It’s no secret that many fresh fruits and vegetables reach peak deliciousness in the summertime. But when you pair them with the right supporting players, the results can be downright mind-blowing. Sometimes, the combos are tried-and-true. (We’re looking at you, tomatoes and basil.) But coaxing out amazing flavors can also mean marrying your farmer’s market haul with some less expected ingredients. (Sweet fruit and savory herbs might sound strange, but just wait until you taste them.)
One thing’s for sure though: These summer vegetable and fruit flavor combos will take your summer cooking game to the next level. Whether you go the classic route or try a less-traveled culinary path, the results will have you going back for seconds.
1. Watermelon + Mozzarella + Fresh Basil
Tomatoes, mozzarella, and fresh basil are the classic favorite, but impress your guests by showing them your creative side and using watermelons as the red star of the show.Why it works: Salty, creamy mozzarella contrasts with the sweetness and acidity of both tomatoes and watermelon. Basil adds a note of freshness and also helps play up the natural sweetness.Use it in: Toss the ingredients together to make a salad, or thread cubed watermelon, mozzarella balls, and rolled basil leaves onto toothpicks or skewers.
2. Corn + Fresh Cilantro + Strawberries
You might be used to corn and black beans topped off with fresh cilantro as your go-to Mexican side dish, but add some color to your plate next time with strawberries filling in for the beans.Why it works: Earthy black beans complement corn’s natural sweetness, while sweet-tart strawberries enhance it. Cilantro adds a fresh, citrus-y note to lighten things up.Use it in: Use as a filling for tacos topped with crumbled goat cheese or queso, or toss with olive oil and lime juice to make a bright salad.
3. Zucchini + Fresh Mint + Cocoa Powder
When you’re throwing together a summer salad, an easy combo that never disappoints is some version of zucchini, fresh mint, and feta. Do you dare throw chocolate into the mix? We think so.Why it works: Both salty feta and cool mint contrast zucchini’s mild sweetness, but cocoa powder adds an earthy, almost smoky element that also bumps up zucchini’s flavor.Use it in: Grill or roast zucchini and toss with fresh mint; then sprinkle cocoa powder on top for a simple yet surprisingly delicious veggie side.
4. Eggplant + Tahini + Dates
The thought of roasted eggplant topped with creamy tahini and a sprinkling of salty pine nuts probably has you drooling, but give it a sweeter take by using dates in place of the nuts (or in addition to!).Why it works: Pine nuts and caramel-like dates both enhance eggplant’s inherent sweetness once it’s cooked. Tahini’s slight bitterness helps to cut through that sugary edge.Use it in: Roast cubed eggplant and toss with dates and chickpeas to make a warm entrée salad. Or purée roasted eggplant with dates and tahini to make a creamy, smoky dip. In either scenario, pine nuts would go perfectly on top (if you’re up for spending the extra $ on them).
5. Blueberries + Honey + Fresh Thyme
If you’re a gourmet breakfast fan, then you’ve probably enjoyed fresh blueberries, a drizzle of honey, and a squirt of lemon juice over pancakes before. It just works. But the simple swap of fresh thyme in place of lemon cuts the zest factor and offers a nice herb-y, savory touch instead. And it’s still gourmet-esque.Why it works: Both lemon and thyme add contrasting flavor notes that cut through the sweetness of the honey and fruit… one version citrus-y, the other herb-y.Use it in: Simmer blueberries with honey and thyme to make a fruity syrup that’s delicious on yogurt, pancakes, or drizzled onto toast smeared with goat cheese.
6. Watermelon + Mint + Fennel
When watermelon, mint, and goat cheese are combined, it’s like a trifecta of delicious flavors unite. But sometimes we try to cut back on dairy. When we do, we get adventurous and add fennel to the mix. Basically because it tastes like licorice and we love all things candy.Why it works: Salty goat cheese contrasts watermelon’s natural sugars, while sweet, licorice-like fennel enhances them. Mint adds a cool, refreshing touch that’s always welcome.Use it in: Make a surprising summer salad by tossing cubed watermelon with chopped fresh mint and thinly shaved fennel.
7. Peaches + Almonds + Fresh Basil
When peaches are in season, there’s nothing better than throwing them in a salad with salty feta and crunchy toasted almonds. But when fresh basil gets thrown into the mix, you remove the cheese for a refreshing herb-y flavor that practically tastes like summer on fork.Why it works: Stone fruits and almonds are part of the same family (yes, really!), so using them together enhances their natural nuttiness. Feta balances stone fruits’ inherent spiciness, while basil adds a contrasting savory element.Use it in: Add chopped, toasted almonds, and fresh basil to a salad with peaches. You can also add it to your morning yogurt to really show off at work.