste and the zest of one small lemon. Add some small pieces of vegan mozzarella and squeeze a bit of lemon juice on top, if desired. For another dish that combines these two foods, try this Minty Zucchini n’ Strawberry Chilled Soup.
A food pairing that I love to use when autumn comes is pumpkin and apple. In this case, the vegetable is actually sweeter than the fruit. The apple adds tartness and acidity while the pumpkin is sweet and creamy. These two tastes are further enhanced by spices like curry powder, ginger and sage. My Curried Pumpkin Soup is spicy but balanced with sweet apple sauce. Saute 1 diced medium onion in a soup pot for 4 minutes or until translucent. Add 4 minced garlic cloves, 1 Tbs. fresh grated ginger, 1 Tbs. curry powder and 1 tsp. ground cinnamon and mix to combine. Add 1 ½ cups pumpkin puree and 1 cup unsweetened apple sauce. Stir to combine and cook for 3 minutes. Add 4-6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, ½ tsp. kosher salt and ¼ tsp. black pepper. Let the soup come to a boil and then reduce the heat and let it simmer for 30 minutes. Transfer the soup in batches to a blender or use an immersion blender to blend the soup until it is silky smooth. Add 1 cup coconut milk and mix to combine. Heat the soup until it is warmed through. Taste for any seasoning adjustments and serve topped with Apple Croutons.
My Homemade Apple Croutons look really impressive but they are simple to make. Cut 2 large apples into bite-sized pieces. Spread ¼ cup brown sugar on a plate. Roll the apple pieces in the brown sugar until they are coated. Spread the pieces in a single layer on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake in a 300 degree oven for 20 minutes until the apples are golden brown. Don’t let them get too soft. Remove them from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. Set aside or keep refrigerated until you are ready to use them. Be sure to also try this amazing Acorn Squash Apple Soup and these Pumpkin, Apple and Pecan Pie Waffles for more apple-pumpkin deliciousness.
Discovering new flavor combinations is a fun and delicious way to learn about different foods and find new tastes and recipes you love. What’s your favorite flavor pairing? Let us know in the comments.
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Lead image source: Tempeh, Date, and Olive Marbella
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