...In this case, the unexpected answer would be sarsaparilla, to be exact! For those of you scratching your heads at just what "sarsaparilla" (also known as "sasparilla") is, it's the what most people would consider old-fashioned root beer. Technically, the Smilax regelii plant (a tropical vine) is one of several ingredients in real root beer (no, not the kind with high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors in it, but the beverage that actually uses roots in its preparation, hence the name). Sarsaparilla has also had a role in folklore and herbal medicine as a tonic with antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, not to mention associations with enhancing one's libido! Another ingredient in traditional root beer is sassafras, a tree found around the United States, which is where sarsaparilla gets its name. Sassafras unfortunately may be difficult to be locate in the US due to a potentially toxic compound found in it (though is only dangerous if consumed in large quantities) that as you might imagine, frightens some people off of stocking it on their shelves. So now that I've scared you off from ever brewing your own root beer, I would like to show you an alternate use for sarsaparilla...PANCAKES! On a lark I went to the Sunny Side Café near my university's campus on a recent Sunday afternoon for a quiet solo brunch with a book, only to have my meal rocked by the unexpected flavor combination of sarsaparilla and fresh Bing cherries mixed into pancake batter. All I can say is, BRILLIANT!!
Two other unexpected pairings I have had recently were drinks. The first one is a locally brewed, non-alcoholic frosty beverage that I had at a lovely café in Napa Valley, CA as a drink accompaniment to a delightful pulled pork sandwich. It was called Taylor's Tonics Mate Colada Natural Sparkling Tea and is a mixture of yerba maté tea, coconut water and pineapple juice. I used to live in Argentina and adore their yerba maté tea served hot, so I was intrigued when I saw that someone had combined it with chilled liquids. That being said, since we had been frequenting several wineries while in Napa, anything with bubbles and hydrating coconut water was greatly appreciated and the true reason for this selection. I honestly think the pineapple gave it a sort of saccharine-like taste that could have been improved upon by instead using something a little less "candy" in flavor, like grapefruit perhaps. It did the trick nonetheless and I like the vibe of the company that makes the drink. Their website also has a great page that utilizes their sodas as mixers for creative cocktails with a bulletin board where visitors can post their own creation's recipes. Nice!
Lastly, I want to show you an unexpected pairing that I have become thoroughly addicted to since I tried it: coffee and lavender flowers! Years ago I experienced the Italian innovation of lemon peel in espresso and it introduced to me the idea of putting floaty bits in my cup of joe. At a local favorite coffee shop called Philz, they like to put fresh mint in their coffee and it was a revelation the first time I tried it! The man himself, Phil Jaber, apparently wanted to add something green to his coffee and so went into his backyard and picked some mint that was sprouting up there, and a bright idea was born! That inspired me to look in my own backyard where there is lavender growing and give that a go. Now I don't want to call my pairing miraculous, but it IS awe inspiring and I highly recommend you try it yourself! You will never allow lavender to be reduced to a common potpourri component again!