When the weather turns cold, all we want are warm, heavy comfort foods, but once we get our fill of mac and cheese, slow cooker stews, and braised dinners, we start to miss the fresh flavors of summer. Traditionally, “winter food” and “fresh” aren’t exactly synonymous, but there are actually a ton of easy ways to brighten up your favorite cold-weather meals. From adding citrus to sprinkling in some queso fresco, these seven tricks will incorporate the fresh, bright flavors you’re craving into this season’s hearty staples.

Lemon and fresh dill liven up these fritters

1. Add some citrus

This meal-brightening flavor can be used three ways: You can add some citrus juice to your dish shortly before it’s done cooking, add citrus zest to the other ingredients in the pan, or serve your meal with lemon or lime wedges on the side for people to use at their discretion.

2. Serve with a salad

Sometimes the best way to lighten up a heavy meal is to serve it with something green. We like making a salad full of fresh herbs and peppery greens like arugula, and topping it with a simple, tangy vinaigrette.

3. Garnish with preserved produce

Like the turnip pickles you get with shawarma or the kimchi with your Korean barbecue, there are all kinds of preserved and pickled fruits and vegetables you can serve alongside your heavier meals. Even a dish of cornichons offered next to a stew gives diners an opportunity to cleanse their palates when eating a rich entrée.

4. Add a dash of hot sauce

Briny, spicy, and with a hint of vinegar, the best hot sauces can brighten up and balance any dish. There are tons of varieties to choose from, but steer clear of those made with roasted chilies, which can actually deepen, not lighten up, the flavor of your meal.

5. Use a splash of vinegar

Sometimes a splash of vinegar is exactly what a heavy or dull meal needs — just think of the way a few drops of malt vinegar enliven a dish of fish and chips. Whether you add a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to your vegetable soup or a dash of balsamic to your marinara, vinegar can help balance out your dish.

6. Sprinkle with Fresh cheese

Fresh, tangy cheeses like feta and queso fresco can add a zing of flavor to heavier dishes like chili, enchiladas, and even roast chicken or grilled steaks. And a little sprinkle goes a long way.

7. Scatter with fresh herbs before serving

Last but not least, when you’re eating a dish full of cooked meat and vegetables, sometimes you need to bring in a raw element to freshen it up. Nothing works better than a scattering of finely chopped herbs, sprinkled atop your serving platter or people’s plates right before serving.

With these tips, you won’t get bored of eating your favorite comfort food dishes anytime soon.

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(Photo via Stefan Johnson/Unsplash)