If I asked you to name what Italian food tastes like, after you said “tomatoes” and “garlic,” you would likely list Oregano, Basil, Fennel, and Red Chilies. If I asked you the same about just about any other cuisine, you could list the dominant herb and spice profiles of each place.
This is because there are established, centuries-old traditions when it comes to which flavors fit together (often referred to by professionals as the “flavour profile” but what we’re seeing now in kitchens around the world is unprecedented experimentation with how individual flavors combine in unexpected ways.
Consider basil and chilies- would you ever consider putting them on strawberries? Or, would you prefer putting balsamic vinegar and black pepper on your strawberries instead? I urge you to try both of these options- the counterpoint of flavors will surprise you.
It might sound crazy, but fruit and chili can bring out the best in all ingredients. A staple in many Mexican households is Tajin, a chili-salt-lime mixture, that, when shaken on to any fruit (however, it does particular magic to pineapple) brings out the absolute sweetest, juiciest profile of that fruit. It can also be used on jicama and cucumber to add a boost to their relatively tame flavors.
A new classic salad for summer includes watermelon, feta cheese, and mint, which may seem strange, but the result is a delightfully refreshing, yet substantial salad.
Another widely used herbal blend is Herbes de Provence, which contains savory, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, oregano and an ingredient that we normally associate with lotion rather than food: lavender. The lavender mixes with the other herbs seamlessly and brings an overall fresh burst to fish and poultry it’s commonly paired with. If you haven’t used this combination, I recommend you try it.
A good rule of thumb if you’re looking to discover new flavor combinations combining herbs in new ways is too look at what grows together. Apricots and Basil grow together, and pair incredibly well in both sweet and savory applications.
Fortune favours the bold, and you can always experiment with flavours. It was a very adventurous person who first put the emerging classic of Scallops and Vanilla salt together, after all.
While not strictly a herbal combination, don’t let the summer slip by you without trying olive oil on your vanilla ice cream. Your world will be better for it.
If you’re truly adventuresome, try adding a pinch of curry powder to your next peanut butter sandwich.
We’re sometimes taught that flavors are distinct and that they need to be combined in very specific ways in order for our food to be successful, but classics are discovered regularly by sheer experimentation, and in many cases dumb luck. Don’t hesitate to make your next batch of lemon curd with thyme, or add ginger root to your next blueberry pie. Pushing yourself in the kitchen is a necessary step to taking your cooking skills to the next level.