How many times have you attempted to make a recipe and gotten to the end only to find it’s not quite what you’d hoped it would be? And then not known how to fix it? It’s frustrating! It’s like, wait a minute! I did everything I was supposed to do, now what!
Taste correcting is something I’ve always innately understood. My nana would always be putting in a pinch of this and a smidge of that. In culinary school we learned about seasoning. But flavor balancing was never a clear principle or process. Then, when I started cooking for people with cancer I discovered their tastebuds were always circulating on and off. I wanted so desperately for them to be able to taste the food I was making, but I never knew on any given day how many of their taste buds would be operational. This is when I went back to the primary players in flavor to really figure it out: fat (I use extra virgin olive oil, butter, ghee, coconut oil, avocado, nut creams), acid (I use citrus, particularly lemons), sea salt, and sweet (I use dark amber maple syrup, in just a homeopathic dose -- I call it my drape of mape).
How taste works and how to play with it!
Usually when you get to the end of a recipe and it tastes like cardboard that’s an indication that you need salt to move the taste from the back of the mouth (which I call nowhere land) to the front, where you hit the involuntary spasm of vocal delight: yummm! If it’s just a little flat? Maybe a ¼ tsp of lemon juice, maybe only 8 drops to bring it to life, to make it brighter. Too spicey? A drape of mape. These principles (see below) are the keys to the culinary kingdom. A novice cook can use them to become a more confident cook; a really good cook can become an even BETTER cook. You’ll see. When you get to the end of the recipe, you need to taste, taste, taste!
A lot of people will say to me, but I don’t know what it should taste like, so how will I know what to do? You’ll know because it’ll taste good. My nana would say, “ if it tastes good, it’s good! If it doesn’t taste good it’s not. “ So just play around. You can take a little of the food you’re making out of the pot and play with just a spoonful if you’re a little nervous about trying to correct the whole dish at once.
I call this process FASS™, my acronym for Fat, Acid, Salty and Sweet.
Anybody who has read any of my books or seen me live and in action knows I get pretty excited about FASS! The reason is because it’s accessible to everyone. You do not have to have a culinary degree. You do not have to be anointed, as in “Oh, Great Cook, you have now been FASSed!” My 9-year old grandson Brandon can come up and taste something I’m cooking and say, “You need a little bit more lime in there.” It doesn’t matter your age or level of culinary acumen.
My friend shared that her husband was making her soup for dinner recently. He asked her to come and taste it. She said, “I trust that it will be really good!” He said, “But I don’t have the FASSpertise.” LOL. He’s a really great cook, but she’s worked with me, and has been “FASSing” for 15 years!
As for me, I always carry a little vial of sea salt and a lemon in my purse. At lunch with Brandon at a restaurant not long ago, I pulled out the vial and the lemon, and he said, “You’re pulling out your magic tricks again!”
That’s FASS. My magic tricks. You can use them, too. Maybe it needs a little sea salt or a little lemon? That’s what you think to yourself.
Recipes that are particularly FASSinating
This is a HUGE favorite at conferences where I’ve served it. Really, participants are shocked that healthy food can taste THIS good! If you’re a coleslaw fan or have a jones for a crunchy salad, this recipe is definitely for you. Red cabbage is a nutrient-rich cruciferous vegetable. Jicama is loaded with nutrients, including iron. Together they make a colorful pair. Taste, FASS, and bring it to perfection for your taste buds!
This is a guest recipe from my colleague and culinary buddy Andrew Weil, MD, from his book Fast Food, Good Food. Honestly, the man is a fabulous cook and I’ve had the pleasure of cooking lovely meals with him in his own kitchen. This looks a lot like my ideal plate, with LOADS of fresh vegetables garnished with salmon and egg, and I promise will taste just as good in your own kitchen!
This is the little black dress of condiments—appropriate in almost any situation. What it really comes down to is mixing lemon zest, basil, and lemon juice, and—zingo!—you have a condiment that brightens and brings out the flavor in anything you put it on top of veggies, chicken, fish, whatever. An added bonus is the blast of cancer-fighting properties, especially basil’s anti-inflammatory agents and lemon’s antioxidant phytochemicals.