Despite what’s often popular opinion, healthy cooking can be full of flavor. No, not so-so flavor, but the lip-smacking, dream-about-it-all-day kind. You see, at Canyon Ranch, we’re just as interested in making meals satisfying and delicious as we are in making them nutritious. That’s why we carefully craft the flavors of our dishes, designing recipes from the ground up to change your perception of just how good good-for-you food can be.
How do we do it? We’d like to say it’s magic, but it’s simply about balance. As a dish takes shape, we work to incorporate four key taste elements—sweet, sour, bitter and salty. When each is present, even in a minor way, you maximize the flavor dimensions of your dish without having to add fat and excessive amounts of salt. Food simply tastes better and leaves you feeling more satiated. Though we have decades of experience under our chefs’ hats, striking these notes is something you can absolutely achieve at home on your own, too.
“People immediately think they need to add sugar to increase the sweetness of a dish, but that’s just not true,” says Canyon Ranch Corporate Chef Scott Uehlein. Look for foods that have a natural sweetness to them, even if that means thinking outside the box. Add a few small pieces of carrot when sautéing onion and garlic for marinara sauce. Or toss some mango chunks into salsa. For augmenting Asian-inspired foods, mirin (a sweet sake) can do the trick. And, remember, a pinch of evaporated cane juice (a natural form of sugar) or a drop of honey goes a long way.
“Sweet and sour have a beautiful yin-yang relationship,” says Uehlein. “Sour provides that nice balance.” It also has an ability to bring out food’s inherent taste: Think about how a squeeze of lemon boosts the natural flavor of a salmon fillet, or how a tangy vinaigrette makes salad vegetables pop. A hint of sour in the form of vinegar, lemon or lime juice does a great job of bringing otherwise muted flavors to the surface.
There are many options for creating bitter flavor, so you can really get creative. Molasses is a multipurpose option, because it is bitter with tinge of sweet. Olives and greens like radicchio, arugula and kale all add a touch of this flavor while also providing added nutrients. Even choices like concentrated pomegranate juice can add a tad of bitterness, plus some fruity astringency. “I love it lightly drizzled over lamp chops,” says Uehlein.
Yes, given health concerns about too much sodium, it’s wise not to be too heavy handed with ingredients like salt and soy sauce. But just a little hit of this flavor, strategically incorporated into your dish, can do wonders. For example, if you’re grilling a piece of chicken, don’t hesitate to add a little salt (and pepper) beforehand. Why? “Because doing so at this point in the preparation will keep you from adding surface salt when you’re at the table,” explains Uehlein. Sea salt—a natural flavor enhancer— is the best option. It has minerals that act on the tongue and open up your perception of flavor, which iodized and Kosher salts don’t have.
Experiment with bringing this four-flavor punch to your dishes. You can get started with these Canyon Ranch recipes, which are just a few examples that incorporate some of the ingredients mentioned here.
Apple Cranberry Salmon Salad
Bitter Spinach Citrus Salad
Grapefruit and Warm Wild Rice Salad
Lamb Chops with Pomegranate Molasses
Maple-Glazed Sea Bass with Roasted Root Vegetables
Marinated Figs and Bleu Cheese
Salmon with Blueberry Mango Salsa
Sesame Beef with Sushi Rice & Snow Peas
Shrimp Salad with Mango Vinaigrette
Tangy Lime Soy Sauce
Turkey Breast Medallions with Blackberry Sauce
Wasabi-Crusted Mahi Mahi with Ponzu Sauce