Food and drink are natural friends. A dry cabernet sauvignon is just meant for a big, juicy steak. And a crisp white wine helps to balance a rich cream sauce. Food and drink pairings can also transcend wine – who doesn’t love a cold beer with a burger, or a sweet and tart margarita to balance out salty guacamole and chips?
But when making the shift to fresher, lighter foods, how do you pair your libations accordingly? We spoke with Anushka Persaud, a nutritionist and Red Seal chef who operates Toronto-based whole food catering company Leaf and Bone. Persaud and her sommelier husband Ludovic Garnier also run healthy food and wine events throughout the city.
Wine is the best-known beverage to pair with food. Most of us know that white wines complement lighter foods, while reds are better with heavier, meat-based dishes. But beyond that, how do you pair a wine with healthier summer options? Luckily, Persaud has plenty of ideas for whites and rosés.
Whether you’re having a citrus-rubbed kale salad (which is so of the moment), or steamed, lightly dressed kale, Persaud wants you to “think green!” Vinho verde, a Portuguese wine known as “green wine,” perfectly complements any dark leafy salad. As does Sancerre, a French wine that is light and crisp (and tastes a little like a sauvingnon blanc).
Pesto and noodles
Everyone is crazy for zucchini noodles these days. When zucchini noodles are coated in a fresh, herby pesto, you can barely tell that you’re not eating pasta. Persaud recommends coating your zucchini noodles, also known as “zoodles,” with a pesto made from basil, sunflower seeds, pecorino cheese, and even a touch of kale. Pair this with a Spanish Albariño. “It’s a dry and nutty wine that pairs gorgeously with this dish,” says Persaud. If you can’t find Albariño, try an Italian Pecorino wine instead.
A meal of lightly marinated and barbequed prawns, fish and asparagus is made all the more special when paired with the on-trend wine of the summer, rosé. Persaud is particularly fond of Aglianico, a Southern Italian rosé. “It’s a nice, summery wine with a beautiful dark rose colour,” she says.
If you’re a beer lover, you can have beautiful pairings with healthy food – it’s not just about beers and burgers. A nice beer can complement a healthy meal, when paired correctly,” says Persaud.
A fresh, lively green salad is perfectly balanced by a simple, light, and easy-to-drink lager. While lagers typically don’t do much to lift your food, they won’t get in the way of taste. Let a lager complement a fresh, simple green salad (preferably with greens pulled from your garden!), or cool down a spicy Asian slaw.
A wheat beer pairs perfectly with marinated grilled chicken. Persaud recommends marinating your chicken with orange, lemon and plenty of fresh herbs like mint and cilantro, and pairing it with Hoegaarden, a Belgian wheat bear with orange and coriander undertones.
Spicy, earthy food
Curries, spicy foods, grilled meats, Korean beef ribs and lettuce wraps are all made better with India Pale Ale. Also known as IPA, this beer is dark, hoppy, minerally and punchy. “Lighter pale ales are darker, richer, and have more bite. They’ll help to lift your meal by balancing any earthy or spicy flavours,” says Persaud. “And if you want a perfect beer to pair with a burger, this would be it.”
Spirits can complement big flavours, and many spirits are natural buddies with food. When you think of chips and guacamole, how can you not think of a margarita? But there are some lesser-known, yet still delicious pairings to try.
Gravlax, also known as “lox,” is a cured salmon that we typically pair with white wine. But Persaud recommends trying gravlax with a gin and tonic. This pairing gets more delicious if you enjoy your lox atop a slice of cucumber, which is also complemented by gin. If you’re trying your hand at making your own lox, try rubbing a teaspoon or so of gin on the fish before you pack it with the salt and sugar, to amp up its herbal flavour.
Poached shrimp goes perfectly with the national drink of Canada, the Caesar. Persaud recommends making the drink and shrimp your appetizer course – simply serve your guests half-sizes of this Canadian drink with a poached shrimp garnish. Unusual and delicious!
Roasted or barbecued veggies
The smokiness of barbecued veggies pairs perfectly with smoky-sweet bourbon. For the ultimate salad and bourbon pairing, caramelize leeks, onions, garlic scapes, heirloom carrots and beets, and serve on a salad with chevre. “Smokiness and chevre are best friends,” says Persaud.
What about dessert?
Persaud recommends going for a nice, peaty, single-malt whiskey with a nice piece of dark chocolate.