Food The strange flavour combinations bound for fashionable menus and discerning palettes.
An unlikely paring
This year, absolutely everybody is going to be eating pears with thyme and carrots with cinnamon. OK, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but these two improbable-sounding combinations are nonetheless major features of a new report outlining what the gastronomic fashions for 2009 will be. The survey, simply called the Flavour Report, has been put together by international chefs and food writers who have joined heads to guess which new taste combinations will come into vogue over the next 12 months. Given that the report has been commissioned by the spice manufacturer Schwartz, it comes as no surprise to find that the sort of flavourings they make their money from selling all feature heavily on the list. But there's more to the document than PR puff. The report boasts an impressive list of contributors and having foodies on board like the cookery writer Jill Dupleix and the internationally respected chefs Rowley Leigh, Andreas Caminada and Flora Mikula, gives the findings a certain gravitas that makes them more dependable. While some of the combinations may seem a little far-fetched, it's worth bearing in mind that sich ingredients as kiwi fruit and rocket that are pretty banal nowadays were once seen as modish and daring. And there are certainly plenty of open-minded people out there ready to experiment. Unlikely candidates such as basil have been creeping into sweet dishes over the past few years, while the bizarre-sounding practice of adding fine black pepper to strawberries is now pretty common. What makes the survey's findings especially interesting is the way that they reflect globalisation. More of us travel than ever before, move away from our countries of birth and eat foods that our parents would have considered wildly exotic and perhaps even repellent. Now we are looking for ways to incorporate all these different influences into our everyday cooking, a fact reflected by the report's mixing and matching of Asian, European and Middle Eastern flavourings. If you're curious as to what the future of home cooking might (just possibly) look like, here are the report's 10 key pairings, with recipes and tips for trying them out yourself. Apricots and saffron Though mainly associated with savoury dishes, saffron also works well with sweet foods (such as the saffron buns Swedes eat at Christmas). Mixing it with apricots gives the fruit a lovely perfumed flavour and only intensifies their rich colour.
250 ml water 180 grams sugar 1 vanilla bean 12 apricots Juice and zest of ½ a lemon 1 teaspoon of saffron 1 tablespoon flaked almonds (optional) First, slice the apricots in two lengthways and remove the stones. Next, strip any white pith off the lemon peel and slice it into strands as thinly as possible. Put the water, sugar, vanilla bean and zest into a pan and bring to the boil. Simmer the pot gently for 10 minutes then add the apricots and cook till soft but not disintegrating. If they are very ripe, this will only take a couple of minutes, but unripe apricots (which are excellent for cooking) may take five or more. Remove the pan from the stove, stir in the saffron and leave the pot covered for 15 minutes to infuse. Serve either warm with Greek yoghurt or cool completely and serve on its own in stem glasses. A sprinkling of flaked almonds adds an extra layer of texture, but isn't essential. Papaya and nutmeg Mild, fleshy papaya often tastes better with a flavouring to give it interest, and tossing it with nutmeg in a fruit salad makes a simple dish far more memorable. Papaya also tenderises meat beautifully, so using the two as a marinade for a sweet and spicy beef casserole is also surprisingly effective. Carrots and cinnamon The slight sweetness of carrots sit well with such aromatic spices as cinnamon, and the combination of the two is a regular feature of Moroccan cooking, as in the recipe below.
1kg lamb, either neck fillet or shoulder 250 ml stock 1 tin tomatoes 8 medium carrots 2 onions 1 teaspoon ginger 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1 salted lemon 1 handful coriander leaves 2 cloves garlic 1 orange 1 tablespoon green olives ½ teaspoon sea salt oil The night or morning before you want to eat the stew, strip any fat off the lamb and cut into chunks. Squeeze the orange, retaining the juice, then take half the skin and scrape off all the pith with a knife. Shred the orange zest and put in a pestle and mortar with the garlic and sea salt. Pound to a paste then add to the meat, along with the ginger and cinnamon. Pour over the orange juice, stir the meat well and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least eight hours. When it is ready, peel the onions and cook them until translucent in a little oil. Drain the meat of its juice (but don't throw this away) and then brown with the onions. Peel and chop the carrots into small chunks, stir in and cook for a further five minutes. Add the peeled, chopped tomatoes and cook until the chunks start to disintegrate, then add the stock. Cover and cook over low heat for 90 minutes, or until the lamb is tender. Chop the preserved lemon into small chunks and add to the pan along with the green olives. Finally, remove from the heat and sprinkle on the coriander leaves, finely chopped. Serve with couscous. Pumpkin and turmeric Bitter turmeric adds an interesting sharp note to the mushy sweetness of pumpkin flesh. For a simple version of this pairing, gently fry up some onions with a teaspoon of turmeric and use it as a base for a pumpkin soup. Avocado and paprika Rich avocado and sweet, smoky paprika's flavours work nicely together - but when paprika is used without cooking or mixing, its powdery texture isn't necessarily appealing. The recipe below gets around this by enriching the pairing further with crab.
4 avocados, ripe but not mushy 200 grams white crab meat 2 red peppers 2 tablespoons crème fraîche 1 teaspoon smoked paprika Juice of 1 lemon 2 spring onions salt and pepper First, cut the peppers in two and strip out the innards. Place them under a hot grill until the skins blacken. Take them off the grill and put them into a small, lidded pot or plastic bag so that they sweat off their skins as they cool. Chop the white part of the spring onions into superfine rings. Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, strip off the skins and chop the flesh into little dice. Mix the paprika into the crème fraîche and blend it in a bowl with the crab meat, peppers and spring onions, then taste and season well. Halve the avocados, remove the stones and brush the exposed flesh with lemon juice (this both adds flavour and prevents them from turning brown). Fill the cavity of each avocado with a heaped spoonful of crab salad and serve as soon as possible.
While these two on their own might be a bit too much, they work well as a complement to roast meat. Simply peel, halve and core some pears, stud them lightly with thyme and then roast until soft to serve with lamb or beef. Strawberries and tarragon The idea of a normally savoury herb like tarragon with fruit may sound a little off-kilter, but its leaves do in fact have a slightly peppery aniseed flavour that has a hint of sweetness lurking underneath. Just as the more adventurous run of restaurants have been serving fruit sorbets with basil quite commonly over the past few years, this is a pairing best kept simple. All you need to do is toss a small amount of tarragon in with some sliced strawberries - or to add a sharp note, a tiny sprinkling of tarragon vinegar.
The recipe below was devised by Rowley Leigh, the head chef at London's Le Café Anglais and a major contributor to the report. 150 ml light brown caster sugar 12 star anise 250 ml water 1 cinnamon stick 1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes 1 pineapple Combine the sugar and spices in a small saucepan and add the water. Bring to a simmer and cook for five minutes and then leave to cool. Peel the pineapple, quarter it and then cut away the core. Slice each segment lengthways from tip to toe into five long thin strips cut towards the centre. Heat a ridged griddle plate. Brush the pineapple slices with oil and then mark on the grill criss-cross fashion on both sides. Place the slices, overlapping, on a large tray and then marinate with the star anise syrup. Serve hot or cold with a vanilla or coconut ice cream.
OK, so no one's suggesting you sieve curry powder into your breakfast juice. But adding curry powder and orange to soups intensifies the flavour nicely, and means that you often need to add less salt. For a simple but refreshingly different vegetable soup, add curry powder (or your own blend ground down from individual spices) to carrots and parsnips that have been simmered until soft in stock, then add freshly squeezed orange juice and a dollop of good yoghurt to finish it off.
Continuing on a theme of sweet flavours mixed with herbs, rosemary with apple or quince sauce works well with roast meat. For the more adventurous, try serving the two as a relish for a piece of briefly seared mackerel.