Monthly Archives: July 2010

Salt-Free My Recipe: Peanut Sauce Pasta

Drumroll please. Today is the first user-submitted Salt-Free My Recipe. And isn’t it a beauty!

The original dish, sent in by the wonderful CFoung, includes only one ingredient that this sodium girl can’t have: Jade Sichuan Peanut Sauce. But it is this nutty, spicy, creamy condiment that is the true star, if not the heart and soul, of the dish. Which poses a perfect low sodium challenge.

Without the Sichuan Peanut Sauce, you are left with a somewhat boring and sauce-less stir fry. So it was time to put on my cooking cap and come up with a mind-blowing low sodium solution.

Now, the good news is that there are several brands of low sodium or salt-free peanut butter available in the market, which, when mixed with other spicy ingredients, will make a satisfying substitution. But just because I like to make things more difficult…I mean, exciting…I not only have to watch out for the salt, but I also have to stay away from nuts. Yes, I’m allergic. So a low sodium peanut butter swap just wouldn’t do and thinking caps had to go back on.

As I have been on a recent hummus kick, though, the answer was easy to find. It was actually sitting right in my fridge: Tahini. This thick paste made from sesame seeds has a texture and taste similar to peanuts with out the allergy-inducing oils. I simply mixed four tablespoons of the tahini with two tablespoon of water, creating a more consistent, silky texture.

Then, to give the sauce heat and tang, I added four tablespoons of my favorite Ginger People Sweet Ginger Chili Sauce. And voila, a peanut and salt-free spicy, nut sauce. As a bonus Sodium Girl trick, I swapped soy nuts for the peanuts and toasted them quickly in a saute pan over medium heat. These little nut-free nuggets provided the perfect crunchy topping to finish the dish.

So with that my fiery friends, may I present to you a Sodium-Free (and Nut-Free) version of Timbo Joe’s Peanutty Pasta Deliciousity. Chow on.


  • 4 tablespoons of salt-free tahini paste
  • 2 tablespoon of water
  • 4 tablespoons of Ginger People Sweet Ginger Chili Sauce
  • 1 lb noodles (like gemelli or any twisty shape that will scoop up the sauce)
  • 2 cups of carrots
  • 2 cups of radicchio and/or colored cabbage (for color and extra crunch)
  • 2 cups of green onions, white and green parts included
  • 2 cups (approx) of salt-free, firm tofu (check nutrition label as brands differ in sodium levels)
  • 1 tablespoon of sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon of red chili pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon of granulated garlic
  • 1/2 cup of salt-free peanuts or soy nuts


1. Julian all veggies and tofu, making them the same length as your noodles.

2. Add the sesame oil to a large saute pan or a wok and heat over medium-high flame. You want to be sure that there is enough room for all of your vegetables to sit comfortably and not be crowded.

3. When oil is spitting and ready, add the tofu to the pan and allow it to brown, approximately 5 minutes each side.

4. While tofu cooks, prepare a pot of boiling water for your pasta. As soon as it starts rumbling, add your noodles and cook accordingly.

4. Begin to add your veggies to the saute pan or wok: start with the carrots and allow to cook for 2 to 5 minutes; then add radicchio and cabbage, another 2 to 5 minutes; and just before your pasta is ready, add the green onions.

5. Strain the cooked pasta and allow to cool.

6. In a small mixing bowl, combine the tahini and water until it is silky smooth. Add the Sweet Ginger Chili Sauce.

7. Add the noodles, sauce, garlic powder and chili flakes to the saute pan or wok and gently mix all the ingredients.

8. Spoon the pasta into bowls and then quickly heat your peanuts or soy nuts in the saute pan over medium-high heat for 1 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle on top of pasta and serve.


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Summer Awakening: Tacos

I love a taco. They are quick and comforting and a great way to feed many mouths without too much effort.

But after numerous nights of seasoned ground beef, chopped iceberg lettuce, and yellow corn tortillas – you know, the standard – a girl’s palate can begin to desire something more. Something exotic and unexpected. Something like fried squash blossoms and tilapia.

As I’ve said in past posts, there are two key tricks to successfully cooking low sodium food. The first is to find flavor elsewhere, whether it is in your ingredients, spices, fresh herbs, or condiments. The second, and less obvious piece of advice, is to surprise your taste buds with textures and flavor combinations that they didn’t expect. The more you can keep your taste buds (and fellow eaters) guessing, the less they will be looking for the salt.

So with those two pointers in mind, the blogger group – with SF Tao of Pao and Farm and a Frying Pan – decided to take on a different kind of taco. Ms. Pao made an ingenious farmer’s market salsa of finely diced tomatoes, bell peppers, jalapeno, cilantro, avocado, cucumber, and I believe a few nectarines. It was sweet, cool, and crisp with a few flavor surprises. Ms. Pao also fried up fresh tilapia with a cumin, cayenne, and black pepper crust. Simple enough to not overpower the fish, but spicy enough to match the rest of the meal.

Then, there was my contribution. Three buckets of fresh squash blossoms (which, if you’ve never seen before, are quite beautiful) that I picked up from Yerena Farms at the SF Ferry Building Farmer’s Market. To prepare the squash blossoms, I simply pulled off the stem and removed the pistil (i.e. the thing with the pollen on it) and then opened the blossoms so that they laid flat. I believe the recipe from calls for blossoms that are still attached to the squash (or zucchini), but these are difficult to find. So I picked up several supplementary zucchini and squash as well, which I julienned into bite-size pieces.

After the prep, the rest is simple: heat oil in a pan, let blossoms and zucchini fry, let ’em cool, and then enjoy. I provided some blue corn tortillas and crème fraîche to finish off the meal as well. And with that, a new low sodium, summer taco was born.
Below is the complete sodium free’d version of the Zucchini Blossom Taco recipe for you to try. Since it is simple, don’t be afraid to add other spices or herbs. Want more garlic? Go for it! Need some spice? Make home-made hot sauce by roasting a few chili peppers and then blending them with oil.This recipe is a great start for your own at-home, low sodium Mexican experimentations. So have fun with it and don’t be afraid to get a little wild. Chow on.


  • 16 zucchini blossoms
  • 4 medium sized squash and/or zucchini, julienned into bite -size strips
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 4 small blue corn tortillas, warmed
  • Crème fraîche for garnish
  • Black pepper, smoked paprika, cumin, lime zest


1. Clean zucchini blossoms by gently twisting the pistils from the center of the flowers until they come off. Pull off the leaves at the bottom of the blossoms, and remove the stems. Using a damp paper towel, remove any dirt from the petals.

2. Prep the zucchini and squash, garlic, and onion.

3. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. When the oil is spitting and ready, add garlic and onion and cook until softened, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add zucchini blossoms and cook until wilted, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and place on paper towels. Season with freshly ground black pepper and smoked paprika.

4. Once you are done cooking the blossoms, add the zucchini and squash to the pan (add more oil if needed). Cook until slightly browned and softened. Season with black pepper, smoked paprika, cumin, and lime zest.

5. Layer tacos with zucchini and squash first and then divide blossoms among tortillas, placing in the center of each. Top with your salsa and add a dollop (or two) of crème fraîche.

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The Origins of Spice: Paprika

There’s always that single, awkward moment of parenthood when your child asks you:

“Mom, Dad, where does paprika come from?”

And just in case your parents danced around the subject, providing answers like “the store” or “that bottle over there,” I wanted to start your Monday by giving you the information that you have been seeking your whole life.

Now, when I myself discovered the origin of paprika, I have to admit that I was shocked. I couldn’t believe that in all my years of cooking and using these burnt, ruby grains, that I didn’t already know the plant from which they came; that I hadn’t put the red dots together, so to speak.

But before we launch into the big reveal, it is important to understand some history. According to Internet mythology, way back in the days of sailing the Ocean Blue, Christopher Columbus and his compatriots assigned the name “pepper” – like the previously discovered peppercorn plant – to any fruit or vegetable that had a slightly spicy taste, even though capsicums (i.e. chili peppers and sweet peppers) were completely unrelated to said peppercorns. Woops.

While the chili pepper is at least “correct” in its spiciness, the sweet pepper does not contain capsaicin, which is the chemical responsible for the spicy heat of the chili pepper, giving it a more mild, sweet flavor. But the name “pepper” stuck, and many of us (i.e. all of us) in the United States of America continue to follow Colombus’s nomenclature. The rest of the world  – specifically Spain and Hungary – however, refer to sweet and chili peppers by a more proper name, which is none other than…you guessed it…paprika, or pimentón. Just like the spice you know and love.

Low and behold, paprika does not come from a nut, or a leaf, or from some magical volcano in the South Pacific. It comes from a variety of dried and ground peppers (or as my Hungarian ancestors would say, paprikas). Just like peppers, paprika comes in a spectrum of heat levels, from mild to hot, hot, hot. And if you’ve ever wondered what “smoked paprika” is, well there are two versions of that as well and the place of origin matters greatly. Hungarian smoked paprika is made by sun-drying the peppers while Spanish smoked paprika is actually smoked (usually over oak wood) to give the spice its husky flavor.

Paprika is traditionally used in deviled eggs, sausages, goulash, hummus, and as a coloring agent for soups and stews. But it has recently become the darling of the new foodie nation, and as it is such a versatile taste agent, paprika is also a wonderful way to add robust flavor to your food without salt.

It’s my secret agent of the spice rack: I use Spanish smoked paprika, which tends to be the stronger of the two smoked varieties, on my rib, chicken, and steak rubs; I always add a few sprinkles of the more mild stuff to my vegetables or tomato sauces; and because paprika releases most of its flavor when combined with heat and oil, it works wonderfully on roasted vegetables, French fries, or even zucchini flower chips.

For more detailed information about the origin of paprika and its many uses, check out the Spice Hunter’s description on Serious Eats. And remember, the fresher the better. Paprika tends to lose its flavor quickly. So test out a few varieties of paprika and see how well it pairs with your savory (and perhaps sweet) treats.

Chow on.

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For the (Epi)curios

Curiosity may have killed the cat (rest in peace, Fluffy), but it will definitely make you a better cook.

For someone on a restricted diet – especially a salt-free diet – it is essential to venture beyond your comfort zone and try things that will not only impress your guests, but surprise your palate. If you simply rely on the basics (salt and pepper) and the simple (red pasta sauce and noodles), your options will be limited and your meals will end up – I hate to say it – tasting pretty bland.

But once you stop focusing on the things you can’t have (salt and soy sauce) and begin to explore the bounty of products you can enjoy (fenugreek, Bok Choy, and Banyuls), your cooking will transform from a mere task to an exciting adventure.

The truth is, though, very few of us are born knowing how to sauté long beans or successfully caramelize a gizzard. Or for some of us, how to simply boil an egg. And for that sole reason, the online cooking Mecca, Epicurious, was born.

(Fun fact: Epicurious is turning 15 years old this year and has been around as long as Yahoo! Mind-blowing but true. Feel free to pull that little nugget out at your next cocktail party).

I recently had the pleasure to meet with Epicurious’ Editor-in-Chief and virtual visionary, Tanya Wenman Steel, to chat about the site, its mission, and how it can help every cook – especially those on a low sodium diet – learn to make exciting, delicious meals at home.

In joining the website in 2005, Steel wanted to update Epicurious from an online, recipe index to a gathering place for all kinds of cooks – the busy parent, the developing foodie, the curious shopper, and the health nut – to talk and learn about all things food.

“Epicurious aims to show people that cooking healthy does not have to be something expensive, complicated, or esoteric,” Steel says. “In using the site, you join a supportive community of people who are trying things for the first time, where some things work and some don’t.” And as a cook who has had many failures before striking culinary gold, this is a welcome notion.

Steel understands how to help someone through the learning curve of the kitchen as she herself is a self-taught cook. Neither of her parents spent much time in the kitchen, and favorites, like egg salad, came from the store rather than a mixing bowl. “When I was growing up there weren’t many TV shows or any internet sites that focused on cooking,” she says. “And the New York Times hardly had a food section.”

So she found her inspiration and instruction in one of the few food-related programs and chef-lebrities around: Julia Child. Thanks to Child’s ease and silliness, Steel quickly took to the stove. And it was in these early years of experimentation, failure and success, that Steel developed her practical approach to cooking and passion for spreading it to others.

As a result, Epicurious is now filled to the brim with tools – from the Dinner Rush column to an Essential Kitchen Equipment guide – that will help every nervous cook overcome their culinary road blocks. And for those just diving into low sodium cooking for the first time, Steel suggests using these five features on Epicurious to get started:

  1. Read the healthy section for an overview of how to eat well;
  2. Start with the ingredients that you like, and use the recipe search to expand your use of them;
  3. Look at nutritional information on recipes and learn how to read and use labels;
  4. Watch technique videos that cover the basics, as well as more ambitious meals, like those featured in the “Around the World in 80 Dishes” series;
  5. And if you consider yourself more of a people-person than a cyber geek, well then there’s even more exciting news in store: Tanya and her Epicurious booth may be coming to a green market near you!

As a part of the site’s third annual Farmer’s Market Tour, they are crossing the country to visit green markets in five major cities, spreading the site’s mantra to eat healthy and eat fresh.

The tour kicks off this week at the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmer’s Market. So head over on Saturday, the 24th (that’s tomorrow!) to meet Steel, learn about Epicurious’ products, play with the iPad app, and meet the local chefs who are participating in Michelle Obama’s “Chefs Move to Schools” campaign.

Phew! That’s a whole lot of information and a whole lot of fun. And if you want more details about Epicurious and Mrs. Obama’s fight for healthier children and healthier food, check out my latest article on

So remember to be curious and adventurous, and to seek out the tools, like those on, that will help make your low sodium cooking full of flavor.

Cyber-surfs up and, as always, chow on.

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Salt-Free My Recipe: Cold Avocado and Fish Soup

I’m beyond thrilled to present to you the first ever post of the Salt-Free My Recipe series.

Today’s make-over is brought to you by none other than our good friend Mark Bittman (who always comes through in a pinch) because the submission box was a bit bare this week. Ahem, ahem. So for future posts, don’t let Mr. Bittman have all the fun (or hog the spotlight) and remember to email or comment below with your salt-free recipe challenges.

Ok, so back to this week’s “submission.”

Last night, our wonderful blogger group (which continues to grow by leaps and bounds) met up for a Mexican fiesta of sorts. The inspiration for the meal was a recipe from for zucchini blossom tacos. More instruction on how to make these treats and others from the blogger consortium will come in the following week. So hold on tight.

Since I was hosting the grand event, I decided to make an additional dish to kick off the meal. I remembered eyeing a recipe for a cold avocado soup on Mr. Bittman’s blog: it was creamy, brightly colored, and incredibly simple. The summer starter only required five ingredients: avocado, milk, cayenne pepper, salt, and lime. And even better, Bittman offered the option to add shrimp or lumpy crab meat to the mix, which would give  the dish extra texture and depth and would, taking it from guacamole to “holy moly!” I couldn’t imagine eating this soup without the balance provided by the seafood. But as you are well aware, there’s always a low-sodium catch(-of-the-day).

Instead of launching right into my suggestions for sodium-free substitutions, let me pause for a brief moment and give you time to spot the sodium road blocks. Think of it like those photo games you find in magazines (or sleazy dive bars) where you have to compare two pictures and find the differences. Tick tock. Time’s up.

To start, yes, you are correct. Salt definitely must be nixed from this recipe. So get rid of that and add a few shakes of cumin and black pepper in its place.

As for the second sodium-heavy culprit, right again! Milk also contains too much sodium. To remedy this ingredient, you have a few options:

  • Use 2 cups of water and 1 cup of half and half (0 to 10 mg of sodium per serving)
  • Use 2 cups of water and 1 cup of crème fraiche (0 to 10 mg of sodium per serving)
  • Use 3 cups of coconut milk (0 to 10 mg of sodium per serving)

I used unsweetened coconut milk, and even though I was worried about it tasting too sweet, the end result was quite mild and the milk successfully thinned out the consistency of the soup.

And for the third and final sodium offender, you hit the nail on the head again. Crab, weighing in at almost 1000 mg of sodium per serving, definitely must be removed. To mimic its luscious and lumpy texture, I fried some tilapia filets, coating them first in cumin and smoke paprika. This particular white fish is a great substitution for crab as it crumbles easily and takes on a similar look and texture. And while the taste may not be exactly the same, at least your fish is cheaper.

So there you have it folks: a simple, satisfying, and sodium-free version of Mark Bittman’s Cold Avocado and Fish Soup. It takes under thirty minutes to make, and as it was tested last evening, I can guarantee that it is an impressive way to start a party.

Chow(der) on.


  • 3 or 4 ripe avocados, pitted, peeled, and chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 3 cups unsweetened coconut milk
  • Cumin, black pepper, cayenne, and smoked paprika
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange or lime juice, and zest to taste
  • 1 tablespoon of sesame oil
  • 2 filets of tilapia

1. Put the peeled and pitted avocado in a blender (or use your immersion blender and a tall container).

2. Add half the coconut milk, a large pinch of pepper, a small pinch of cayenne, and a shake of cumin. Process to a purée.

3. Beat in the remaining milk by hand, then chill for up to 6 hours if you have time (Bittman advises: press a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface of the soup so it doesn’t discolor).

4. In a medium sized pan, heat sesame oil over medium-high heat.

5. While oil is getting hot, season your tilapia filets with cumin and smoke paprika.

6. Add the fish to the pan and sear the filets, five minutes each side.

7. To plate, taste and adjust the seasoning of avocado soup if necessary, and add the citrus juice if you’re using it.

8. Put about a cup of avocado soup in each bowl and place your tilapia (slightly shredded and pulled apart) on top.

9. For additional garnish: toast some blue corn tortilla strips (0 mg of sodium); make your own roasted red pepper sauce (o mg of sodium, 15 minutes of your precious time); and add a few sprigs of cilantro.


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The Pot Luckiest

This Sunday, I spent the afternoon gallivanting at Filoli and Edgewood Park, all in the name of celebrating a very special lady’s birthday.

And while there were – of course! – cupcakes and candles and birthday wishes galore, this summer festivity was equally filled with the delights of Filoli’s gorgeous gardens (did someone say white pigeons and pear trees? Yes, I just did) as well as a picnic feast filled with low sodium treats.

And while it wasn’t my day of birth, boy oh boy, did I eat like it was. We consumed a feast of perfect picnic proportions, and, thanks to the adventurous (and caring) spirit of the hostess, I was able to eat almost every bite.

Today, I want to share this fabulous picnic menu with you, not just because I think my pictures look awesome (although, in all modesty, they do), but because this is the ultimate lesson in eating beyond your kitchen and trusting your food needs in the hands of others.

Here’s the set-up: you are attending someone else’s party – a birthday party, no less – in which you are far from being the guest of honor. Yet, if you want to partake in the culinary delights of the day, your needs demand special attention.

This is where the dilemma lies. Do you say something and risk feeling like you’re making a fuss? Do you offer to bring your own low sodium fare to share? Or do you eat a massive amount before and after you attend the event and simply sip on low sodium lemonade to pass the time?

No matter which option you pick, they are all the right answers. Your approach depends on the context of each situation – how well do you know your company, how comfortable are you sharing your needs (and food) with others, and what will make you feel most at ease (and full).

But I will say this: the more open you are with the people around you, whoever they are, the easier these situations will become. That is because, the people around us are caring and good. And once your loved ones know what you need and how to make low sodium food, chances are they will want to try. All you have to do is teach them.

As such, I treat most occasions as if they are pot lucks, even when they are not. I  bring along one or two low sodium dishes for myself and the rest of the guests to enjoy. And I always ask the host if it is ok to bring some extra food, just in case they have a “vision” for the event that they do not want disturbed…but thankfully, that never happens.

From there, two things happen: 1) I get to eat without worry or fuss, and 2) people ask a lot of questions. They taste how tasty low sodium cuisine can be and they get inspired to try cooking low sodium food themselves. And before I’ve had time to wipe my mouth, I get asked for recipes and recommendations, so that they can make low sodium dishes for me the next time around.

Over time, you’ll find that your friends will want to cook salt-free food for you. They will actually tell you to leave your roasting pan at home. Because when you approach your needs with a positive attitude – and show people that low sodium cooking is a fun challenge, the results of which make you feel accomplished and proud – your friends, without a doubt, will want to jump on board.

After a few years of collaborative efforts and sharing (the definition of a pot luck), I was able to sit down at a beautiful picnic lunch where almost every dish was prepared with low sodium care.

My measly contribution consisted of some freshly prepared, low sodium hummus and fresh crudités (yay for French breakfast radishes!)

And then there were the real masterpieces, starting with a French carrot salad (yes, there was an unintended theme happening here), made with grated carrots and a simple vinaigrette;

low sodium pickled green beans and fennel (recipes from Sodium Girl);

a sodium-free frittata, with purple new potatoes, peppers, and fresh herbs;

and to finish it all off, some juicy, ripe strawberries which were dipped in crème fraiche and brown sugar. Pure yum.

So don’t be shy with your low sodium requirements. Cutting down on salt is the latest health craze and whether it is for the health of your body or theirs, I promise people will be excited to learn and experiment with you. Share your recipes, share your success, and remember, chow on.

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Salt-Free My Recipe

For all of you who love the new “Biting Mr. Bittman” series, I have exciting news. I’m expanding it!

Yes, it’s true. After consulting with my business development team (aka KMLake), I’ve decided to announce a new, weekly series called Salt-Free My Recipe. It’s like Pimp My Ride but for food. Without salt. And a lot fewer hub caps and decals.

But there is a catch – it requires your participation.

Just like Mr. Bittman has (unknowingly) been submitting his recipes to Sodium Girl for salt-free transformations, now you can send your favorite dishes to SG for a sodium-free make-over as well.

Need more explanation?

Ok. Let’s say your grandmother makes a totally rockstar salad with quinoa, tomatoes, and avocado. To which I say, your grandmother is awesome. But while the recipe sounds simple and easy, there’s one problem. She also uses her famous pickled beets, which taste more like the ocean than a backyard garden. So you think, sadly, that because of your dietary needs you will never be able to enjoy grammy’s picnic delicacy again. Tear.

But this is where I come to the rescue.

Simply wipe that tear aside and send the recipe to, or include it in a comment below. Then, I’ll swap out the salt-heavy ingredients with some really genius substitutions and post a Salt-free’d Recipe each week.

For example, in order to make grammy’s recipe Sodium Girl-friendly, I would suggest using freshly roasted beets and a vinegar dressing or, to really blow your mind, I would tell you to grab a jar of Rick’s Picks Phat Beets

and make life a little easier. And since we are already making changes, I might also tell you to add some chopped chives and fresh radish – which has a naturally strong, pepper flavor on its own – to the dish, so you can really spice things up.

Depending on the number of entries, I will either post the one and only recipe I receive on the site, or, for some real fun, I’ll pose a poll to the rest of you, the loyal readers, to decide which dish (of the thousands I’ve received) to make. Isn’t that exciting? Yes it is!

To get things started, check out Grammy’s Salt-Free, Pickled Beet Picnic Salad below and start sending me your sodium-free recipe queries – they can be from websites, cookbooks, or just your imagination. So start your engines, get those creative juices flowing, and let’s get interactive!

Chow on.


  • ¼ cup of quinoa
  • 1 cup of water
  • 5 radishes, diced
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1 small tomato (heirloom if you can find one), diced
  • ¼ cup of Rick’s Phat Beets, diced
  • 1 handful of chopped chives


1. Soak the quinoa in a cup of water for 30 minutes, or until the grains begin to sprout their white tendrils.

2. Put quinoa and water into a small pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and continue to cook until all the water is absorbed – about 15 minutes.

3. While quinoa is cooking, wash and dice all the vegetables – avocado, radish, tomato, and pickled beets.

4. Take pot of quinoa off the direct heat and allow to cool for ten minutes.

5. Add the diced veggies directly to the pot (to avoid extra cleanup) and mix. Sprinkle chives on top and serve.


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