Springing into Spring 2014: Pairing Flavors to Excite the Senses

roasted rhubarb salad

So what’s it going to be this year, huh? Can you feel it?

Bet you can. Spring it always about rejuvenation, rebirth (across many cultures), and celebrating the planet’s bounty of good things to eat.
Even more than usual, this spring is turning out to be exceptionally bright, light and downright fun for chefs and eaters alike. Chefs and cooks can enjoy the season because the emphasis is less on complicated cooking and much more about pairing flavors in fresh, modern ways that delight the senses.

The Acidic or Tart and Sweet

The clean bite and sweetness you get from a pickled peach in ginger brown sugar sauce makes use the interplay between acidic and sweet, in a couple different ways, inviting your senses to enjoy how delightful difference can be. Sweetened rhubarb, is the epitome of tart and sweet and this year, it’s popping up everywhere from rhubarb tarts to rhubarb flavored ice cream, to alongside savory meats and poultry. Want to incorporate it into your recipes? Well, you can chop it and toss in in the slow cooker with a little molasses or brown sugar and a cup of water, or to make it extra juicy and up its natural sweetness, toss it in honey and roast it on a lined baking sheet at 450 degrees for 7-10 minutes.
Cooked fruit in otherwise savory dishes is another way you’ll see the sweet-tart trend interpreted. Pot stews get a twist with the addition of citrus peels and dried plums while dishes like coconut chicken curries incorporate the sweetness of dried tangerines and perfectly ripened mangoes.

How else might one celebrate tart and sweet this season? How about turnovers made with wonderfully tart Granny Smith apples brushed with salted caramel or lemon peel and black currant scones? For those warmer days and weekend brunches, try fruit salads made with pink grapefruit, berries that are topped with sparkling apple cider and chilled in the fridge. Salads of sweet, perfectly ripe oranges, pomegranate and butter leaf lettuce are another nice way to achieve the clean taste of spring.

The Sweet and Fat or Unctuous

This spring it’s less rich umami fat and more clean, one note fat butting up against sweet or vice-versa. Think of dishes that enable you to experience one flavor leading into another. For starters, how about aspic layered with mint and pomegranate molasses served on extra thin crackers? Want something a bit more classic? Well, we can all have fun reinterpreting that good old standard–Sweet and Sour Meatballs. The richness of the meatballs is offset beautifully by the sweet/sour sauce made, usually made of some combination of vinegar, ketchup and brown sugar. We can make this dish a little more complex if, in lieu of the sugar, we reduce a can of pineapple sauce over a low flame until it reaches syrup-like consistency. Try this recipe, only omit the sugar and add just a tablespoon of ketchup and see where that takes you!

Another great example are baked hazelnut-crusted pork chops served with apricot mint jelly. The fat of the pork chops and hazelnuts paired with sweet apricot gives a wide spectrum of flavor ranging from salty umami to sweet, tart and acidic. The mint provides a particular flavor I call “green clean” and that’s where we segue to…

Green and Clean

Okay, neither green nor clean are classified as “flavors” but I think that’s the best way to describe them. Greens are, in short, any green vegetable, from peas to kale to Brussels Sprouts. Clean is the aromatic, sometimes slightly acidic characteristic of spices like mint, Shiso and lemongrass. This spring, green and clean pops up in salads like kale and mint, topped with plump roasted raisins, watercress and arugula with pine nuts and chopped green snap peas with mint and basil leaves, topped with avocado dressing. Really want to green-zing your world? How about a Mint-Pistachio that’s equally good with lamb or dabbed on some oven toasted baguette?

Other incarnations include, salads and risottos made with fresh chickpeas, fried Brussels Sprouts lightened up with a little mint, and roasted corn, faro, and arugula salad with tarragon and lemon dressing. Want to use these green flavor profiles in a dessert? Try a custard made of raw or grass fed organic milk infused with fennel and lemongrass.

Well here’s to the life, celebration and rejuvenation that is spring! Eat well and make the most of the beauty and bounty of the season with dishes that awaken the senses and invite us to taste again.

Happy Eating!

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