Though I have yet to solve the code to finding the right partner, I have found many perfect marriages- of flavor. One of the things I enjoy most about cooking is putting complementary favors together so that each enhances the other. Flavor and spice combinations can be like a flag; tomato sauces taste Italian when they have basil and oregano, but add a bit of cinnamon and thyme and you’ve crossed the Adriatic to Greece. You’ve probably heard of the holy trinity of celery, peppers and onion that is the basis for New Orleans cooking, and if you want food to taste Chinese you need a different trinity of ginger, garlic and scallion, finished with toasted sesame oil. These are examples of regional flavor, which I will surely return to, but today we’re talking about flavors that belong together because like in any perfect marriage they are better together than they are alone.
Summer is time for blueberry pie, and nothing does more for a blueberry than lemon! My absolute favorite pie is a blueberry-lemon crumb pie. It was a staple at The Hungry Moon (the diner I used to own) and I made it all summer long. I prefer wild blueberries, they are tiny, with an intense flavor. If you can’t get them fresh, frozen are fine. I think frozen wild blueberries are even better than fresh cultivated ones. My mom used to serve lemon-ricotta pancakes at her bed and breakfast, and when I suggested she serve them with blueberry syrup instead of the maple she had been using, her guests raved!
Another summer pair perfect for pies, pancakes, chutney, or a salsa is peach and ginger. The soft sweetness of the peach is perfect for the warm spiciness of ginger, and whether you like fresh grated, ground, or candied ginger these flavors just belong together. How about a peach and ginger salsa to go on your grilled chicken or fish? Or a warm peach and candied ginger pie with some vanilla ice cream? If you can get over-ripe peaches these are the best to cook with- they are usually marked down, and will cook up just fine. If you’re grilling, try grilling your peaches before using them.
As far as I am concerned cucumbers need dill. Just thinking about cucumber cools me down, and the grassy fresh dill is not too overpowering for the delicate flavor of the cucumber. I always remove the seeds from the cucumbers whatever I am using them for- even salads- because that is where a lot of the water comes from. Here are two tricks I’ve learned for cucumber prep- cut a small piece off each end of the cucumber and rub it around on the cucumber until there is a bubbly foam, then wipe that foam away- I have heard from multiple sources that this removes any bitterness from the cucumber, and then to seed it, slice in half lengthwise, and use a teaspoon or melon baller to scoop out the seeds.
Finding these perfect pairs often happens unexpectedly, or even accidentally. Sometimes when I am cooking I will hunt through my fridge and cabinets searching for a particular kind of flavor, and something will jump out at me. I like to think about a flavor- kind of mentally roll it around on my tongue and think about matching it with something else, and then blend them together in my head. There are many more of these perfect pairs, and plenty of time to explore them as we move through the seasons. I’d love to hear about your favorites, so please send them in!