Imagine a bowl of gajar halwa without the chopped nuts sprinkled atop, or a scoop of vanilla ice cream without a drizzle of chocolate sauce or the savoury dal without the hint of coriander. They’re not a must have in the recipe but without them, you’ll agree, the dish just does not seem complete. That’s the magic of a garnish.
Garnishing is the culinary creative art of giving a final touch to the food. It enhances the aesthetic appeal of the food or drink. Right garnishing can enliven the food and can transform a dull, bland and lifeless preparation into something very appetising, delectable and spectacular.
Besides accentuating the colour of the dish, it can also enhance other visual dimensions, as well as the flavours. A glimpse of a well garnished dish activates the taste buds and makes dining a pleasure.
Selecting a garnish
Before you give your creativity some air and start experimenting with garnishing, here are some basics to keep in mind
- The garnishing should be appropriate for the dish and compatible with the food. Not only the colour, it should complement the flavour of the food as well. But avoid using too much colour.
- The purpose of garnishing is to enhance the dish and not mask its flavour.
- The ingredient used in the recipe itself can make a perfect garnish.
- Refrain from using strong smelling or pungent garnishes.
- Remember, the key to garnishing well, is to use the right amount—not too much and not too little.
Loaded with antioxidants, fibre, minerals, vitamins and other healthy nutrients, fruits offer many health benefits. Fruits cut into interesting shapes can be used to enrich desserts. You need not be a master craftsman to be able to do this. But having the right apparatus helps. You could invest in some basic fruit and vegetable carving tools such as a corer to remover the core of fruits like apples and pears, a melon baller to scoop out tiny balls of the fruit, a U-shaped garnishing tool for slicing fruits like strawberries and a V-shaped garnishing tool, for finer carvings. Also keep skewers/bamboo sticks handy, which are nothing but a longer version of the regular toothpick.
- Carved apple leaves placed on top or side of the dessert make an excellent garnish.
- Mango slices pair well with mango soufflés.
- Dried fruits can be used to garnish puddings.
- Cherries, raspberries and grapes on top of desserts are appetising too.
- A small cluster of grapes or strawberries on the side of the main entrée can add charm to your food.
Colourful vegetables make attractive garnishes. Vegetables such as carrots [shredded, grated or chopped], radish, cucumber [strips, cut cubes or fans], spring onions, tomatoes and beans can intrigue even the non food lovers. These vegetables do not have very strong flavours of their own and easily complement the food they are served with. Curly cucumber spiral garnishing gives a decorative and elegant vision to the otherwise boring looking salads and kebab platters. Carrot juliennes when combined with spring onion fans and tomato roses can elevate a kebab platter to a gourmet status. Thin strips or rings of coloured bell peppers can also accentuate any dish. Lemon and orange slices work well when you don’t have much time to try something fancy.
Herbs and spices bursting with goodness are a delicious way of incorporating healthy nutrients to the food. Herbs can be used dried or fresh, although nothing beats the fresh ones. Avoid using an overpowering herb.
- Basil leaves go well with tomato and minestrone soup. Use paprika in cream of mushroom soup for a spicy touch. Sprigs of herbs like mint, parsley, basil and coriander can be placed on a thin slice of tomato or cucumber to garnish thick cream soups.
- Rosemary pairs well with potato salads [both hot and cold].
- Herbs like oregano, parsley, basil leaves can be added to stir-fried vegetables.
- Sprigs or chopped mint and coriander are eternal favourites for garnishing food.
- Powdered cinnamon or nutmeg can be sprinkled on breakfast cereals and fruit desserts.
- Cinnamon powder sprinkled over coffee enhances the flavour of the drink.
- Parsley is a traditional garnish that complements meats, chicken and fish dishes.
- Sprig of rosemary or thyme is a perfect garnish for grilled or roasted chicken or pork.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are healthy additions to desserts, puddings and rice preparations.
- Nuts go well with ice-creams and cakes. Before adding nuts to the batter it’s preferred to roast them. This removes the moisture and makes them crunchier
- Finely sliced almonds and cashewnuts complement rice preparations and vegetarian preparations.
- Sesame [both black and white], roasted flaxseeds and peanuts can be added to salads.
Every mocktail calls for a special garnish. Common garnishes include citrus wheels, wedges and spirals, red cherries, celery stalks, cherry tomatoes, cucumber fans, cocktail onions and olives.
- Coat the rim of the empty serving glass with garnishes such as cocoa powder, salt or powdered sugar and finely grated or powdered chocolate.
- Use mint to garnish summers fruit drinks such as fresh lemon and watermelon juice. A wedge of lemon or some balls of melon at the bottom of the glass also look attractive. Tomato based mocktails pair well with lemons, limes and celery stalks.
- Skewer olives on a tooth pick to garnish vermouth, vodka and gin martini. Mint is a great herb for adding final touch to martinis and mojitos. Drop cherries in the drink to add bright colour to mocktail.
- Make exotic garnishes such as boats or fans using toothpick to hold the coloured fruits. Make fans by placing a cherry on a slice of orange, lemon or pineapple.
- Strawberries dipped in melted chocolate and slit from the middle can be placed on the rim of the glass.
Simple garnish ideas to spruce up any dish
Spring onion curls
Separate the onion bulbs from the green part. Cut a 3” piece from each stalk, leaving about 1½ inches of both the white and green portions. Make slits in the green portion till you have thin slivers. Place these in chilled water for about 30 seconds for the green slivers to curl. These could be used to decorate a kebab platter.
Tomato or apple roses
Pick firm and red apples or tomatoes for this. Peel the entire tomato or apple at one go, without breaking the peel in between. Use a gentle sawing movement to do this. To form the rose, simply roll the strip into a coil, and tuck the end at the bottom to secure it.
Choose strawberries with the stems intact. With a paring knife, make 4 – 5 lengthwise cuts, almost to the stem end. Fan slices apart, but be careful to keep the stem end intact.
Grate refrigerated chocolate with a cheese grater to adorn any simple dessert.
Bell pepper cup
Take large red/yellow bell peppers and make zigzag cuts on the top with a utility knife and gently remove the stem end. Scoop the seeds out. These cups can be used to serve boiled vegetables, dips, sauces or even salad .
Cut thin slices of banana. Dip it in lemon juice and roll it in chopped mint. Arrange it on a plate overlapping each other, resembling a flower. Decorate it with mint sprigs below it to make it look like the stem and leaves.
Use cookie cutters in star or heart shape. Cut thin slices of radish/beetroot/boiled potato and cut in the shape you desire.
Slice thin cucumber slices lengthwise. Take a slice and place it flat on a plate and season with salt and pepper. Cut sticks of cucumber and carrot; place it on one of the slices with a small leaf of lettuce. Roll it up and fasten it with a toothpick.
Giving a decorative look to the dish speaks of the liveliness and style of the chef. Start exploring and experimenting with garnish and surprise your loved ones with your new found talent.
This was first published in the December 2012 issue of Complete Wellbeing.