One night, I was on my way home from work trying to think of creative ways to use the butternut squash that was sitting on the counter waiting for me, when I texted my food editor friend Jen.
“I’m so tired of making butternut squash the same exact way every time, roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper. How do I shake this up?”
Her reply: Squash loves smoked paprika.
Smoked paprika! I never would’ve thought of that, I told her. And lo and behold, it was perfect. A low-heat, smoky flavor that cut what can sometimes be the overly sweet flavor of the squash flesh. Indeed, they loved each other.
There is science behind why certain foods go well with each other — something about sharing chemical compounds — but this was such a fun way to think about it. Zucchini loves mint; tomatoes love basil; uh, chocolate loves peanut butter. And even though I am always experimenting, in the season of bountiful fall vegetables, it feels good to know I can depend on specific flavors connecting to generate some dinnertime magic. Here are a few:
Loves: smoked paprika, curries, apples
Try This: Butternut Squash and Apple Soup (Ina Garten) or toss cubed medium butternut squash with olive oil, salt, pepper, and about 1 tablespoon of smoked paprika, and roast 15 minutes at 425°F for an easy side
Cabbage (including Brussels sprouts)
Loves: Butter, bacon, cream, apple, pork, caraway, chives, dill, raisins
Try this: Sausage and Cabbage Skillet Dinner, Pan-Fried Brussels sprout and Bacon Pizza, Apple-Cider Braised Cabbage (shown above, brown halved green or savoy cabbage in butter and a bit of olive oil; remove, add onions and garlic to same pot, then combine apple cider, a little cider vinegar, tomato paste, and vegetable stock for your braising liquid; add cabbage back then braise in a 350°F oven for 45 minutes.)
Loves: Nutmeg, turmeric, cumin, parsley, dill, cream, brown butter, strong cheeses like cheddar, Blue, Parm
Try This: Creamy Cauliflower and Onion Gratin, Cheesy Cauliflower Soup
Chinese Greens (Bok Choy, Gai lan, Mizuna, Mustard Greens)
Loves: Chiles, ginger, garlic, fish sauce, soy, oyster, hoisin, Chile sauce
Try This: Hong-Kong Style Crispy Noodles (with Chinese broccoli/gai lan) or simply sautéed bok choy with red pepper flakes, garlic, ginger, and fish or soy sauce
Loves: Dill, cumin, pickled anything, tahini, vinegar, apples, horseradish, sour cream, tahini, yogurt
Try This: Roast Beet Dip with Tahini and Yogurt, Beet Salad with Pickled Cabbage
Loves: chives, cilantro, mint, cumin, mustard seeds, orange, yogurt, feta, brown sugar, pecans, ginger
Try This: Roast Carrot Salad with Avocado, Sweet and Spicy Carrot Salad, or roast tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper at 425°F with a halved orange (cut-side up), then, once cooked, squeeze orange juice all over, a dollop of yogurt, and a sprinkle of chives, mint, or cilantro.
What are your favorite “couples” of fall?
P.S. How to salvage almost-rotten produce and 10 fast fall dinners.
(Photo by Christine Han for The Weekday Vegetarians.)