We are rolling into fig season and boy am I excited!
As you can tell by the name of this blog post, what you’re about to read, and subsequently make because it’s too good not to, is absolutely delicious. The reason the classic combination of roasted figs, beetroots, walnuts and goat’s cheese is such a classic is because of a little term I like to use known as ‘flavour pairing’. The recipe comes straight out of the pages of my new book Supercharge Your Life.
Now, true flavour is created and culminated by a cook - yes, I said a human cook, not a machine or production line. Flavours are best paired when they’re made from raw and real ingredients, just like Mother Nature intended. It’s the pure alchemy of the special ingredients chosen with love that produces a dish that is not only delicious, but pure magic.
To put it simply, flavour pairing is combining foods that have the same flavour compounds. Through my personal cooking experiences over the years, my interest in human taste biochemistry has only grown. While there are an impressive number of findings all about the topic, chefs use the notion of molecular gastronomy in preparing their dishes to create unique and tantalising tastes. This is exactly what you get in my Roasted Fig, Walnut and Goat’s Cheese Salad.
Combining certain foods together can also increase their nutritional value, helping your body absorb and utilise the benefits of each separate ingredient more effectively. It seems the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.
Not only does flavour pairing increase how wholesome food is for our bodies, our mouths actually enjoy food more when flavours are chosen and balanced. It’s true what grandma said, you can taste the love in some cooking! For example, when a food is too bitter, we look for something sweet to counterbalance it (hello dark chocolate!). If a food is too salty, we look for something with a higher water content and bland flavour to balance it out.
This concept of creating perfect flavour pairings isn’t only used in the culinary world. It’s used by chefs, sommeliers, food technologists, perfumers, and now, even you. The idea of two separate entities complementing each other and combining together is also seen throughout our relationships. Let’s think about power couples. What makes a power couple a power couple? One is extroverted, the other is introverted; one is daring, the other is conservative; one is always running late, the other has an in-built alarm clock. Individuals in power couples complement each other and pick-up where the other may be lacking. This is pairing at its finest.
Similarly, certain flavours can balance others by counteracting or offsetting them to achieve harmony on the palate. For example, if you’re cooking and you’ve accidently dropped too much spice into the pan, you can bring a sweet ingredient into play to balance and neutralise the heat. If you intend to enhance or amplify a sweet flavour, try adding a touch of saltiness.
Think back to the last time you bit into salted caramel goodness or added some lemon to your guacamole. Just this little act puts you in line with world-class food tasters and chefs, practicing food pairing at its finest. Look at you go – MasterChef, watch out!
In all seriousness, am I the only one who thinks it’s amazing what our palates are capable of appreciating when we employ a few simple molecular gastronomy principles? Okay… just me.
The most exciting part about all of this is that you too can create simple, healthy, chef-inspired meals all in the comfort of your own home. To help you get started, I’ve listed some of my principle food pairings that I swear by. Be inspired and excited to experiment with some of these and reap the tasty benefits.
- To brighten up any dish and give it some va-va-voom (the scientific term), I recommend adding sourness and acidity. I favour lemon juice, lime juice, apple cider vinegar and brown rice vinegar.
- To balance out sourness, bitterness or spiciness, try adding something sweet like rice malt syrup, maple syrup, raw honey, mirin or stevia drops or powder.
- If your dish is a bit bland or bitter, try adding salt to bring out the flavours and aromas of other ingredients. My top salty additions are wheat-free tamari, coconut aminos, Celtic sea salt or Himalayan salt.
- If your baked goods are too sweet, try adding something bitter to reduce the richness, heaviness or sweetness. Ingredients like citrus peels, raw cacao powder and dandelion root work like a charm here!
Try the gentle art of balancing by employing these tastes, and when in doubt, like everything in life, listen to your gut and trust your instincts.
If you’re ready for one of the best flavour combinations in history, and no, I’m not biased (okay, maybe a little), you can’t go past roasted figs, beetroots, walnuts and goats’ cheese. The chewy and sweet fig with its lusciously smooth skin, complemented by the grounding and earthy taste of beetroot, combines effortlessly with savoury, salty and soft goats’ cheese.
Trust me, if you’ve never baked a fig before, your world is about to change. While they’re delicious fresh, when they’re warm after some exposure to an oven, they’re unstoppable. Not only are figs delicious, they’re also high in fibre for good digestion as well as various vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, vitamin B and potassium. Combine that tantalising taste with all of the comfort feels of melted goat’s cheese and you’ve got one heck of a salad!
I believe deep down that goat’s cheese and beetroot were made for one another. Their romance is proof that opposites attract, and that two entirely different souls can be a match made in heaven. Here, the bright pink, sweet, earthy flavours of beetroot mingle with the rich, creamy tartness of goat’s cheese. I highly recommend investing in a quality goat’s cheese. It’ll be a little extra on your food bill, but it’s a decadent treat like no other and let's face it foods here to be celebrated and enjoyed.
This salad from Supercharge Your Life, is a simple, quick and elegant lunch or dinner recipe. This dish will quickly transport you to flavour paradise as it perfectly balances melt-in-your-mouth goat’s cheese, roasted figs, earthy beetroots and crunchy walnuts. Heavenly.
To read more about my new book Supercharge Your Life- How to put real food at the heart of everything go here.
Roasted fig, walnut and goat’s cheese salad
- 3 small beetroot (beets), peeled and thickly sliced
- extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
- 6 ripe figs, halved crossways
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- apple cider vinegar, for drizzling
- 100 g (312oz) walnuts
- 200 g (7 oz) English spinach, plus extra to serve (optional)
- 100 g (312oz) goat’s cheese
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 2 thyme sprigs
- freshly ground black pepper
- microherbs, to serve (optional)
- 1 orange, sliced and roasted, to serve (optional)
Preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F).
Toss the beetroot in a roasting tray with a drizzle of olive oil. Roast for 25 minutes, or until just softened.
Remove the tray, lay the fig halves, cut side up, around the beetroot then sprinkle with the cinnamon and drizzle over some olive oil and apple cider vinegar.
Roast for 5 minutes then add the walnuts and cook for a further 5 minutes, or until the figs are golden, plump and slightly softened.
Allow to cool to room temperature.
Put the spinach on a platter or in a salad bowl, add the figs and walnuts, and crumble over the goat’s cheese.
Drizzle with olive oil and the lemon juice. Top with the thyme, a grind or two of black pepper, some microherbs, extra spinach and roasted orange slices, if using.