To a fine French chef, garnishes are indispensable — the bright and savory ornaments that dress up a meal in its final splendor and provide contrasts in color, flavor, and texture. In our garden below, they are sculptured works of art, easily carved and shaped from a colorful array of fresh vegetables and used simply for adornment.
What could be prettier than a carrot larkspur, a turnip narcissus, or a cucumber lily? Or a rose, that by any other name, is a radish, lemon, lime, or tomato?
Garnishes can also be an integral part of a dish — beautifully arranged carrots around a pot roast for example. Or as an accompanying delicacy (we think of toast cups filled with sauteed mushrooms surrounding a sizzling steak). Even our red pepper poppy can be filled with vegetables and served with a main dish.
Creative garnishes: Larkspurs
Pare carrot; cut in thin crosswise slices. With sharp paring knife, cut V-shaped notches all around outside edge. A small, fancy hors d’oeuvres cutter may also be used. Fasten little flowers with small pieces of wooden picks to length of crisp celery to resemble the spike of a garden flower. Keep refrigerated in ice water until ready to use.
These carrot flowers can be used on the celery stem as a salad garnish or individually in a variety of ways. They’re wonderful as part of a raw relish tray or they may be used, cooked or raw, to garnish hors d’oeuvres. Cooked, they may be scattered through cooked green peas or other vegetables (a good way to intrigue a youngster with a lagging appetite).
Creative garnishes: Red Pepper Poppy
Cut pepper in half crosswise if it is a large pepper. If pepper is small, cut off top and use the rest for the flower. Remove seeds. Wash. Mark off petal shapes on pepper as guide. Carefully cut petal shapes. Use half a ripe olive for center. Insert a wedge of carrot in olive to anchor it. Fasten with wooden pick.
This poppy will hold an egg, fish, or vegetable salad very nicely. Before filling, cut a small slice from the bottom so it will stand, then set it on a frill of lettuce. It can also be a holder for mayonnaise, salad dressing, or tartar sauce. On a relish tray, it can hold pickles, olives, or carrot curls. By itself, because it is a beautiful flower, it can pretty up any platter.
Pare carrot. Cut deep, slanted gashes up length of carrot. Repeat all around the carrot. Make a second shallower cut about 1/4 inch above first cut. Second cut will release wedge of carrot, making a contoured design.
Raw, these are a perfect salad garnish. Cut shorter or made from baby carrots they can be added to a relish tray. The short ones, cooked, make a hot buttered garnish for a meat platter or dress up separate sections of a vegetable dish.
Pare carrot; but in thin lengthwise slices. Cut long, thin V-shaped notches with sharp paring knife at an angle along both sides of each lengthwise edge. Drop in ice water to crisp and curl prettily. Use these carrot feathers raw as a salad garnish in individual salads or on a platter.
Creative garnishes: Carrot Crisscrosses
Pare carrot. Cut into 3/4-inch crosswise slices. Make vertical cuts, closely spaced, across surface of slice, but do not cut all the way through. Turn carrot a quarter way round. Repeat cuts at right angles to first cuts. You will have a pattern of tiny squares. Crisp in ice water.
Tuck these in greens to garnish a meat or poultry platter or use them to brighten green or mixed vegetable salads or coleslaw. If you cut longer pieces and make the design on each end, crisp them in ice water and you will have a pretty, raw relish.
Do-it-yourself garnishes: Carrot Curls
Pare carrot. Shave thin lengthwise strips from carrot with a vegetable parer. Curl a strip around your finger as you would a pin curl. Fasten with wooden pick. Crisp in ice water. Remove pick when ready to serve.
Everyone knows about carrot curls — they are still wonderful in an arranged salad or as a touch of color in a tossed green salad. Also good to use as a bright touch in a bowl of ripe olives or tucked into a fluff of parsley used as garnish.
Cut cucumber in half crosswise; mark scallops about 1-1/2 inches from bottom. Remove green skin thinly down to scallops. Looking down on cut surface you will notice three thick sections. Hold cucumber in palm of hand and cut long pointed petals from these thick sections. Make a second petal cut inside the first cut. Carefully cut out and remove center of cucumber. To serve, press inside petals toward center. Use cherry tomato rose for center of flower.
Cut cucumber in half, crosswise. Mark off petals, cut through skin. Remove all green skin except skin on petals carefully. With tip of knife, release green-skin petals from center of cucumber. Carefully remove center of cucumber. Fasten carrot curl or carrot crisscross in center with tiny piece of wooden pick. Crisp in ice water.
Either of these makes a beautiful centerpiece for an impressive buffet salad. Hollow out the centers and use them to hold mayonnaise, salad dressing, or cold sauces. Bring the petal cuts almost to the bottom and fan the flower to hold an individual salad.
Do-it-yourself garnishes: Frosted Grapes
Wash grapes, separate into small clusters. Beat 1 egg white until just broken up and runny. Paint grapes with egg white using small brush. Sprinkle generously with superfine sugar. Place on wire rack until dry and set. These are beautiful on a meat or turkey platter. A combination of light and dark grapes is most effective. They’re good to eat and so are wonderful as a dessert garnish or in a salad.