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Plant Based Food Pairings to Help you Improve your Cooking Skills

Plant Based Food Pairings to Help you Improve your Cooking Skills (Part 2)

on being vegan podcast Mar 30, 2017

It's finally time to tackle part 2 of our food pairings series! In part 1, I told you why understanding food pairings plays such a huge role in improving your cooking skills, and it has to do with learning how to look at ingredients and decide to put them together in a recipe. To me, nothing screams freedom as a cook like being able to venture out of tried and true recipes and start creating meals that come from your own creativity and taste preferences. It's a great way to flex your cooking muscle but it's also a fantastic way to help save you time in the kitchen. It helps you lose the fear of cooking, and it takes perfectionism slightly out of the equation, and when that happens, and you're not afraid to experiment, you go into that kitchen with confidence and magical things can come from good ingredients. Food pairings (i.e. foods and flavors that go together really well), are the base for this type of cooking. We went through a pretty big list in part 1 of the series, but today I'm giving you even more in the hopes that this inspires you to come up with some ideas for dishes of your own.

I remember how even as a little kid, and I'm talking 5, 6 or 7 years old, whenever my mom wanted to give me a prize or a present for something, or I had gotten an A on a test or it was my birthday, I always asked for two things. The first was always a constant, to be taken to the hotdog and ice cream parlor that had giant plaster sundaes and banana splits decorating the restaurant, and where I would always get hotdogs, fries and a banana split with sprinkles and whipped cream. The second one had two varieties, both equally as fun. I would sometimes ask my mom to let me play with her scarves (she had drawers and drawers of scarves and I liked to make a huge pile with them and jump on top of it, or tie them end to end and see how long it would go). Other times I would ask her if she would let me "cook".

I write "cook" between quotation marks because it was more like grabbing as many ingredients as I could reach and putting them in a bowl. Then I would turn whatever came out of that bowl into (usually) inedible cookies in the form of caterpillars, but that's a story for another day.

The reason I'm telling you this story is because even back then I was not afraid to experiment in the kitchen. Had I known that chocolate went amazingly well with raspberries though, or that pears and something creamy and tangy just pop with flavor, or that rice and lemon zest should get married and have babies, I would have saved my mom from so many disgusting caterpillar cookie taste tests (yes I always made her try them). Taking risks and trying things out in the kitchen is a must if you want to improve your skills, but it's always helpful to get by with a little help from your friends, and by friends I mean food pairings.

Are you ready? Let's get right to it with some more vegan food pairings and ideas on what to do with them. Remember, these are in no particular order or category and you can also check out part 1 of this series for even more yummy duos.


Roasted fennel and lemon

  • Sliced fennel placed in a casserole dish with some leeks and carrots, tossed in a tiny drizzle of olive oil, some salt and pepper, some lemon slices on top. Let everything get nice and caramelized in the oven and spread the now sweeter lemon on the veggies as you eat. It will blow your mind! Lemon and fennel just work!


Tomato and basil

  • The ultimate classic I can't believe I didn't mention in our previous post on the matter. A simple salad of tomato wedges, lots of fresh basil, a drizzle of olive oil, some sea salt and pepper will do wonders for the soul. 


Zucchini and paprika

  • Whenever you're grilling, roasting or sautéing zucchini, add a sprinkle of paprika to make the flavors shine even more.

Couscous or orzo and roasted peppers

  • Whether it's as a salad, cooked entrée or part of some antipasti, cooked couscous or orzo, a nice vinaigrette and some roasted vegetables go great together, especially red and yellow bell peppers.


Roasted garlic and anything, especially seitan

  • Roasted garlic is one of those things that goes great in anything. From sauces, to veggie burgers, to dressings, to pasta dishes, to pizza, and especially next to a yummy seitan roast or filet. Spread it on like butter as you eat and you'll be in heaven. 


Fried plantains and guacamole

  • Although both sweet yellow plantains and fried green plantains work well with avocado and a creamy guacamole, it's especially the fried green plantains that will make your tastebuds pop. In my country this is called "tostones", fried green plantain rounds that you can eat with some salt or your favorite dipping sauces, or with guac, as we always do it in our house.


Rice and mango

  • A very common combo in Southeast Asia. Make some sticky rice or cook white rice in coconut milk instead of water, add some mango and shredded coconut and have the perfect dish, which you can also turn into a mango-coconut-rice pudding for dessert.


Rice and mango chutney

  • Even easier than the previous one, make rice like you normally do and add some mango chutney on top. Serve with some crispy tofu and bokchoy for the perfect meal.


Basil and avocado

  • So many people thing of avocado and cilantro as going together and that's certainly the case, but I'm always thinking of my cilantro haters out there. People normally think avocado and parsley would be the next best choice, and I disagree, the sweet notes of basil, and the creamy fruity flavors of the avocado really go together. I love pairing these two in sandwiches and wraps with the rest of my fillings.


Tofu and pineapple

  • Make a tofu and veggie sweet and sour stir-fry by adding some pineapple cubes to the mix. You can see me making one here.


Noodles and grapefruit

  • Especially in a soba noodle salad with a spicy dressing that includes sriracha or sambal oelek, some crunchy veggies, sesame oil, a little chili oil, some soy sauce and agave. This combo is strange, but deliciously unique.


Brussels sprouts and maple syrup

  • Roast the sprouts tossed in a little oil and maple syrup, and once roasted toss with things like pecans, pomegranate seeds or even raspberries.


Sage and non-dairy butter

  • Fried sage has long been a culinary pairing with things like gnocchi, butternut squash, pasta and risottos, but many people are unfamiliar with this herb and how to use it in recipes. It couldn't be easier: melt some non-dairy butter in a pan and add the whole sage leaves. Let them sizzle and infuse the butter, then add the rest of the ingredients for your dish to that same pan. The smell alone... ahhh...

Eggplant and oregano

  • Thinly slice the eggplant, add a drizzle of olive oil, oregano, salt and pepper and roast until tender, almost buttery. Add the magical ingredient from the next pairing to make it shine even brighter.


Roasted or grilled eggplant and hummus

  • Add a dollop of hummus to grilled or roasted eggplant that is cooked to almost buttery. It's the perfect combination.


Basmati rice, cilantro and lemon

  • The perfect trifecta, especially if you include the zest of the lemon as well. We'll have a recipe for you soon, but you can get started by just tossing some cooked basmati rice with tons of fresh cilantro, lemon juice and zest. I'll be teaching you how to cook it really soon and get the flavors of the lemon infused right into the rice. So good!


Sesame seeds, garlic powder and paprika or chili powder

  • Grind these three in a blender or a spice or coffee grinder and get a simplified version of gomasio, a powder you can add to many recipes, or even as a finishing spice at the table. You can add many other spices to this, and even dried seaweed for extra added minerals, the sesame seeds in this powder will provide an excellent source of calcium as well.


Papaya, jerk seasoning and chimichurri

  • Cut the papaya into wedges, add the jerk seasoning or your favorite cajun seasoning, roast, toss with some crispy or grilled tofu, top with chimichurri sauce and serve over rice.


Watermelon and tomatoes

  • As part of a salad with olives and onions, and a tangy, lemony vinaigrette.


Leeks, potatoes and bechamel

  • A casserole of roasted leeks and potatoes with some gooey bechamel, cooked until bubbly, and the option of adding some vegan cheese on top. We'll be filming a leek and potato gratin really soon for our online program to show this technique.


Artichokes and pesto

  • Roasted artichoke hearts and a basil or parsley pesto to top. Divine! Our latest obsession at the house.


Cumin and lemon

  • As part of a Middle Eastern style vinaigrette, or add some chili powder and turn it into a dressing for a corn and bean salad like this one.


Sweet potatoes and chipotle hot sauce


Parsley and any type of creamy sauce

  • Whether you're using lemon, butter and capers for a piccata style sauce, or making a rich creamy alfredo sauce, parsley should be your go to herb.

Sweet potatoes and orange juice

  • Make a delicious mashed sweet potato casserole or sweet potato purée by adding a bit of freshly squeezed orange juice to the rest of the ingredients in your recipe, typically some non-dairy butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, non-dairy milk or cream, etc.


Cauliflower and tomato

  • I recently had a vegan lasagna in which the bolognese was made with finely chopped cauliflower along with some other vegetables and lots of tomatoes, and it almost made me cry. They go so well together!


Apricots and caramelized onions

  • Grill your apricots until juicy and tender, caramelize some onions, toss them together with a bit of lemon juice, zest and olive oil and top any rice dishes, seitan or tempeh steaks with this "compote".


Blueberries and lemon zest

  • Add some lemon zest to blueberry cobblers, tarts or jams. 


Red onions and radishes

  • Make a quick pickle of both of these with some apple cider vinegar, water and salt until they turn soft and pink. Drain and use it as a topping for tacos.


Saffron and rice

  • The star combination that created the Spanish paella, but it also works if making a simple batch of rice: sauté your rice in a bit of olive oil with some onions and peppers, and once the rice is slightly translucent around the edges, add saffron strands or powdered paella saffron or seasoning to the pan. Add veggie broth and cook the rice as you normally would. If you´re a member of our online program, you have the perfect recipe for veggie paella in our main dishes section.

Kale, avocado and lime

  • Mash the avocado and lime together and massage it into the kale. Sprinkle with sea salt, pepper, some nutritional yeast and grab a fork!


There are hundreds, possibly thousands more, and as I write this post I´m getting inspired for a new series, where I give you all the different pairings you could try and experiment with, for just one main ingredient. For example, all the perfect pairings for lemons, or potatoes, or tomatoes. A good idea if you´re craving a tomato recipe but you're not sure in which direction you should go. Food for thought for me I guess, for a later time (which means I´m already excited and I´m writing it in my head at this very moment!).


Until then, do you have any favorite pairings you turn to time and time again? Leave them in the comments below and don´t forget to share this post with the foodies in your life who want to start making more plant based dishes!


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