Surprising Food Combos for Big Flavor

  • Reviewed By: Christine Mikstas, RD, LD
Reviewed on 11/5/2020

Prosciutto and Black-Strap Molasses

Photo of asparagus and prosciutto.

Thrill your taste buds with surprising flavor combos from Lynne Rossetto Kasper, host of American Public Media's The Splendid Table radio show. Kasper shared a few secrets with WebMD -- starting with black-strap molasses drizzled onto prosciutto, ham, or salami. The complex sweetness of the molasses enhances the salty meat flavors. Wrap prosciutto around asparagus, melon, or figs for an inspired appetizer.

Tuscan Trout With Vinegar Sauce

Photo of tuscan trout.

A generous pouring of vinegar enhances the fish in Kasper's recipe for Tuscan trout. Her secret: boil down ½ cup of white, red, or balsamic vinegar to sweeten it -- in a pot with sautéed garlic, thyme, sage, salt, and pepper. Top cooked trout with vinegar sauce and garnish as you like (sautéed onions are nice). People in Northern Tuscany once paid their taxes with this delicious dish, says Kasper.

Ginger, Basil, and Pear

Photo of ginger, basil, and pear.

Southeast Asian cuisines team up fruit and fresh herbs. Ginger's sharp flavor adds sparkle, says Kasper, while basil is a great blending herb that lifts fruit's natural sweetness. Slice ripe fruit, such as pears, apples, melon, peaches, nectarines, plums, or grapes. Fold in grated ginger, basil, vanilla, and honey to taste.

Cucumber, Melon, and Fish Sauce

Photo of melon and cucumber.

There's magic in bottled Asian fish sauce, which stimulates the fifth taste, called umami. This savory sauce heightens the flavor of everything it touches -- including fruit. Kasper recommends a drop or two mixed into a cucumber and melon salad. Or you can add two drops to spaghetti sauces, vinaigrette dressing, soups, stews, or marinades. "It smells like old socks," she admits, "but don't be afraid."

Grilled Chicken and Fish Sauce

Photo of grilled chicken.

For a mysteriously spicy grilled chicken that's far beyond the ordinary backyard barbecue, Kasper again calls on fish sauce. Blend ½ cup sugar, minced garlic, red chili powder, two tablespoons of canola oil, and two drops of Asian fish sauce -- the savory, mystery ingredient. Rub the mix on poultry and refrigerate overnight. Then grill or slow roast chicken at 300° F until crisp.

Radish and Watermelon

Photo of watermelon and radish.

"Radish does a tap dance, while watermelon does a waltz," says Kasper of this odd food twosome. The sharp radish flavor offsets the sweetness and light of fresh watermelon. To make a summer salad or salsa, chop the twosome and blend with salt, pepper, and a little lemon or lime juice. Or replace the citrus juice with red wine vinegar and add red onions for another flavor accent.

Olive Oil, Feta, and Fresh Lemon

Photo of olive oil and feta.

This is a classic Eastern Mediterranean flavor trio. Kasper says it works so well because the different flavors play off of each other nicely: salty and creamy feta cheese, fruity olive oil, and the acid nip of fresh lemon juice. She likes them pureed together and drizzled over a bed of romaine lettuce. An adventurous eater might jazz up a cut watermelon and radish salad with this creamy feta dressing.

Rosemary, Ricotta, and Fruit

Photo of fruit pizza.

This dessert pizza mixes sweet summer fruits with savory herbs and dollops of mild cheese. Bake pastry dough on a pizza pan at 400° F until golden brown and cool. Add 15 ounces of ricotta and 1 cup mascarpone, sweetened to taste. Top with berries, melon, cherries, plums, and nectarines. Sprinkle with rosemary, basil, black pepper, and sugar. Squeeze half a lemon over toppings.

Allspice-Pepper-Cinnamon Veggies

Photo of spices.

Kasper draws out these deeply aromatic spices with a whirl in a coffee grinder. Use:

  • One part whole allspice
  • One part cinnamon
  • ½ part black pepper

Next, add a few tablespoons of olive or canola oil and microwave for one minute to make the flavors blossom. Pour over cooked sweet potatoes, eggplant, peppers, cauliflower, or tomatoes.

Chili Pepper, Salt, and Sugar

Photo of peppers, sugar, and salt.

This trio has many delicious uses, from American barbecue sauces to Asian dishes. The salt and sugar tame the fiery bite in chili peppers. Kasper's mix:

  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Chili pepper to taste (Thai or jalapeno)

Rub it on grilled fish, meat, poultry, and veggies. Or dust it on sliced peaches and melons.

Raw Onion Slices, Tamed

Photo of sliced onions.

Mellow an onion's sharp flavor by thinly slicing a red onion into a bowl and tossing in one part salt to 1½ parts sugar. Refrigerate overnight. Kasper adds these onions to salads and slips them on top of burgers and sandwiches. Two-minute onion sweetener: Place slices or chopped onions in a bowl, sprinkle with vinegar, and microwave for 2 to 3 minutes.

Jicama and Mango

Photo of mango and jicama.

Jicama is a light, crunchy Latin American staple that tastes a little like an apple or pear. To create a Mexican-inspired appetizer, Kasper pairs it with mango, and seasons them with lime and chili pepper. Peel and cut jicama and two ripe mangoes into thin sticks. Sprinkle all sides with lime juice, salt, and chili powder. Lime adds tartness and, along with the mango's sweetness, helps tame the chili's heat.

Corn, Lime, and Chili

Photo of corn, lime, and chili.

Corn-on-the-cob takes on a Latin flair when Kasper prepares it with lime juice and chili -- preferably a New Mexico variety. Blend:

  • 1 cup lime juice
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon ground, medium or hot chili

Mellow at room temperature for an hour. Spoon over hot corn-on-the-cob; add salt or butter if desired. The sweet-tart duo mutes the pepper's heat, but also draws out its flavor.

Bacon, Onion, and Vinegar

Photo of potato salad with bacon.

Liven up salads and veggies with Kasper's mashup of smoky bacon fat, an onion's sharpness, and tart cider vinegar. Cook 3 strips of chopped bacon in 3 tablespoons olive oil. Drain bacon; save 4 tablespoons of fat to stir fry a thinly sliced onion. Add 1/3 cup vinegar and boil. Add bacon, then dress the food.

Reduce fat: Use 2 teaspoons smoked, sweet Spanish paprika instead of bacon.

Balsamic Vinegar and Basil

Photo of caprese salad.

Balsamic vinegar and fresh basil are two expressions of sweetness with a tart backdrop that always work well together, says Kasper. Pair these classic flavors in a Caprese salad of sliced tomato, fresh mozzarella, basil, and vinegar. Or splash this dynamic duo on peaches, melons, strawberries, vanilla ice cream, grilled fish, lamb, or cold chicken.

Surprising Food Combos for Big Flavor

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