Healthy Kitchens Healthy Lives

Balancing Flavors in Your Holiday Meal

Balancing Flavors in Your Holiday Meal

I find when I teach cooking classes that seasonings and balancing flavors is what most people struggle with, especially during the holiday season. If you’re not careful everything on your plate can taste the same. You might be thinking that’s o.k. as everything is so darned good, but with proper balancing of flavors, you’ll appreciate each dish more.

Here are some basics of the top four flavors:

  • Salt. Since salt is added to so many processed foods, it’s easy for most people to get too much in their diets on a daily basis. It’s also the seasoning of choice for many. If you’ve added salt a little at a time during cooking, you may not need much at the end, but a little finishing dash of salt can boost the flavor of a bland dish, if needed. Be sure to use sea salt that has not been highly processed. You now have many choices of wonderful salts.
  • Sour. A splash of something acidic such as lemon, lime juice, or vinegar can really brighten the overall flavor of a dish. It is often best to add acidic flavors near the end of cooking, as they mellow with prolonged exposure to heat – this is especially true of citrus juice.
  • Sweet. If a dish is too sour, you can add a dash of sugar to balance it out. Similarly, sweet can help balance an overly salty dish. Yes, you can add a little sugar, but also think about the natural sweetness of caramelized onions or red peppers. Please avoid sugar substitutes-not a healthy choice.
  • Bitter. Most people are not typically looking to add bitterness to a dish, but are more likely to want to tone it down -think cream in coffee. Try a touch of sugar or even salt to your overly bitter dish. If you do want to add a little bitter, which can nicely balance and round out a dish, add lemon peel with some white pith to your seasonings. Bitter flavors are also thought to aid digestion. Italians sip on Fernet, a ‘digestivo.’ Note that it’s very high in alcohol and very bitter, so one or two sips are all they recommend.

Also remember that the entire meal needs to be balanced, not just the individual dishes. Think about adding a dish that has a ‘bright’ flavor and cleanses the palate just a tad. Try adding this recipe this year. It’s a beautiful dish and very fresh tasting, which often times is what the holiday meal needs.

Zesty Raw Butternut Squash and Cabbage Salad

▪            3 cups grated raw butternut squash (about 1/2 of a peeled and seeded butternut squash)

▪            3 cups shredded green or Napa cabbage

▪            ½ red pepper, finely chopped

▪            4 green onions, sliced thinly (use all the white part and about 2” of the green part)

▪            1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro or parsley

▪            1 to 2 jalapenos seeded & finely chopped

▪            2 tablespoons unseasoned brown rice vinegar

▪            1 medium shallot, finely chopped

▪            1/4 teaspoon sea salt

▪            1 1/2 teaspoons tamari

▪            1 1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

▪            1/3 cup sesame oil (not toasted sesame)


Peel the butternut squash, take out the seeds and grate the squash by hand or with a food processor.

Combine the grated squash, cabbage, red pepper, green onions, cilantro and jalapeno(s) in a large bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, shallot, salt, tamari, and both of the oils.

Pour the dressing over the slaw and mix well.

Garnish with toasted slivered almonds and bean sprouts if you like.


I am truly thankful for all I have on a daily basis, but enjoying a wonderful meal with those I love while giving thanks, makes this holiday my favorite. I hope you enjoy Thanksgiving with your family and friends!

My neighbors are having a Gratitude Party the week before Thanksgiving. Everyone brings a coat or blanket that will be donated to those in need. Isn’t that a wonderful idea?

Happy Thanksgiving!


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