A New Equation: Sweet Plus Savory Equals Love

Today we are excited to bring you a great reflection on sweet and savory eating from someone who’s been loving this flavor since long before it was a trend. Whether you’re choreographing a meal for yourself, feeding your favorite sweet-toothed friends, or deciding how to order at a restaurant, Dasha’s tips for savory-ing up your sweet fare and adding sugar to your main course are fun and will make your mouth water.

Dasha Barannik is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania who works as a management consultant in New York City. She collects balsamic vinegars from around the world, swears by gooey chocolate and peanut butter desserts, has a major crush on the color purple, and is never without her sarcasm. Her job takes her on travels far and wide, but she’s always glad to come home to her stove. Read her article about eating well while traveling here.

–The Small Kitchen College Team


As a self-proclaimed hater of “what’s your favorite…” questions, my go-to reply when asked about food is not a single item, but an entire approach to flavor combination: sweet and savory.  I’ll take it all, from chocolate covered peanut butter-stuffed pretzels and foie gras with fig jam to coffee-charred short ribs with dried cherry BBQ sauce. Countering a savory ingredient with a hit of sweetness plays a central role in my meal planning philosophy and has often led me to my most creative, complex and delicious concoctions in the kitchen. Sure, it was ravenous hunger which initially led me to dip red grapes into hummus, but I haven’t looked back since.

Though sweet and savory have been mixed and matched for ages – think Turkish and Caribbean cuisines, al pastor tacos and American staples like turkey with cranberry sauce and fried chicken with waffles – we’re definitely in the midst of a major sweet and savory renaissance. Have you noticed exotic mushrooms and bacon hanging out in your Vosges chocolate bars and fudge-covered potato chips nestled in Ben and Jerry’s new Late Night Snack flavor? Wackier combinations from artisanal and boutique venues usually precede such mainstream concoctions. Humphry Slocombe in San Francisco offers salt and pepper ice cream, il laboratorio del gelato in NYC sells cheddar cheese gelato, and I stumbled across Pierre Herme’s asparagus and white truffle oil macaron in Paris a few months ago. Yum.

* Tips and Tricks *

Here’s how to work sweet and savory into your each and every meal!
1. Combine no more than a few ingredients on either side of the spectrum that complement one another. Don’t add sugar and molasses and cookie dough. Try to find the one sweet spot the works; for instance, cocoa can be somewhat smoky, making it perfect for chili.
2. Be clear about the primary identity of your dish. Is it a savory dish balanced with a hint of sweetness, or a dessert with a savory undertone?
3. Start at the very beginning. For those who are skeptical about this Willy Wonka-esque business, know that a dash of salt in caramel sauce, or a sprinkle of cocoa, cinnamon, or chili powder, or a drizzle of honey in something savory are the gateway drugs to the sweet and savory world.
The yin and yang of sweet and savory 2.0 can be orchestrated at every meal:
Breakfast: You might have already inadvertently introduced your bacon and eggs to maple syrup in a hungover diner setting. Now’s the time to take things to the next level.
Ideas: bacon + egg + cheese + jam + English muffin, oatmeal + fried egg + maple syrup, sweet bagel + savory cream cheese (or vice versa).
Snacks/Appetizers: Frankly, snack time should have no rules; be adventurous and let your palate guide you. When you’ve got friends over and are ready to don your fancy pants, the cheese and fruit pairing is a classic standby that can morph into as elegant or casual an appetizer as you need it to be.
Ideas: apples + cheddar, watermelon + feta, dates + cheese, hummus + red grapes, miso paste + cinnamon raisin English muffin, fig jam + peanut butter, popcorn + salt + chocolate chips.
Lunch: Grain-based salads are lunchtime’s blank canvases. Throw in a fruit, some nuts, a splash of vinegar, and a protein, and you’re well on your way to sweet and savory nirvana.
Ideas: Carrot + raisin + pecan salad, wild rice + Fuji apple + red grape + walnut salad, quinoa + dried apricots + toasted almonds + chicken, arugula + strawberry + goat cheese + pistachio salad.
Dinner: One of my favorite multidimensional flavor pairings comes from Lolita in Philadelphia: I dream about their hazelnut-crusted duck breast with sweet plantains and sour cherry salsa. Restaurant dishes are fantastic sources of inspiration for home-cooked meals, and you don’t need to include every last exotic ingredient:
Vegetarian ideas: cinnamon or nutmeg + butternut squash pasta, pomegranate molasses + eggplant + goat cheese, mango + chili + black bean stir fry, fig + gorgonzola + arugula + caramelized onion pizza.
Meat & seafood ideas: scallops + corn + basil + peaches, pork + apple, duck + cherry, prosciutto + melon, salmon + raspberry.
Dessert: Bacon has been the darling of the savory dessert trend for quite some time, and with good reason: its smoky flavor plays off creamy, sugary notes for a highly satisfying experience. Mild flavors, such as basil and olive oil are also great options to explore. While it takes some practice to arrive at a sweet finish that offers complexity without tipping into confusion or contradiction, the results are well worth the effort.
Ideas: strawberry + basil + balsamic + ice cream, olive oil pound cake, chocolate covered bacon + banana pudding + peanut butter, salted peanut butter banana ice cream (blend one peeled, chopped frozen banana in a food processor for 2 minutes; add 1 tablespoon crunchy, salted peanut butter, a dash more salt, a drizzle of agave nectar, and a sprinkle of cinnamon; blend for 30 more seconds; enjoy!)

–Dasha Barannik, BGSK Contributor

Originally posted on Friday, July 29th, 2011

4 Responses to “A New Equation: Sweet Plus Savory Equals Love”

  1. Small Kitchen College: How To: Teach Your Roommate to Cook

    August 23rd, 2011

    [...] dish at every step along the way. Urge your friends to develop their own tastes: mild or sharp, salty or sweet, basil or parsley. Once you get a feel for the tastes you like and dislike, it's easy to [...]

  2. Small Kitchen College: 5 Best Items to Steal From the Dining Hall (and Ways to Use Them All Week Long) | eduJunction

    September 14th, 2011

    [...] dry on its own, so use it to make granola bars or chocolate bark. You can even create a unique sweet and savory combo by grinding Cap’n Crunch cereal as a breading for baked or fried chicken [...]

  3. Small Kitchen College: The 7 Healthiest Cereals to Eat Before Your 9 a.m. Class | eduJunction

    September 21st, 2011

    [...] creamy texture of grits is perfect for cold wintery mornings. Keep your morning sugar-free by going savory: embellish with a sprinkle of cheese and a slice of butter. And, if you like your breakfast [...]

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