Soup accents

Accents That Finish the Dish

Do you sprinkle Parmesan on pasta? Float croutons in your soup? Here’s how to take those finishing touches to the next level—to enhance and sometimes even surprise.

Lemon on fish, butter on popcorn…a sprinkle or splash of something extra is often just what you need to complete some dishes, whether you’re sitting down to a delicious meal or grabbing a quick snack.

“When it comes to accenting a dish, I think of the old adage ‘Opposites attract,’” says Dan Kish, head chef at Panera Bread®. “And usually that means layering on a contrast of some kind”—salty with sweet, crunchy with soft, and neutral with acidic, for example.

Here Dan shares some of his best ideas for adding a dash of unexpected flavor and flair to favorite foods.

Try something new

“Don’t hesitate to experiment,” Dan says. Instead of reaching for the croutons the next time you dish up soup or salad, try a sprinkling of nuts, seeds, or dried fruit chips. Panera’s Vegetarian Autumn Squash Soup is topped with roasted pumpkin seeds, and the Roasted Turkey Harvest Wheatberry Salad gets added crunch from a wheatberry-and-pistachio blend.

Don’t underestimate the power of citrus

A squeeze of lemon or a pinch of citrus zest will brighten the flavors in soups and rich sauces. Float a lemon wheel in a bowl of chicken soup or add lemon, lime, and orange zest to traditional risotto.

Choose cheese wisely

“A little crumbled blue cheese has a lot of impact,” says Dan. Whether mixed into a salad or sprinkled on top of a perfectly seared steak, a vibrant cheese will enhance the flavor profile of what you are serving. But don’t forget Dan’s first words of advice: “Opposites attract.” Pair pungent cheeses with ingredients that are subtler in flavor so as not to overpower the dish.

Take advantage of herbs

Herbs don’t have to be cooked into a dish, says Dan. In fact, many herbs deliver more flavor when they are used in unexpected ways. For example, Panera’s Fontina Grilled Cheese is accented with a spread of Reduced-Fat Chive & Onion Cream Cheese. Try stirring fresh herb pesto into soup, adding mint or basil leaves to salads and sandwiches, or making compound butter with finely chopped rosemary and sage.

Consider the senses

Food that is properly accented will give your taste buds a wake-up call and appeal to both your sense of smell and sight. “It’s a multisensory experience,” adds Dan. “Sometimes you’ll see a dish that has been sprinkled with parsley, but you need more than just a splash of color to take your finishing touch to the next level.”