I have been thinking about this for a while and since I found this forum I figured this might be a good place to ponder my idea aloud and see if anyone has anything to add to it.
I have read many times of the importance of "contrast" in several cuisines, particularly in my experience, Japanese and other Asian cuisines. This is something that I, as a southern American, have never really considered deeply enough in my home-cooking. Here, there are archetypes for which parts of a meal are to be fulfilled by which items... such as, a meat, a starchy vegetable, a green vegetable, a savory side, a bread, a drink. In Southern cooking, that may translate into something like... pan-fried pork chops, mashed potatoes with butter, green beans cooked in chicken broth, macaroni and cheese, a dinner roll and sweet tea. (More a typical display of a Southern meal than an example of one in my house, but...) The idea that the flavors, colors and aromas are built in contrast is not really a factor in my native cuisine.
What I have read on the topic is so scattered and I feel I barely understand it. I have been a big fan of the Bento culture and I've made bentos for my daughter since she was born. The idea of "Goshiki" or "five colors" has been a guiding light in my daughter's nutrition. I know that contrasting colors against each other is supposedly more pleasing for the eyes and thus for the first introduction to a food. But contrasting flavors... This is interesting to me and I don't know of any guidelines to follow.
I am currently on a course of reducing sodium and sugar usage in my cooking and in my diet in general. I realized recently that my sodium and sugar intake are high whereas in the past few years I had gotten them down to a more reasonable level. It's crept back up and I suddenly decided it was too much. I took a sip of a rootbeer and it was sickeningly sweet after I'd cut my sugar content back a little for only a couple days. We can retrain our tastebuds so easily if we reduce gradually and keep working on it.
Overall, my goal is to retrain my tastebuds to enjoying healthier foods. That is the ultimate goal. I think that reducing salt and sugar are also good for my health, but flavor is a complex beast and most vegetables are only edible in my definition when accented by rich sauces or salt or other foods that more or less cover the flavor of the vegetable.
I don't want to cover the flavor anymore. I want to understand the flavor, draw it out, and complement it with something that contrasts it and brings out its good qualities. Maybe this sounds basic to you culinary folk ;) But I guess I just don't know how else to ask about this.
How can I start to learn about flavor contrasts and how to make more foods palatable and how to extend my flavor range?
I want a broader range of foods that I can comfortably say I enjoy. Any thoughts?