Cooking Pretty: The Complete Guide to Garnishing Ugly Food

We eat with our eyes, you know. Some delicious foods, however, are not pretty. Take lentil soup. We can tally its winning qualities easily: healthful, quick-cooking, nourishing, delicious, not hard to make. Its bad side? Well, a bowl of lentils can look like a bowl of brown mush. And when that happens, all those excellent qualities we just mentioned are far too easily overlooked.

That’s why we make sure to adorn foods like soups and stews especially well.

Grab some scallions, some green herbs, a bit of sour cream or yogurt, maybe lemon wedges, and even a spice that matches the dish, like paprika. Now, ladle out your lentil soup and let’s get garnishing.

We like to start with a scoop of sour cream. Of course, this garnish, like all garnishes, should also amplify the taste of your dinner. And something creamy definitely revs up earthy lentil soup. And, we’ve not got a pretty, bright dollop on which to focus our eyes. Really breaks up the shades of brown, don’t you think?

Next up: green herbs. Parsley, cilantro, and thyme are all good candidates. Simply reserve a few sprigs of whatever herb is in the recipe. One or two whole leaves look pretty right beside the sour cream. You can chop the herbs up fine and sprinkle them, but there’s something terribly attractive about leaving the leaf whole.

Next: the greens of the scallion. Again, if your recipe calls for scallion, simply put aside a few pinches of the light green or green parts of the scallion, chop them, and sprinkle on  your stew or soup. The white part of scallions can taste quite strong, so better to use the green.

Doesn’t that look pretty? Perfect, in fact. But because we couldn’t leave well enough alone, we added in some lemon wedges to the side of the bowl. While this touch might have enhanced a less-garnished bowl, we decided it was probably overkill.

Instead, we opted to place a bright lemon half near the soup, not in the bowl:

So, to recap: use extra green herbs and scallions to garnish, and never say no to a pop of brightness from sour cream or lemon wedges. But, be careful not to over-garnish! In the end, this is dinner, not art class.

(And, here’s the full recipe for that nice-looking lentil soup.)

 

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