13 easy midsummer food combinations that will create flavor fireworks
Summer always brings an explosion of flavors to the table – but there are fireworks and then there are fyahworks. If you want to put on a holiday spread that impresses, try these easy-but-unexpected combinations that bring together fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, cheese and spices. Some are breathtakingly simple; others might take a single specialty shopping trip – but not one of them requires you to turn on an oven or a burner. Pair these summer delights with grilled and chilled meat or vegan options at your next concert picnic or lakeside dinner.
1. Strawberries and black pepper.
Counterintuitive, you say? Not so. Fresh, farmers-market strawberries become incandescent when sprinkled with the merest dusting of finely (but freshly) ground black pepper. Store-bought berries actually become edible. Back way off on how much you sugar the berries (a tablespoon per pint maximum) and add a pinch of the black stuff. Let it sit in the refrigerator for a day; then spoon over shortcake, crumbled shortbread cookies, or thick Greek yogurt.
2. Pears and balsamic vinegar.
We like crisp Bosc pears and Cara Cara Orange and Vanilla White Balsamic from Rocky Mountain Olive Oil company, but any sweet white balsamic will do. Sliver the pears and drizzle the balsamic across them, along with some toasted walnut halves, or chop them on top of a salad and mix the balsamic with a light oil in a dressing.
3. Cherries, neufchatel cheese, Mexican cocoa powder.
Cherries and chocolate are a classic, but the Mexican cocoa powder contains cinnamon and a touch of vanilla. Pit and halve the fresh cherries; roll little balls of neufchatel and sprinkle with the cocoa powder. Or chop the cherries to yield a half cup to a cup and mix with 8 ounces of Neufchatel, 1 teaspoon of cocoa powder and a pinch of salt. Serve on a neutral cracker or thin chocolate cookie. (This combination had close competition from the cherries-neufchatel-smoked paprika trio).
4. Watermelon, fennel fronds, lemon juice.
Cut a beautifully ripe melon into chunks and dress with a little bit of lemon juice (about a teaspoon per cup of melon). What, you’ve had that melon in the fridge for a while and it’s breaking down into juicy, sweet, melony liquid? Take it the rest of the way and add some elderflower liqueur or syrup. The resulting cocktail or mocktail will draw raves, we promise. Or go the crazy gourmet route and make a granita. Hey, you be You.
5. Apricots, balsamic vinegar, black pepper, baby spinach, slivered almonds, brie.
This variation on the flavor theme above had tasters moaning in the kitchen. The vinegar in question was also from Rocky Mountain Olive Oil company; this time we chose their syrup-like plain vanilla (dark) balsamic. Buy the President brie that comes in a log, and you can cut thin rounds or make a spinach salad and garnish it with brie half-rounds and slivered almonds. Pair with cold roast chicken, Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc and, boom, that’s dinner.
6. Spring turnips, white miso and cumin.
Because of this year’s cool-ish spring — or smart farmers planting them in cool locations — these pure white beauties are just showing up in farmer’s markets now. Milder than a radish and grown to be eaten raw, they’re a great addition to salads made with spicy Asian greens. But what else can you do with them? A dab of white miso paste, a tiny sprinkle of ground cumin. Garnish with a cilantro leaf or chive flower. Canape!
7. Jicama, white cheddar, bread-and-butter pickle.
Oh, go ahead and use the zesty bread-and-butter pickles, or opt for a chipotle cheddar. You know you want to.
8. Arugula and tuna.
It really doesn’t matter whether your budget runs to sushi-grade ahi or Chicken of the Sea; tuna loves arugula. (There’s even a variety of arugula called “Wasabi” and, yes, it tastes like the real deal.) All varieties of arugula are stupid-easy to grow in Colorado – in fact, once you’ve planted it, it happily self-seeds everywhere. The white or yellow flowers are also edible – a tad spicy like the leaves, but also sweet and a tad nutty. Stuff a pita with arugula leaves and tuna salad or slide some arugula under your grilled fillet. Or put a bed of arugula on a slice of multigrain toast, then top with tuna salad and a cheddar slice and broil, grill or microwave.
Meats and their companions
9. Cremini-tamari shooters.
Put the caps of these mushrooms – also called baby portabellas – on a slow grill with a little dab of tamari or Worcestershire sauce. Watch them fill with their own delicious liquid and then down them, liquid and all, as if they were oysters on the half-shell.
10. Pork, grilled fennel bulb, orange.
Here’s where whatever pork you’ve cooked (or purchased) becomes a picnic. Slap some sliced fennel in a grill basket after you pull the pork chops or marmalade-basted chops off the grill; toss the fennel with citrus sections. Need to stretch a meal? Put the citrus and fennel in a pilaf with a cooked, chilled, long-grain and wild rice blend. Not doing pork? Roast your chicken with a marmalade glaze.
11. Basil, lime, potatoes.
Basil and lime were born to meet cute. Chop the basil to release its flavors; toss with boiled and chilled baby red potatoes and some olive oil; drizzle lime juice over it and salt to taste.
12. Adzuki beans and Italian parsley.
The heck with garbanzo hummus; these beans are prettier and make a pale-purple puree. Making your own hummus means you can make it less garlicky (or more, if that’s what you want). You need only the beans, a dab of tahini or peanut butter, and lime or lemon juice for balance. Oh, and salt. Lots of salt.
13. Beef and coffee.
We would bet this works reasonably well with tempeh or seitan, and you don’t need to make a special trip to the spice store (though you certainly can). Just mix a teaspoon of ground coffee with a tablespoon of coarsely ground black pepper or whatever pepper blend you usually rub on your steak before grilling. Get some coffee-rubbed beef inside of you, and you’ll have your RDA of iron and be awake to enjoy the fireworks.