Food pairing is the combination of ingredients with others which are really similar (positive) or really different (negative). It isn’t the same as food-wine matching, though the desired outcome - harmony, balance, flavour - is common to both. How do we identify what works well? There are various schools of thought: foods that are in season at the same time seem to pair well - corn and ube, for instance. Another principle is foods which have/ share key flavor components pair well. Like beef and peanuts equals to suya! We’ve been doing it from time immemorial.
An extension of this is that foods in the same family share flavour components and so could pair well. And so it was one day with really no idea beyond combining favourite ingredients and suggestions from Olamide, I decided to pair chocolate mousse with zobo jelly in a dessert. I had no idea they were related. And though not all ‘food relatives’ get on well, this did.
If you didn’t know, okro, zobo and cocoa are fam bam of the family Malvaceae.
Let me start at my beginning: when I was young, my sisters and I cooked ‘okro’ soup with the leaves of our red hibiscus plant. At the back of our house, in pots fashioned from discarded De rica tomato paste containers, staring with care so the sharp edges of the rim stayed pure and holy, with nary a laceration to its name, we learned that okro, the vegetable and hibiscus leaves produced mucilage.
Many years later, I discovered zobo and learnt it was hibiscus sabdariffa. Still basking in that delightful knowledge, I discovered what I considered shocking, delivered in a story, Ila Cocoa (Okro cocoa) by Yemisi Aribisala who shared a story of a soup cooked with young cocoa pods, which when steamed and pounded, had the DNA draw of okro.
‘The green, grooved elongated pods of cocoa are like oversize okro pods, and perhaps this is what inspired the Yoruba to cook them down into soup.’
It is amazing - isn’t it - what looks can do? I wonder if the early cooks of this dish knew that okro and cocoa were related.
I go for a semi-sweet chocolate which I melt down with a touch of cream. I fold this, once cool, into some sweetened whipped cream and allow set in the fridge in small cups while I focus on a soft set, sweet jelly with the zobo. That is cooled, a small batch tested to ensure setting capability and once adjusted, set in the fridge to set, just like the mousse.
When both are ready, a few hours later, I cut cubes of the jelly, set on top of the mousse, stick in a wafer, drizzle with a touch of candied clementines and syrup because sweet and citrus and all things nice. Taste, texture, flavour contrasts deliver an intriguing combination, one that I still find interesting beyond the dessert - family members in a cup.