Recently I was giving a workshop and talking about the importance of colour to a meal. One of the participants sniggered and asked if I was suggesting that she add food colouring to her food. Actually, I was referring, in part, to the revised Canada Food Guide.
The cover of the Canada Food Guide is designed to resemble a rainbow instead of the traditional pyramid. Colour is used to provide variety to your diet and they recommend that you should eat at least one dark green and one orange vegetable every day.
There are plenty of dark greens, like spinach, broccoli, kale and a variety of lettuces but when it comes to orange vegetables it is a little more difficult to think beyond carrots.
However, peppers come in orange and pumpkins also jump to mind. At another workshop last week at Boularderie Elementary School, the students added yams or sweet potatoes and winter squash to the list.
There are other reasons to paint the plate, so to speak. When a meal is colourful it increases the appetite which is beneficial to people who are recovering from an illness and have lost their appetite. Children also respond better to a colourful dinner plate.
Colour combinations can also be created by adding fresh fruit to your vegetable choices. Although many people still think that it is odd to serve fruit with meat, fish or poultry dishes, slices of melon, berries, citrus, pears, and other fruit actually enhances the flavours of the meat, poultry or fish. And it supplies a healthy boost of fiber.
Using fruit juices when cooking is another way to enrich the flavours. After frying chicken breasts in olive oil try adding mango juice over the meat and cover the pan with a lid. Allow the chicken to simmer for fifteen minutes. It is very tasty.
Stews and broths should always be prepared with a variety of colourful vegetables that maintain their colours and consistency after cooking.
Dark stews, chili, french onion soup or borscht can be made more colourful by adding chopped chives, parsley, shredded cheese, yogurt or a dollop of sour cream with a bright green blade of basil on top.
Many restaurants prefer to plate their food on white porcelain. Darker coloured plates, pastels or patterned china has a tendency to bleed away the colour of food and remove some of its distinctness which is part of its appeal. The plate should never compete with what is on it or make the food appear pale in colour.
Another tip is balance which is provided by contrasting the food on the plate. White fish likes a touch of parsley or a dab of red bell pepper paste. Roast or grilled meats brighten with a serving of chutney beside or on top of it. A slice of goat cheese or cream cheese on top of a well-done steak makes it look less brown.
Or serve the serving of roast or other dark meats on a bed of tomato slices. Pasta dishes served with cheese sauces really deserve grapes, cut in half and placed as a rim around the plate.
Always be careful serving fresh fruits or vegetables that have a tendency to darken. Slices of avocado or eggplant are best prepared just before serving and if they must be prepared ahead of time, bathe them in lemon juice and salt. Horseradish also has a tendency to turn black after it is shredded.
Just before Easter one of my Ukranian friends gave me a jar of homemade horseradish and red beets. The sweetness from the beets and the rough peppery taste from the horseradish was delicious and I served it with hard-boiled eggs.
Another way to brighten the table is to serve a mixed salad. I prefer a large bowl set on the middle of the table. Often, I will fill small dishes with a variety of different vegetables so that guests can add the veggies they like to their salad. Again, it provides a colourful table topped off with a basket containing a variety of breads in various textures and colours.