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Curious cuisine


812 cooks are testing their taste buds with unexpected food combinations.


Some foods seem to be made for each other: chocolate and peanut butter, cookies and milk, biscuits and gravy. Some of us, though, are combining unexpected foods for surprisingly delicious dishes.

Author and journalist David Hoppe writes about the food people eat and produce throughout Indiana for his book "Food for Thought: An Indiana Harvest." "Food is something we all have in common," he says. "Culinary arts are something that everyone can share and everyone can enjoy."

Hoppe's favorite unusual ingredient is maple syrup, which is made all over the state. He uses it in pesto, sauce, dressing and as a sweetener. "It has great resonance," he says.

Whether it's a Mexican chef from Whiting creating eastern European dishes, or a Cuban couple from Fort Wayne infusing Indiana flavors with Cuban tastes, Hoppe finds unusual combinations all over the state. He isn't the only Hoosier, though, to combine unusual ingredients.

FARMbloomington owner and chef Daniel Orr also has experience in finding, creating and tasting unusual food combinations. He has worked in France, the Caribbean and New York, but Indiana has a special ingredient that can't be found anywhere else: cattail pollen.

The ingredient is perfect to combine with muffins, breads and pancakes, and gives the food a sweet and floral flavor, Orr says. "They call the cattail the supermarket of the marsh because you can use all different parts of it. You can use the pollen. You can use the cob. You can use the roots. You can use the stalk."

While finding and experimenting with these unusual combinations may seem daunting, it's actually pretty simple. Orr says that a good food combination should hit all five areas of the tongue. Sweet, salty, spicy, bitter and umami.

Orr's advice is to always taste your food and ask what's missing. "If it's missing sweet, it doesn't mean you have to add sugar," he says. "You could add honey, agave, fruit puree. If it's missing salty, you don't have to add salt. You could add capers, olives, some other kind of salty condiment. If it's missing spice, it doesn't have to be pepper. It could be chiles or hot sauce. That's how you become creative. You need to talk to your mouth."

We also tracked down some intriguing food combinations of our own.

1. Ketchup Hoosiers like their ketchup, and they like it on unusual foods. People combine ketchup with dishes like eggs, biscuits and gravy, green beans and mac and cheese.

2. Peanut butter sandwiches and chili This combination popped up often in our search.

3. Saltine crackers and milk This coupling has the perfect amount of sweetness from the milk and saltiness from the crackers.

4. Salt and fruit Salt transforms the taste of fruits like cantaloupe and watermelon.

5. Beer Even our beverages are getting new twists. Beers infused with fruit flavors like blueberry, pineapple, orange and mango are becoming popular throughout the region.