Posted in Good Food, Wine

Simple Guidelines to get you started on pairing Food and Wine

Many self-proclaimed wine aficionados insist on drinking robust reds with all dishes. Others think all Chardonnay is perfect and yet others insist that all Riesling is sweet. (Neither is the case). Still others refuse to drink white wine at all. It’s fine to have preferences. But stubborn imbibers are in for some nasty food and wine mismatches. Sometimes the chemistry between wine and food simply doesn’t work.

For instance, matching a burly Shiraz with sole amandine rather than, say, a crisp Sauvignon Blanc is asking for trouble. Don’t get me wrong. Red wine with fish can work very well. Pinot Noir and salmon can talk to each other fantastically. And I’m a big of seared pepper-crusted tuna and Cabernet Franc.

For many pairing their wine with their food is a matter of white or red. White meats like fish and chicken are served with a white wine and red meats like mutton and beef are served with a red wine. However, most people forget that a plate of food may also have certain vegetables on it. Serving wilted spinach with your piece of fillet may not have been the best option as the furry of the tannins in the red wine may taste as though you just swallowed a mouthful of iron filings. It is important that the chef not only consider the protein serving on the plate, but the vegetables accompanying the protein as well as that can make or break a plate.

Some Tough Characters

Artichokes, asparagus, spinach and mint are unruly characters that can play havoc with red or white wine. These ingredients just need a little taming — a squeeze of lemon, a splash of cream or a sprinkle of cheese.

Pair tender asparagus omelettes with an off-dry Riesling, whose restrained alcohol, fruitiness, and zesty acidity cut through mouth-coating butter and egg while flattering the asparagus. (Riesling loves salmon, ham, pork and chicken).

Artichokes, on the other hand, fool the palate into thinking all liquids, even water, are sweet. A splash of lemon juice in your dish will encourage the thistle to make nice with zippy white wines. Try an unpretentious rosé with it!

Mint and spinach match well with crisper Chardonnay or a lighter Sauvignon Blanc, so go easy on that mint sauce with your lamb when you have a red with it! A cold lamb, spinach and sweet onion salad with a creamy lemon dressing is simply marvellous with a buttery chardonnay. Avoid cream with your spinach and then serving it with a white wine!

A word about Indian curries and chilli – if you want to drink a wine with it, go cheap as the spices in the masalas and curries just kill any good wine. There is just too much competing activity in the mouth between food and wine when comes to Indian spiced food that I would rather recommend a beer or lager with it rather than a complex wine.

My Own Pairing Pearls of Wisdom

I apologise in advance to international readers, the wines recommended here are all from excellent South African estates, either match them with wines from your own country or look out for them in your shops or if you would like to try South African wines, here is a website where you can order directly.  South Africa has over 500 wines producers and a strong and rich wine producing linage that stretch back to the time just after Van Riebeeck set foot in the Cape.

White Wines

  1. Champagne – the dry white ones such as Pongracz, Graham Beck Brut or a Pierre Jourdan – Brut –  is perfect with anything salty and makes them extra refreshing and bubbly when served with the right salty snacks.
  2. Sauvignon Blanc goes with tart dressings and tangy sauces and won’t overwhelm the crispness of wines such as Glen Carlou’s Sauvignon Blanc, Kleine Zalze Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc or Spier.
  3. Pinot Grigio pairs with light fish and seafood dishes and seems to take on more flavour and character when matched with this equally delicate white wine, my recommendations here are Van Loveren Pinot Grigio and Vrede en Lust Casey’s Ridge Pinot Grigio.
  4. Chardonnay breaks through the fatty fish or fish in a rich sauce. I love to pair it also with green vegetables such as zucchini and spinach. My top favourites here are Vrede en Lust Sarah Chardonnay, La Motte, Meerlust and Backsberg Chardonnay.
  5. Chenin Blanc pairs with dishes where you have used fruits due to the strong fruit tones of most of these wines. For example sweet melon wrapped in parma ham will do well with a Chenin Blanc. I love a goat’s cheese salad with crispy bacon and avocado complemented by a Chenin Blanc on a hot summer’s day, it is refreshing. Try Spier, Graham Beck, De Morgenzon or Springfontein.
  6. Sémillon and Viognier pair well with dishes where there is an element of smokiness that needs to be enhanced or complemented and they both marry well to Mediterranean tapas dishes. A smoked chicken or fish dish will take well to the complex notes of many of these wines. I recently had smoked haddock & mussel soup paired with Fairview’s Oom Pagel (a sémillon) and it was delectable. My sémillon recommendations are Glenwood Vigneron’s Selection, Fairview and Deetlefs 2007 Sémillon. In terms of Viognier try the Diemersfontein Carpe Diem Viognier or the Arabella Viognier.
  7. White Dessert Wines pair well with fruity dishes, but don’t like chocolate. My personal favourite and unfortunately not a South African dessert wine is Moscato d’Asti, I had it recently with a Orange Tart with ginger ice-cream and rosemary orange compote. It was lovely! South African dessert wine Klein Constantia Vin de Constance paired well with my pear and cranberry tart with a rooibos tea crème infusion. These dessert wines seem to enhance the fruits rather than the sugars in the desserts.


  1. Rosé Champagne is great with dinner, not just hors d’oeuvres and has a depth of flavour and richness that will pair well with a range of main courses. Unfortunately I only have found two Rosé Champagnes that is drinkable and to my taste and that are Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel Brut Rosé and Graham Beck Brut Rosé. Both are expensive, but I find the cheaper Rosés harsh and undrinkable.
  2. Dry Rosé wines go well with rich, cheesy dishes as it has the acidity of a white to cut through the fat of these dishes. Personally I like to match the beautiful orange hues of some of the Rosé wines with orange coloured fish like trout or salmon. One of my best dishes is a lightly smoked trout with a caper butter sauce served with a Meerendal Pinotage Rosé. Other Rosé wines for consideration are the Hermanuspietersfontein Bloos, Vergenoegd Runner Duck and Vrede en Lust Jess Rose.

Red Wines

  1. Merlot has the structure as well as the acidity cope well with hearty stews, fatty lamb roasts and duck. I know everybody says you can drink a Merlot young, but I find that a mature Merlot is much rounder and more satisfying than a young one. My favourite labels are Diemersdal, Spier, Villieria, Groot Constantia, Veenwouden and Meerlust.
  2. Shiraz matches with highly spiced dishes, when a meat is heavily seasoned, look for a red wine with lots of spicy notes and this is where a Shiraz can be the perfect match. Good choices are from Middelvlei, Glenwood, Kloovenburg, Backsberg Pumphouse and my personal favourite is the Boschkloof 2007 Reserve.
  3. Cabernet Sauvignon is fabulous with juicy red meats, pâtés, heavy meat terrines, venison and ostrich and if the meat is accompanied by a creamy velouté, jus or dark gravy then the firm tannins refresh the palate after each bite of meat. I can recommend a cabernet Sauvignon from Boschkloof, Van Loveren Reserve, La Motte, Stark-Condé Stellenbosch and Rust and Vrede.
  4. Cabernet Franc is not very well-known in South Africa and is difficult to get, but if you can get a bottle, as a red wine it goes well with roasted chicken. The silky tannins if the Cabernet Franc is much gentler on the palate and many has note of chocolate which makes it the perfect wine with a chocolate fondant, torte or even a mousse. Labels that carry a Franc are Ondine, Mooiplaas, Paul Cluver, Raats and Bushmanspad.
  5. Pinotage is great for dishes with earthy flavours and complement meat dishes with mushrooms and truffles very well. Beyerskloof remains my personal favourite, but Kanonkop and Simonsig Redhill are also great choices.

A Few Guidelines

  • If you can use the same adjectives to describe a wine and a dish, the pairing will often work.
  • Start by thinking about the dish or meal as a whole. What are its dominant characteristics? Is it mild or flavourful? Is it fatty or lean? Is it rich or acidic?
  • Keep flavours in balance. Match mild foods with mild wines. Match big, flavourful foods with big, flavourful wines.
  • Try to match the richness of the food and the richness of the wine. A rich chicken or fish dish will do well with the crisp acidic tones of a Chardonnay. A tannin rich red will again cut through the richness of a red meat.
  • Cleanse the palate with tannins in reds or acids in whites.
  • Match Acids with Acids. If you’re eating a dish with a strong acidic content such as Shrimp with Lemon or Pasta with Tomato Sauce pair it with an acidic wine that can keep up with the acids in the food.
  • Acidic Wines and Cream Don’t Mix!  Rich cream sauces will usually clash with an acidic wine like a Sauvignon Blanc. Think about it this way…If you squeezed lemon juice into a cup of milk, would it taste good?
  • Wine and Strong Spices such as in some Chinese or Indian food, can clash and destroy the flavours in a wine.

More About Tannins

Tannins can come from many places, including the skins of the grapes used in winemaking as well as the wood barrels a wine may have been aged in. Tannin tastes similar to the flavour you would get if you sucked on a tea bag. This astringent flavour is what helps strip the fats from your tongue and thereby cleanse the palate of the rich fats from a meal and provide a refined, refreshing drink.  Some studies have also indicated that tannin might help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Specifically, tannin might suppress the creation of a peptide that causes arteries to harden.

Posted in Good Food, Recipe

Delectable Pearl Barley and Butternut Risotto

Personally I think risotto is highly overrated, it is tasteless, chalky and in times when electricity is expensive, it takes enormous amounts of energy to cook. A great alternative which is easy, cooks faster and tastes far better than risotto is pearl barley. And in South Africa, pearl barley is dirt cheap in comparison to the highly expensive imported risottos. What’s more you’ll save the planet as barley travels much less to your table than risotto. Barley does the good short journey, risotto, long carbon loaded journey. And, this recipe is a great option for Meat Free Mondays. Do you need more reasons to add pearl barley to your menu?

 Barley Facts

Pearl barley is barley processed to remove its hull and bran. Barley must have its fibrous outer hull removed before it can be eaten; pearl barley is taken a step further by being polished to remove the bran layer.

 Pearl barley is the most common form of barley for human consumption, because it cooks faster and is less chewy than other forms of barley.

 Pearl barley is similar to wheat in its caloric, protein, vitamin and mineral content, though it differs in that it is high in lysine. It is cooked mainly in soups and stews, also as an ingredient for stuffing cooked potages or sweet dishes. It is the primary ingredient of the Italian dish orzotto.

 My Recipe to warm your heart and tummy and is enough for 4-6 persons.

You’ll need:

  • 500g cooked pearl barley
  • 300g diced butternut
  • 50ml Olive oil
  • 125ml Vegetable Stock plus extra
  • 75ml Dry White Wine
  • 80ml Cream
  • 3 tsp of unsalted butter
  • 1 small onion or shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • 200g grated parmesan cheese plus extra for shavings
  • Salt and black pepper to taste


  • Bake the diced butternut drizzled with the olive oil in the oven at 180°C covered until soft but still very firm. If it is too soft the butternut will disintegrate during the later cooking stages. Reserve the water and oil stock that has cooked out during this stage and add it to your vegetable stock for more flavour and depth.
  • To cook the pearl barley, follow the instructions on the packaging, please do not add salt to this cooking stage at it will toughen the barley and do not wash the barley as that will remove the gluten to make it sticky like risotto. 250 – 300ml dry pearl barley will make about 500g cooked pearl barley.
  • To make the risotto style pearl barley, start by frying the chopped onion in the butter over low heat in a large frying pan, once the onions are translucent, add the garlic, caraway seeds and nutmeg and fry all for a few seconds, then add the cooked pearl barley and mix it all very well.
  • Add the stock and wine and allow the alcohol to cook off and reduce the fluids by half.
  • Add the butternut and cream and if you feel you need more liquid, you can add some at this stage, but be careful not to add too much, your dish will become too runny.
  • Once the whole dish has a creamy, thick and runny consistency you can add the parmesan cheese, salt and pepper and mix well to integrate all the cheese in the dish.
  • You are ready to serve now. Laddle a large portion for each person onto the plate and sprinkle with a few parmesan shavings and some sage leaves. Serve with a cold Sauvignon Blanc. Can also be served in a smaller portion as a starter.

Chef’s Hint: Add a selection of mushrooms for an even tastier dish! And if you are a die-hard meat-eater, a few slices of seared chorizo makes a lovely addition.

Posted in How To, Recipe

How To make the perfect quenelle

Traditionally a quenelle was prepared from either fish or chicken mixed with flour, fat, egg whites and seasoning to form a quenelle and was served as a starter. They were difficult to make and due to the huge fat content not very popular. However, the arrival of the food processor shot the quenelle back into the culinary lime light and nowadays everybody can make them with a little effort. A well formed and neat quenelle add a dash of sophistication to a plate and your friends and fellow diners will always admire you if you have made them perfectly. For me it is also a hint that my host have made an effort with the food. I find a sundried tomato pesto quenelle on a bed of pasta with parmesan shavings much more appealing and attractive than all mixed together before it reach the table.

A quenelle can be just about anything so long as it retains that classic three sided oval shape. I have seen quenelled butters, jams, ice creams, sorbets, soft cheeses, ganache, mousse of every kind and mashed vegetables and pâtés. They can add a little culinary polish and the Wow-factor to your plates. In the photograph above I used three of my Taste Café products to make a hummus, sundried tomato pesto and duck liver pâté quenelle of each. Of the three the hummus was the most difficult as the consistency was a bit too runny, the pesto quenelle was the easiest to make and the pâté quenelle was fairly easy, but just too thick to easily slip from one spoon to the next. When this happens wet your spoons and it will assist in making the quenelle.

You name it, and as long as whatever you want to quenelle is about the consistency of soft cream cheese or cottage cheese, you can form it into a quenelle.

Traditionally, quenelles have been made using two spoons, so you end up with a kind of three-sided oval scoop. To create a quenelle, you’ll need two spoons of the same size. The size of the spoon will determine the size of your quenelle. Two teaspoons will deliver a small quenelle and two dessert spoons will deliver a large quenelle. I do not recommend larger spoons than dessert as it becomes too sloppy and you may over dress the plate with whatever you have quenelled.

Step 1: With a spoon in each hand, scoop a generous amount of mousse or whatever you use into one spoon. Gently press the bowl of the second spoon against the mousse, scooping the contents from the first spoon into the second. Don’t over fill your spoon it will add more difficulty in forming your quenelle.

Step 2: Transfer the mousse back to the first spoon in the same manner. This begins to create a smooth, rounded surface where the mousse molded to the spoon. Allow excess to fall back into your bowl.

Step 3: Keep scooping back and forth until you have a nice, smooth oval shape. With some products like ice creams, mousses and creams you’ll need to work fast as the heat in your kitchen will start to influence the shape of your quenelle.

Posted in Good Food, Recipe

Baharat Spice Blend – a taste of the Middle East

Bahārāt is a wonderfully warming and highly aromatic blend of spices used in Arab cuisine, especially in the Mashriq area, as well as in Turkish and Iranian cuisine. Bahārāt is the Arabic word for ‘spices’ and is not to be confused with the word Bharat, which refers to India. The mixture of finely ground spices is often used to season lamb, fish, chicken, beef, soups and pilafs and I also like to add flavour to a bowl of cous-cous by adding just a little of the spice blend to it. Typical ingredients of baharat may include: allspice, black peppercorns, cardamom seeds, cassia bark, cloves, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, nutmeg, dried red chili peppers, paprika, saffron and even sumac.

Other Blends

Turkish baharat includes mint as the main ingredient. In Tunisia, baharat refers to a simple mixture of dried rosebuds and ground cinnamon, often combined with black pepper. In the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, loomi (dried black lime) and saffron may also be used for the kebsa spice mixture (also called “Gulf baharat“).

Here is my own recipe for my uniquely blended Baharat Nine Spice Blend, it goes well with lamb, beef and venison:

  • 15ml red mustard seeds
  • 15ml coriander seeds
  • 15ml fennel seeds
  • 15ml cumin seeds
  • 15ml cardamom seeds
  • 10ml black pepper corns
  • 2 cinnamon sticks ±10cm
  • 30ml dried thyme
  • 30ml dried parsley


  • Dry fry all the ingredients, except the thyme and parsley, for 2-3 minutes in a pan to allow the oils to release. Allow to cool.
  • Place all the ingredients now in a mortar and ground to a course powder that resembles more breadcrumbs than a fine powder.
  • Store in an airtight container and use as often as you like!

For poultry I have developed another unique blend, my Baharat Smoked Paprika Blend mixed with a little oil and lime juice makes a delicious marinade for chicken. Flame grilled over the braai (the South African word for bbq) makes this recipe a sure winner with everybody. Or try it with duck. The fragrant juniper berries in this blend works just so well with the gamey meat of pheasant.

  • 25ml smoked paprika
  • 15ml coriander seeds
  • 15ml yellow mustard seeds
  • 5 ml cloves
  • 5ml nutmeg
  • 5 juniper berries
  • 5 star anise


  • Dry fry all the ingredients for 2-3 minutes in a pan to allow the oils to release. Allow to cool.
  • Place all the ingredients now in a mortar and ground to a course powder that resembles more breadcrumbs than a fine powder.
  • Store in an airtight container and use as often as you like!

Spices add so much zest and pazzaz to life and I trust that these two recipes from the Taste Café kitchen will bedazzle you and your guests at your next dinner party!