OK, so what is a garnish? What does that mean? Quite simply, a garnish is just something that makes food look better and gives a little pop. Most people think that garnishing food is only reserved for restaurants or the Martha Stewart types out there. I am here to let you in on a little secret. Garnishes don't have to be elaborate or hard. Even the simplest little touches can add a world of eye appeal to a dish or plate.
The basics of garnishing can be broken down into a few guidelines. First of all, your biggest allies are color and contrast. Food is beautiful. Nature has provided us with such a wide palette for us to use that even Bob Ross would be jealous. So, use that vibrancy to your advantage. Chopped herbs, such as parsley or cilantro, provide us with bright greens. Red bell peppers and match stick carrots are some examples of colors outside of your standard greens. The important part is to garnish your food with something that will help it stand out. This is where the contrast comes in. You would not garnish some steamed broccoli with herbs because they will just now show up. However if you use the red bell peppers or the carrots then you have used contrast to great effect. You want that garnish to show up, otherwise what is the point.
Next to consider that the best way to garnish is simplicity. Some chefs (professional and amateur) have great skill at creating works of art with food; carving roses out of tomatoes or sculpting faces into vegetables. However, this is unnecessary to successfully garnish a dish. A garnish can consist of all most anything from a single leaf or sprig of an herb to a strategic sprinkling of something colorful. Therefore, you don't need surgeon like skill to garnish food. Also keep in mind that less is more. This is a garnish after all. It is just there to be a little highlight, not take center stage.
OK, so lets get to what you can use to garnish. Simply put, anything can be used as garnish. That being said, I was taught at school that whatever you use as a garnish it must be edible. That doesn't mean that it will eaten or even that it has to be an integral part of the plate. The garnish can just exist as just that.
So let me give you some examples of some simple garnishes you can use at your next dinner party. The very first one is one that I have already talked about, but is also one of the easiest and most versatile. I am talking about chopped herbs. As long as you know how to handle a knife you can chop herbs. All you have to do after that is sprinkle them on your food to give it a touch of green. The beauty of herbs is you can even mix and match. Throw some rosemary and basil into your parsley for a nice fresh Italian herb mix. Mix in some oregano with your cilantro the next time you make enchiladas.
Herbs can also work when you leave them whole. By whole I don't mean entire bunches or even big long sprigs. They still have be cut down to size to fit your plate. Single leaves or a sprig placed in the middle of a dish are very elegant and very simple.
Another example of some simple garnishes are nuts and berries. These are pretty much self contained and need little to know work from you. These work wonders for cheese plates or desserts. Once again the key is that less is more. Some berries off to the side add a little color to your plates.
Vegetables themselves also work as wonderful garnishes. Simply shredding some vegetables, such as carrots or cucumbers, will work as a garnish. Or you can always use thinly sliced radishes to provide some flair. Here is a way to dress up your cucumbers the next time you add them to your salad. Instead of completely peeling them, use your peeler in alternating striped fashion. Pretty much any vegetable that has color can be added as a garnish, whether you are slicing, dicing or just shredding them up. If you want to get really fancy, edible flowers are available for your garnishing needs. Please don't think that you can just use anything out of your garden however. Remember what I said earlier about everything on the plate needs to be edible?
After reading this I hope you will play around with and start adding some garnish to your dishes.