My fiancé, Jim, and I recently participated in a wonderful program at Kripalu led by David Deida called The Sexual Body and the Yoga of Light. While we never talked about food or cooking during the program, I couldn’t help but draw some significant parallels. A large part of the discussions centered on recognizing and enhancing the natural polarities of masculine and feminine energies. We talked about what it’s like to have both strong and weakened states of polarity with our partners. For me, when the polarity was strong and we had a clear sense of openheartedness, the amount of vibrancy and energy between us felt most engaging and satisfying. When the polarity collapsed, or when it felt forced or came with an agenda (e.g. “I want something from you”), our energy felt unsatisfying.
After the program ended, it just so happed that I needed to go straight to the Kripalu Kitchen to cook a dinner for our Board of Trustees and our donors. As I pondered what to put in one of the appetizers and reflected on the program, I was reminded that cooking can simply be thought of as a dynamic dance of creating healthy polarity between foods.
The white halibut needed the richly colored charmoula sauce we drizzled on it. The Moroccan sauce, with its sharp cilantro and spicy paprika, needed the stabilizing flavor of the olive oil to balance it. The dense flourless chocolate cake was complemented by the light, citrusy whipped cream. And the list of how we used polarized flavors, textures, and ingredients went on.
Actually it wasn’t that I realized the connection at this point but rather was reminded of it, since it’s something I already work with all the time, something I think every cook knows, either intuitively or intentionally: how to balance opposites.
In fact, it turns out that this use of polarities is what I do every time I plan a dish—and a meal. This week, we started our new two-week menu rotation at Kripalu. This is the time of year when we introduce new seasonal meals for 14 straight days (then we repeat them). As you can imagine, it can be a chaotic time in the kitchen, since everyone from the buyer to the veggie prep staff, bakers, cooks, to the servers and the dish crew has their normal routine shaken up a bit as we work with new ingredients, products, and processes. But this is also the time when I get to make sure that the choices we offer at each meal contain enough variety and “yum factor” to satisfy a wide range of palettes. And it’s this concept of polarity that I turn to to guide me in the kitchen.
Think of five of your favorite mushy foods, like mashed potatoes, creamy squash soup, or bean stew. Now imagine eating them all at the same time. Something’s missing, right?
Now what about a meal of a crispy coated protein, some tempura, and crackers? All foods I enjoy on occasion, but together? Definitely unappealing!
Many common dishes are based on polarities: sweet and sour sauce, a savory stew with dried fruits for sweetness or, my favorite childhood treat, salty pretzels and ice cream!
Though some of these examples are extremes, they do show that we naturally crave polarity. A crispy chip needs its smooth dip; a hearty bean stew a crusty bread; a spicy chili its mellow cornbread. Strong spices are much happier in a bit of fat…it’s all about balance.
I invite you to keep this in mind as you plan your menus. Look for ways to enhance the polarity in the meals you serve and in the individual recipes you create. And look for ways in which the members of your family can contribute to the balance of the meals. If you have young kids for example, notice how their spunky energy is balanced by the more stabilizing aspects of some foods. An example of how this works is understanding a reason why kids tend to enjoy food unmixed with other foods, and only want to eat one thing at every meal. A kid’s world is full of new things, with so many new experiences, sights, and sounds, and their very nature is to be moving and chaotic. In this light, it makes sense that they prefer simple, down-to-earth foods, since those provide familiarity and grounding. Although kids can come to appreciate variety in their food, it’s likely that it will not be of the same volume they’ll enjoy later in life. As adults, we often seek to create some spice our lives through creatively experimenting with our food choices, to balance out some of our routines.
So what is it that you need in your next meal to create the polarity to help you feel more balanced and vibrant in the moment?