Monthly Archives: July 2011

The Incredible Edible Purple Egg

Yesterday I made purple eggs.

Yep. Dr. Seussish, delicious purple eggs.

Not because it was Easter, although I wish I had thought of doing this earlier this year. But because I was pickling cabbage (for something very, very special) and I had a tub of fuschia pickling liquid that just couldn’t be wasted. Seriously, can you imagine just pouring it down the drain? I couldn’t.

So I quickly learned how to hard boil eggs — yes, I had to look this up, no judgment — and I plopped my freshly peeled gems into the cabbage container. A few hours later, they were a sweet shade of purple. Which I then used for something very, very special. Which I’ll show you very, very soon.

But why all this talk about my purple eggs? My pretty, little, low-sodium purple eggs? That I made just for you. That look even more amazing when sliced. For something very, very special.

Well, first off, I wanted to show you how much color can literally brighten up an ordinary ingredient. It’s a great low-sodium tool to add some “spice” — as in pizazz — to foods that might otherwise seem plain or simple. Plus, it’s pretty impressive. And you definitely don’t have to tell people that your cabbage did all the work.

But really, this rockstar egg is just a small example of some secret projects I have working on. Tinkering on. Having difficulty hiding from you. (And I’m not even talking about the very,very special meal I made for you last night).

Other than this little egg, I’ve been working on something big. Real big. A real, big girl website.

That’s right. Sodium Girl is growing up and now she has a website. That has a logo, tons of pictures, a link to Sodium Girl approved restaurants and kitchen tools, and most importantly, a very comprehensive RECIPE INDEX!

You asked for it, you got. The purple egg is just a bonus.

Thanks to the genius and patient team at Shatterboxx.com, the blog has been transformed. And I seriously cannot wait to share it with you. In the next week or so.

No need to thank me. This is my way of saying thank you.

As we move, though, I’m going to need a little help. Don’t worry. No heavy lifting required and I definitely do not need to borrow your car.

But I will need your patience as I work out kinks, upload recipes, and get all the little ditties in order. And I want to hear from you — comment, high five, tell me what’s working and what isn’t. Or that I’ve put a seafood dish in the vegetarian folder.

And if you are a Sodium Girl Subscriber, you rock. You will also need to reenter your email information on the new website once it is live. I’ll remind you, so need to waste that post-it note right now. And if you aren’t a Sodium Girl Subscriber yet, you are a rockstar too and this is a great time to become one. Because if you sign up on the new website, neat things (like purple eggs and very, very special secret dishes) will automatically pop into your inbox.

I know, enough with the purple eggs. With some help from spinach watcher, they can also be green. And with beet juice, you could even turn them red.

So get excited for a lot of fun in the coming weeks. And as always, thanks for visiting me and for taking on low-sodium cooking with whimsy and gusto. It really is more exciting than dying eggs fun colors.

Chow on.

 

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Salt-Free Dolmas

So I had a job.

It wasn’t supposed to involve food — there was a lot more paperwork than stirring or standing over a stove. But nonetheless, it was a subject we always found ourselves gravitating towards.

I also had a manager at this job, to whom I always paid a quick visit before heading to the nearest market to grab something for lunch.

And upon said visit, I would ask, “is there anything you want me to get for you while I’m in the outside world?”  To which I expected answers like: sandwich, coffee, maybe chips.

But she always replied with “dolmas.”

Now a dolma is not a cousin to the llama or a place for meditation or prayer.

A dolma is most commonly a soft grape leaf stuffed with rice, vegetables, dried fruit, and sometimes meat and then, THEN!, wrapped up real tight in into a vegetable pouch. Perfect for popping into your mouth. Kind of like a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern sushi roll.

When it has meat, the dolma is served warm. When it is purely for herbivores, the dolma is served cold. Either way, it’s great with yogurt. And usually, because of the salt-soaked grape leaves — it’s most common form of packaging — it is also loaded with sodium.

So just as quickly as I learned what a dolma was, I learned that it was also no good for me or my kidneys.

Until I realized that grape leaves weren’t the only greens that would work as edible wrapping paper.

Turns out many people stray from the grape leaves and use other pliable veggies, like squash blossoms, swiss chard, cabbage, and even thinly sliced or hollowed eggplant to act as the dolma vehicle. And since my garden is exploding with gigantic proportions of collards, I thought I could give them a try.

So I took to my collards with newfound excitement and determination, and with a quick saute and the removal of their hard stem, I had a limp leaf that was just perfect for filling, rolling, and eating.

I kept this initial trial version simple and filled it only with some steamed (and sticky) white rice. But for my next attempt, I might take my inspiration from this Epicurious.com recipe — which I already salt-free’d below for your experimenting pleasure.

And whether you’ve been craving to eat dolmas again or are just discovering them for the first time, have a go at rolling your own low-sodium delicacies in whatever crazy, edible envelope you can think of.

Chow on.

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 cups water
  • White or black pepper, to taste
  • 1½ cups uncooked rice
  • ½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons dried dil
  • 1 teaspoon fresh mint, chopped
  • ¼ cup ricotta cheese, crumbled
  • ½ cup salt-freepine nuts
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 12 gigantic collard leaves, stem removed and leaves split into two “dolma” wraps each
  • ½ cup lemon juice

Directions

In a saucepan, sauté the onion in olive oil until light brown. Add the rice and brown lightly. Add the water and pepper.Bring the water to a boil and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes, or until water is absorbed but rice is only partially cooked. Make certain rice does not stick or burn.Add all the ingredients except the lemon juice and collard leaves and mix well.

Quickly steam or sauté those collard leaves (really, only 1 minute or so until they are just soft enough to mold). Then place 1 tablespoon of filling in the center of each leaf. Fold the sides in and roll the leaf up.

Place stuffed leaves in a pot in even and tight rows covering the bottom of the pan. When the bottom layer is complete, start another layer. Continue rolling dolmas until all of the filling is used.

Add ½ of the lemon juice and enough water to cover half of the rolled leaves.Place a plate on the top layer to hold the stuffed leaves down and to prevent them from unrolling while cooking. Simmer over low heat until most of the liquid is absorbed, about 45 minutes.

Remove the plate and dolmas from the pan, drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice, and serve. May be served warm or at room temperature. Serve with low-sodium Greek yogurt mixed with leftover mint or dill if desired.

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Pickled Chard Stalks, Rainbow Style

Oh hi.

Remember that garden I told you about a few months ago. The one that made my heart burst (in a good way)? That looked out to the gorgeous city skyline? That was a mere, dirt-filled twinkle in my eye?

Yep, that’s the garden.

Well, only a few months later, our little plot is full to the brim.

With squash, eggplant, budding asparagus,

walking stick kale, monsterous amounts of collard greens, a splash of herbs, and you guessed it, tons of rainbow chard.

But a funny thing happened. Not funny haha, but funny as in we had maggots crawling out of our compost bin. Pretty hilarious as you can imagine. Slash, my worst nightmare.

While we were attempting to consume our DIY veggies as fast as they were growing, some other little buggers were chowing down on them too. These guys were digging into the middle cells of the leaves, turning them brown. And the only way to stop them from ruining the whole crop was to either eat them (which we did for a bit, extra protein) or, in true Alice in Wonderland style, lop off their heads. The chard, not the bugs. Who has a guillotine that small. Really.

So there we were, a plot full of topless stalks. Beautiful stalks. In shades, colors, and neons that shouldn’t be natural. And I just couldn’t let them go to waste.

With a quick chop, I cut the stalks into perfect bite-sized chunks.

And after mixing up some salt-free pickling spices (2 teaspoons turmeric, 1 teaspoon black pepper corns, 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon yellow mustard seed, 1 to 2 teaspoons dried dill, 4 cloves of garlic, and a sprinkling of whole cloves) and heating up some salt-free brining liquid (1 cup water, 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar, 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar, and a splash of orange juice), I turned my chard stems into rainbow pickles.

And that’s how my headless garden was saved. And that’s how I am not eating any more bugs. And that’s why my breath smells like vinegar.

Happy weekend to you all and as always, chow on.

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Seven Layer Salad

Sometimes, food is good just because it looks cool. Like bagel bites and chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs. Or noodles made of zucchini. Or bananas flambe. Which is fruit on fire.

So when it comes to jazzing up the basics, a simple twist in the presentation goes a long way. And the next time you think of salads, forgetting about mixing and tossing, and try some layers.

This lovely bowl had stripes of chopped red onion, fennel, apple, raw asparagus coins, fresh dill, green onions, cherry tomatoes (heirloom of course), avocado, a twist of lime, a drizzle of vinegar and oil, and a frosting made of greek yogurt and chive sprinkles. Okay, so that is about  ten or eleven layers. But counting aside, I think you get the point. And don’t you just want to lick off the top? If you do, sprinkle on some more chives. No one will notice.

To serve, simply spoon out portions, careful to dig deep into the bottom. It will naturally mix the layers up and give everyone a bite of the flavor rainbow. It is also fun to see the carefully constructed layers quickly mix themselves. Adding a bit of entertainment to the already enjoyable meal. And the best part of all, because there is no cooking involved, this nifty dish can be made up in seconds. Giving you plenty of time to primp and prep before a party or afternoon potluck.

So there you have it. Simple layers make a sexy low-sodium salad. And you can try this same trick with desserts or pasta or even dinausor nuggets topped with bagel bits and zucchini.

If you can dream it, you can layer it.

Chow on.

 

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Low-Sodium Square One

I received a couple emails this week from readers who had been newly diagnosed with some life-altering situation and, as you can probably guess, had been told to start a low-sodium diet.

Some of them were friends. Some of them were strangers. Some were nearing their sixties. Some had barely left the nest at twenty.

All of them were stunned.

So while I had a lovely seven layer low-sodium salad ready for you today

I thought it might be better to pause from the cooking and talk about taking on this low-sodium diet, starting at square one.

First, it is important that you focus on the positives and find that silver lining…

…wait, wait, wait. That’s not right. I’m getting ahead of myself.

Because before you can really, guininely believe in any of that Pollyanna stuff, you need to do something else. You need to swear. Loudly. And I’m not talking about “shoot” or “goshdarnnit” or something really creative like “fothermucker.”

I’m talking about shit.

SHIT!

Yes, I just wrote that. And I’m going to write it again – shit. Because that is exactly what this sudden, unexpected crack in your life feels like. And when your life has changed, start picking up the pieces by swearing. I know you thought I would say something else inspiring. But this is just the truth, people.

And don’t just sit there. Scream it with me. I’m running through the halls yelling at the top of my lungs and you should be too. Or if you need some more support, phone a friend and scream it with them (although, please do let them know why you are doing this so as not to scare them off). You don’t have to be on a low-sodium diet to swear. And I’m sure your friend will find it equally therapeutic.

Now, doesn’t that feel better?

I know. It really does. It feels like pirate yoga. And it is an extremely important exercise to practice, because you have to own all the anger and the fears and the anxieties that come with a life changing moment.

Then you have to release it. And while it is ok to be scared and sad and swear-crazy, it is equally important to not let those emotions paralyze you.

With that out of the way, now you can really, truly start seeing the positives.

Like the fact that you may be able to be healthier just by changing your diet. And that this diet – the one you thought was going to be boring and difficult – can actually be very tasty and a lot of fun. Did you see that seven layer salad?

And that you are not alone and there are many wonderful, creative, and caring people out there who will rally around you. If you let them. And you don’t always swear when they answer the phone.

So it is up to you to own your feelings, let them go, and then latch onto those silver linings. And to change your perspective from feeling limited to limitless.

Because this is not the end to an exciting life. It is just the beginning of one.

Pinkie swear.

For more thoughts on taking on a low-sodium diet, check out some recent articles on Stanford’s Scope Blog and Lifescript.com. Oh, and have a good weekend too.

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Edamame Education: The Ultimate

Today is completely dedicated to edamame pate. Because sometimes people don’t like chicken livers.

And also because a dish like this exemplifies why (and how!) low sodium cooking can be so much more than just a restricted diet. Or worse yet, a boring diet.

In reality, low sodium is the ultimate test of your creativity in the kitchen. And once you’ve whole heartedly accepted the salt-free challenge, your mind starts coming up with some crazy ideas.

Like edmame pate. Which is just silly crazy. And it tastes equally bonkers.

For my dear reader who asked for a salt-free and equally satisfying edamame dish, I wanted to make something that went beyond eating beans in their round form. That used more innovation than just dousing them in garlic and sesame oil – which is pretty great in its simplicity. And something that really stretched the imagination. That blew people away in taste and concept.

And the answer was found in some browned shitake mushrooms. Some sake. Edamame (of course). And a blender.

But enough jibber jabber. Let’s just make silky smooth soy beans.

And tell those chicken livers that they get the day off.

Ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1 large leek, white and light green parts sliced (makes about 1/4 cup)
  • 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1-inch nub of ginger, peeled and or roughly chopped
  • 6 shitake mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons sake
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • Pinch of white pepper and red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 1/2 cups edamame, blanched and cooled

Directions:

Heat the sesame oil over medium-high flame in a medium sized frying pan. Then add the leeks, garlic, and ginger until the leeks become soft, about 3 minutes. Then push the ingredients to the side, making a well in the center of your frying pan, and add the mushrooms. Let them sizzle and brown undisturbed for about 3 to 5 minutes (adjust heat if necessary) and then shuffle them around a bit with a spatula or wooden spoon to (hopefully!) get the other sides browned as well, another 3 to 5 minutes.

Add your sake and vinegar to the pan and allow the mushrooms (and etc.) to continue to cook until the liquid has completely boiled off.

Place everything in a blender or food processor along with the edamame, white pepper, and pepper flakes. Then pulse until a delicious pate paste forms.

Scoop edamame pate into small ramekins or a small serving bowl, cover the ramekins or small serving bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until you serve.

I ate my pate on salt-free rice crackers and I also frazzled up some extra shitake mushrooms and a jalapeno pepper for some garnish jazz.

Chow on.

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Edamame Education: The Basics

A few weeks ago, I was invited to speak at the Bay Area Association of Kidney Patients.

I met some amazing folks…

said a few things (http://www.vimeo.com/25442598)…

and I even walked away with a nifty gifty basket of goodies from Trader Joes. Just polished of an entire bottle off salt-free balsamic vinegar. Thanks, Trader Giovinni!

But beyond the chit chat and tchotchkes, I also left with some brand new ideas for low-sodium recipes. Because when I posed the innocent question, “what foods do you miss most,” these go-getters sure didn’t hold back.

First, there was the tomato-less ketchup conundrum that, together, we solved.

If you missed this post, let me give you a quick summary: turns out, many kidney patients must not only watch their salt intake, but their potassium and phosphorous levels as well. And tomatoes turn out to be a major offender on all accounts.

So in order to help my friends at the BAAKP enjoy their burgers, sloppies, and meatloaf once again, we devised a devishly good alternative to traditional ketchup and made a kidney-safe version from peppers. Found here. Enjoyed on everything.

With that barrier broken down, I was pumped for my next challenge. And I didn’t have to wait long before the call came.

Edamame. That delicate soy bean snack that is so often covered in soy sauce and salt. On its own it is sodium-safe. But when prepared in the usual way, it is a salty overload.

So a fellow low-so eater (and BAAKP member) recently wrote to ask what one could pair with the savory green pearls that would keep the strong flavors but eliminate the salt. And I set to work immediately on two projects. One amazingly simple. One simply amazing.

So let’s start with the basic recipe.

First, grab a bag of frozen, shelled edamame. And remember to check the nutritional content just to make sure it has 0 to 10 mg per serving.

Then, prepare a bowl of ice cold water (ice+water+bowl+fridge = bowl of  ice cold water). And when that’s ready, bring a pot of water to a boil.

Give 2 cups of edamame beans a quick dunk in the pot only to immediately transfer them to that ice cold water bath. Drain the beans again and set aside.

Now the fun part. Let’s gussy up those edamames.

Heat about 2 teaspoons of sesame oil in a pan and add thinly sliced garlic (I typically use about 5 large cloves) and finely diced ginger (I cut up about 1/2-inch nub of the peeled root). Let the garlic and ginger sizzle, crisp, and brown and after about 3 to 5 minutes, take them out of the pan and sprinkle them over the cool edamame with one more drizzle of sesame oil for good measure.

Now that alone will make some dazzling soy beans. But let’s say you want to bump it up one more notch.

Easy.

Find some mushrooms (like shimeji, maitake, or enoki) and brown a billowing cup of them in another dollop of sesame oil in a frying pan. Five minutes over high heat will do the trick. Add them to your beans and serve.

Or add some thinly sliced yuba strips for some soy bean on soy bean action.

And I know what you’re thinking. If this was the simple stuff, what’s to come next?

You’ll just have to wait until Wednesday to find out. And in the meantime, grab yourself some edamame and get munching.

Chow on.

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