Your Favorite Food Combinations

Someone on the ‘How to Spot a Serious Home Cook’ thread mentioned the skill of choosing side dishes to combine/enhance flavors. What are your go-to’s?

I lean hard on wilted chard because it is bitter. For instance, it works well with corn waffles smothered in mustard bechamel/ham. The sweetness of the corn and ham combine with the bitterness of the chard and the mustard is a binder. I wilt it in olive oil w/a few cloves of garlic (w/a couple of lardons of smoked bacon if the protein needs a little boost). Probably similar to the bitterness of Brussels sprouts. The down side is texture. The sprouts at least have some tooth.

Ok, especially you grillers, this being prime fruit/veg season. Help me get out of the chard/potato rut!

Are you asking for side dishes for grilled food?

I guess my question is too vague?

The poster on the other thread made the point that side dishes either complement the main or they don’t. . . I believe that well chosen sides raise the meal to another level. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. But when I google food combinations I get diet threads.

I asked the grillers in particular because 1) it’s the season, and 2) grilled foods have such a distinctive flavor profile. I imagine there are alternatives to the usual grilled veg & salads.

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On the grill, you can make corn on the cob, asparagus, eggplant, tomatoes, bell peppers and onions, (shish-kabob style). Long green onions are great on the grill.

Inside sides are baked or borracho beans, Various slaws and potato or macaroni salads.

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Chicken marinated in teriyaki sauce is usually served with rice mixed with peas and maybe chopped red peppers, and grilled pineapple. Cucumbers with rice wine vinegar and sugar is nice too.

Pork chops marinated with olive oil, balsamic, and
rosemary are served with a light pasta (e.g., orzo) with chopped fresh tomatoes, basil and olive oil, and some grilled broccolini (olive oil and lemon), or radicchio dressed with olive oil and balsamic syrup.

Lamb marinated with yogurt sauce is served with dill rice, and a salad of tomato, olives, and feta cheese.

Do you see a theme here? :slight_smile: Basically, I start with a flavor profile, then stay within those parameters.

Here are some of my favorite side dishes for you:


Toast and egg yolk
Olive oil and vinegar
Tomato and basil
Peanuts and beer
Bacon and …

Agree entirely about starting with a basic flavor profile! And thanks for the links, gonna try all those!!

I suppose what I’m getting at is theme-and-varyiation. F’rinstance thought about this some more and realized why preserved lemon works so beautifully. The tagine recipes I’ve tried do what you describe - the protein and veg are similarly seasoned and brought into flavor harmony. Then to serve, parley (bitter) and preserved lemon (bitter/acidic/salty) are added. Without the parsley and lemon the dish is nice enough but blahs out. I’ve been substituting polenta for cous cous because I want an extra corn-y sweet buttery hit. Anway, that’s an example of starting with a consistent flavor and adding hits of the other colors.

Now y’all got me wondering if grilled chicken thighs and assorted veg (corn++) would be great on the second day served over polenta w/parsley and preserved lemon. Specially if the grill is w/sweet(ish) marinade. Guess I’ve got to get cooking while it’s cool here.


Toast (dusty/char/hint of sweet) + egg yolk (buttery, slightly sweet, slightly savory) + spinach wilted w/one molecule of smoke bacon (bitter, astringent, buttery, savory). + a fork tip of Sevilla marmalade (sweet, bitter). Throw one molecule of salt in the marmalade??

Tomatoes (sweet, acidic) + basil (sweet, bitter, astringent). Instead of bland, a hard cheese? Aged gruyere? (sweetness plus a touch of bitterness). I say bitterness. It’s not quite that but there’s something bitter there underneath the savory/buttery goodness, maybe one molecule?. What’s missing. Buttery softness. Here comes polenta again, or buttery garlic toast. W/ a side of something grilled to add char/umami. Here come those chicken thighs again. Cold, the next day. (Allow one or two capers to wander in??)

Peanuts. W/tomato sauce. Try peanut butter under the sauce on a pizza. Especially w/a cornmeal crust. Don’t laugh! It’s superb.

Well, anyway. Does Mark Bitman address this stuff? I’ve avoided How to Cook Anything because I’m not strong enough to lift it off the shelf. ;-). I think his big thing is layering flavors within a dish and how different cultures do that. Does he go into how the plate as a whole works? Cuz if so I’ll start lifting weights.

Potato chips dipped in Russian dressing!

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Do lift it off the shelf! His recipes taught me how to cook without a recipe. Each recipe he writes comes with variations of the recipe and ways to change the ingredients and flavor profile. I’m sure just looking over his section for polenta will give you a ton of new ideas!

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I often go to bbqs at my friends’ which turn into casual everyone bring something affairs since i’m in nyc and not many bbqs to be had around here.
One of my favorite things to bring is actually a bunch of trimmed scallions- they char easily and quickly on the grill (unlike sliced onions) and make a great side dish to about anything. We just grill them naked and then do a chimichurri, or romesco, or vinegrette for them.

I think all grilled foods need an acidic/brined side- quick pickles, a vinegrette based slaw, cherry tomatoes with olives, sauerkraut…

For your strong flavored greens grilled radicchio is fantastic, or use arugala and radish greens in a side salad.
Lot of fresh chopped herbs always go well with anything grilled- something like tabouli is great. I’m vegetarian so i have brought tabouli to a bbq get together and just added my grilled tofu and veggies on top for a one bowl style meal.

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“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold

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