It's why we pair tender and crunchy textures, sweet and sour flavors, and hot and cold temperatures (think hot fudge sauce over vanilla ice cream).
In a way, these contrasts amplify the flavors of the dish, making the food much more than a simple sum of the parts.
And it's a technique well suited to healthy eating. By playing with contrasts, you are able to coax so much more from otherwise simple ingredients.
For example, this fruit salad from Arthur Potts Dawson's new cookbook, "Eat Your Vegetables," pairs cooling cucumber and refreshing watermelon and mango with spicy red and green chilies.
There also is contrast between the sweetness of the fruit and the savory flavors of the sauce (which is made from fish sauce, mirin and olive oil).
The result is a delicious and healthy combination with far more flavor than your typical fruit salad.
Cucumber, watermelon and mango salad
2 cups peeled, seeded and chopped cucumber
2 cups diced watermelon
2 cups diced fresh mango
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, plus whole leaves to serve
1 red chili, thinly sliced (see note)
1 green chili, thinly sliced (see note)
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon mirin
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper
In a large bowl, combine the cucumber, watermelon, mango, chopped mint and red and green chilies. Mix gently.
Whisk together the fish sauce, mirin and olive oil. Drizzle over the salad, then mix gently. Season with salt and pepper. Serve garnished with mint leaves.
Note: Using both chilies called for in this recipe makes for a dish with real kick. The heat is nicely moderated by the sweet watermelon and mango. But if you don't like things spicy, back down to half the amount of chilies.
Makes 6 servings. Per serving: 170 calories; 110 calories from fat (65 percent of total calories); 12 g fat (1.5 g saturated); 0 mg cholesterol; 17 g carbohydrate; 1 g protein; 2 g fiber; 320 mg sodium.
Adapted from Arthur Potts Dawson's "Eat Your Vegetables"
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