Monthly Archives: September 2011

Cookbook Swap – Eat Good Food

Eat good food.

Makes sense, right?

But what  seems like a simple commandment (much easier than “eat without your hands”), turns out to be advice that, until recently, wasn’t readily followed.

Sure, people have always eaten food that tasted good. We’re wired to do that. But that’s something entirely different. Grammatically and in practice.

That’s enjoying a box of powdered doughnuts after eating a burger animal style at In N’ Out, which high school me is totally guilty of.

That’s guzzling down a slushie on a really hot day. Or going through a bag of buttered popcorn before the movie actually starts. Which is something we’ve all done before. And if I still had high-functioning kidneys, I’d probably have partaken in such an activity before 11 am today. No judgment.

So don’t feel bad. We’re not talking about bad today. We’re talking about good.

We’re talking about tabby-orange-striped delicata squash, purple tomatillos, and ruby red peppers.

Meat that is full of the nutrients and not hormones or other gross stuff. Fresh pasta that must be sold within the day because it was made that morning and isn’t filled with preservatives. Ingredients that are so pretty, sometimes it’s hard to take a knife and skillet to them.

We’re talking about recognizing your bag checkers (who you actually stop and have a conversation with when paying the bill), and knowing the men and woman who are growing, raising, harvesting, and delivering all these goodies to a store near you.

This is good food.

And Sam Mogannam at SF’s notoriously awesome Bi-Rite Market wants to help you find it and eat it.

For all those who say good food is hard to find, good food is too time consuming to cook, good food never actually tastes good…well, gosh darnit, he has answers. And recipes. And tips. And a wonderfully written story about his own journey in food that will put a face on every page and plate you make.

But I’m preaching to the choir here. (Can I get an amen?) Because as low-sodium eaters and readers of this blog, you already know how delicious good food can taste. And you know just how impactful eating it can be.

My ingredient list may be shorter than others, but by using fresh, colorful, and naturally flavor-filled products, I can make simple, quick dinners that blow any microwaved meal out of the park. Without salt. Without packaged ingredients. Without using up too much brain power, money, or coveted time.

And that is the point of this book. Cooking from scratch doesn’t have to be expensive or laborious. It can be as simple as wilting collard greens in a pan for five minutes and tossing it with some crisp purple cabbage. A side dish which would hardly cost me the loose change in my purse and which is impressive-looking enough to serve to guests. Trust me. They’ll be blown away.

And good food can be easily elevated by coaxing out the sweet tang of purple tomatillos and red peppers with a quick, oven roast. And then using the mouth-melting results as a chunky sauce for fish, chicken, steak, or even a bowl of quinoa. Depending on how you roll with your proteins.

So it’s time to celebrate good food.

And like other cookbooks, this one definitely makes use of salt. But because of its fundamental message – eat real, eat simple, eat well – it is a perfect addition to a low-sodium library. Especially for those that do not live in San Francisco and have a harder time locating good food. This manual will help you get the ingredients you need to make the meals your body will love.

So just another suggestion to help you lead a limitless low-sodium life.

You can pre-order the book through Bi-Rite here or support a local bookstore by picking one up here. And if you aren’t ready to commit, I’ll be happily reviewing some of the advice and recipes over the coming months as I eat my way through this guide.

Thanks for listening and chow on.

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Cookbook Swap – Food52

This week, I’m doing a little book swap. And I am so excited to tell you about three favorites that are coming to an Amazon near you.

Even though I am a sodium-free eater, I’ve been lucky enough to have my hands, thoughts, and taste buds involved in all of the books. And even though they all contain salt in their ingredient lists, I strongly believe that these beautiful guides are perfect inspiration for some impressive cooking, of the salty or salt-free kind.

So let’s start with the first one. Which really has motivated many recipes in this blog for the last two years. Like my Herbed Couscous, Sunny Side Up. (recipe over here)

Let me officially introduce you to Amanda and Merrill and all the home-cooks at Food52.com (if you haven’t met already).

Their website is part weekly cooking contest, part food-loving community, and part creative outlet. And finally, it’s going into print.

While I believe I am the only member who cooks without salt, the ingredient-driven competitions constantly fuel my breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.

They drive me to push the boundaries of potatoes or try something new in my torte (or even make a torte in the first place). And best of all, they have a lot of other helpful tools (like the FoodPickler, where you can ask cooking questions and get answers in real time) to help anyone tackle any dish they crave.

But back to the book.

Inside, you’ll find recipes from contest winners (all picked by community winners) as well as some extra honorable mentions (picked by staff). And because each meal comes from a place of pure experimentation and imaginatio, you will feel free to put your own low-sodium twist on it.

Like this Blue River Stew, which I did not create, but helped test. Giving it, of course, a few salt-free swaps.

So whether you pick up a hardcopy or head over to its web page, I happily hand over my favorite cooking muse to all of you.

Enjoy and read on.

Blue River Stew (Salt-Free’d)

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons of ground black pepper and 1 tablespoon of smoked paprika, mixed
  • 4 beef short ribs with the bone in
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 5 Russet potatoes, peeled, chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 cup corn kernels
  • 1/2 packet of Herb-Ox Sodium Free Beef Bouillon
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/2 cup of blonde beer or light ale with citrus hints (Blue Moon is a great choice!)
  • Handful of chopped parsley
  • Handful of sliced purple cabbage for each bowl

Directions:

1. Season the short ribs with pepper and smoked paprika on both sides.

2. Oil a large pot with olive oil and increase heat over medium-high flame. Add onions and garlic and saute until the onions are translucent, 5 minutes.

3. Add the short ribs to the pot and brown on all sides, 5 minutes each side. Stir the onions to the side so they do not burn.

4. Add the beer, water, and beef broth and bring to a boil. When the water is rolling, stir in the corn and potatoes.

5. Lower the heat and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 2 hours. Add additional water if the stew looks too thick. The meal is ready to eat when the meat easily falls from the bone.

6. To serve, place a handful of cabbage at the bottom of the bowl. Ladle stew on top and then garnish with some fresh parsley. Serve the stew with the bones in or take them bones out – whatever pleases and appeases your palate!

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Low-Sodium Spinach Leek Dip

Just in time for the weekend football lineup (there are games on Sunday, right?) here’s the second of my low-sodium, super healthy tailgate treats.

And oh my goodies, is this one scrumptious.

But don’t think I’ve lost my sense of modesty. It’s still right next to my love of watching horrible reality TV with my mother (a.k.a never going anywhere).

No, no. The tastiness of this dish has nothing to do with me. I mean, I practically threw a bunch of delicious aromatics in a pan, mixed it with naturally tangy Greek yogurt, and called it a meal.

Truly, the magic comes from the ingredients themselves. Which, when treated just right, ooze and gush with silky scrumptiousness.

So do you have your salt-free chips ready? Or a spoon? Or a clean finger? Because in a little over an hour you’ll have a creamy, low-sodium spinach dip that can majorly compete with its salty counterparts.

(And it may actually come out on top)

Chow on, football fans. Chow on.

Ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 medium sweet white onions–peeled and sliced (4 mg per 1 medium onion)
  • 1 leek–bulb cut off, cleaned, and white/light green part cut in half and thinly sliced (18mg per 1 leek)
  • 4 loosely packed cups spinach (about 1 grocery store bunch), (24 mg per 1 cup)
  • 1, 6-oz container of FAGE Greek yogurt ,(60mg of sodium)
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic or garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • Pinch of chili pepper flakes to taste
  • Pinch of ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest (about 1 lemon)
*remember to read spice labels to make sure you are using salt-free spices
Directions:
In a medium-sized frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When ready, throw in your sliced onions. Allow them to cook and brown for 5 minutes. Then turn down the heat to low and let them caramelize for about one hour. Yes, I said hour. Trust me. Worth it. And you can do other things in your kitchen while your onions cook (like sun salutations or blanching the spinach). But be sure to stay close and check on those hot onions every ten or fifteen minutes, and stir so nothing gets stuck to the bottom.
At some point in that hour, bring a small pot of water (filled only 3/4 of the way) to a boil. Dunk your spinach leaves and stems in the pot for 2 minutes. And using a colander or large spider spoon, drain the spinach from the hot water. Run the spinach immediately under cold water until you can comfortably touch the spinach with your hands.
Are you comfortable? Great. Now you are going to squeeze the spinach and ring out all the water. Do it at least six times and then put the spinach on a cutting board. Grab a knife and don’t worry about being precise. You just want to chop all that spinach into ribbons or bits. Or ribbons and bits. Whatever you want. You are going to mix it all up with the yogurt and it will look like green vegetable confetti. Yum.
When your hour of onion cooking is up, DO NOT TURN OFF THE HEAT. Instead, throw your leeks in there and let them soften with the onions. Continue to cook for at least 15 more minutes and then take the onion-leek pan off the stove.
Once the spinach, onions, and leeks have cooled (about 15 to 20 minutes), place them in a mixing bowl with the yogurt and remaining ingredients. Stir, mix, and taste until it is to your liking–it should be bright and savory and diptastic.
Then refrigerate until game time and serve with toasted sodium-free tortillas, salt-free tortilla chips, or salt-free rice crackers.

8 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Counting Sodium

So let’s say that you wake up, drink your morning brew, and open up Sodium Girl.

And let’s say you find these low-sodium Zucchini Squash Soufflés staring at you, saying good afternoon.

First, you ask, what in Julia Child’s name are these things?

The answer is: a mixture of a 400 dg F oven + 1 large zucchini and 1 squash, finely grated + 1 beaten egg + sprinkles of chili powder and ground black pepper. A quick molding job (i.e. clumps plopped on a pan) and about an hour later, you have a fluffy veggie treat.

The second thing you ask, though, is how much sodium (or magnesium, potassium, carbohydrates, sugar, yada yada yada) are in these Zucchini Squash Soufflés?

Well, let me tell you about my little trick.

Since I don’t have any nutritional elves living in my apartment…yet…one of my favorite websites is a little site called the USDA National Nutrient Database. You can type in an ingredient–like zucchini–and find out almost anything you want to know about its nutritional makeup. Like the fact that 1 medium zucchini, raw with skin, has 16 mg of sodium.

Now, I don’t sit at every meal with a calculator and this website crunching sodium numbers. But I do use the site to figure out if wild rainbow trout (that my legal boyfriend caught) falls within my sodium limits (26mg for 3oz).

Or if that chard from your very own garden, which has such an amazing natural salinity to it, actually contains a high amount of sodium (77mg for 1 cup).

It’s a great resource for identifying the foods, ingredients, and even grocery store goodies that are safe for you to consume. And once you educate yourself, you can make quick, salt-free decisions–at home and when dining out–without wasting too much of your precious time or brain waves.

As for future posts, I’ll start including sodium counts. And you’ll have them memorized before you can say soufflé.

Learn on.

Oven-Baked Zucchini and Squash Soufflés

Ingredients

  • 1 medium zucchini (16mg of sodium)
  • 1 medium yellow summer squash (4mg of sodium)
  • 1 egg white (55mg of sodium)
  • Pinch smoked paprika
  • Pinch garlic powder
  • Freshly grated black pepper
  • *special tools: cheesecloth, parchment paper

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 400dg F. Grease or spray a baking sheet.

2. With a handheld grater, shred the zucchini and yellow squash. Then place it in some cheesecloth (or just your hands) and squeeze until all the liquid from the vegetables is drained out. Five or six good squeezes should do the trick. If you do this over a bowl, you can save the juice to make a fresh, summer vegetable cocktail. Place the veggies into a small mixing bowl and set aside.

3. Add the egg white, smoked paprika, garlic powder, and black pepper. Use your hands to mix until well combined. Then form little meringue-shaped mounds on the parchment-covered baking sheet.

4. Place the baking sheet in the oven. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes until the outside is nice and crispy. Serve warm over sundried tomato and roasted red pepper pesto.

Sun-dried Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Pesto

Ingredients

  • 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and stemmed (5mg of sodium)
  • ¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes (5mg of sodium, depending on brand)
  • ¼ cup water, white wine, or olive oil

Directions

1. Preheat the broiler on high. Put the sun-dried tomatoes and the water, white wine, or oil in a small bowl.

2. Put the pepper on a small baking sheet and place in the oven on one of the top racks so it sits right below the broiler flame. Cook the pepper until it chars and blisters, about 5 to 8 minutes, and then turn a quarter turn to char and blister the next side. Repeat until the whole pepper has been roasted. Take the pepper out of the oven and put it into a paper bag. Close the bag and let the pepper steam and cool for 15 minutes. Then take the pepper out of the bag and using your hands, peel off the outer skin.

3. Place the peeled roasted pepper into a blender with the sun-dried tomatoes (reserving the soaking liquid in the small bowl). Add 2 tablespoons (should be about half) of the soaking liquid and blend until the sauce is smooth. Add the remaining liquid as needed until you get the consistency you desire.

4. Spoon warm sauce onto your plate and place the Ratatouille Souffle on top.

11 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Carrot “Cheddar” Chili

It is finally football season again.

And even though that means Sunday afternoons (and my living room) have been taken over with grunts, guffaws, and (hopefully) giddy explosions of team spirit, it also means that my kitchen and belly are full of my favorite tailgating treats.

In the short period between pre-season fun and the real deal, the likes of ribs, beans, dips, fries, and chips have all already made game-day appearances. And you better believe that these simple dishes are just a warm-up for the real masterpieces to come on my second favorite day of the year–the Super Bowl.

(Thanksgiving will always be number one. Don’t tell Chanukah.)

But typically, tailgate fare can be considered an indulgence. These foods are usually fatty, cheesy, and processed-y. And just talking about them probably has your arteries calling for a time out.

But I assure you that it is entirely possible to produce pleasing tailgate food that not only fulfills your cravings, but does so while keeping your body, heart, kidneys, and all the other parts healthy and strong. And even though I am on a low-sodium diet, I know I don’t have to miss one lick of 50-yardline comfort food.

So when Stanford Hospital announced a contest (in conjunction with the grand old 49ers) to remake classic ballpark/stadium goods with a healthy twist, I couldn’t resist joining the fun.

Favorite football team + favorite food + favorite hospital = total inspiration.

I’ve already conquered salt-free buffalo wings, spare ribs, queso fundido, and even wasabi edamame. And for this go, I wanted to do something different. Something I hadn’t done before. Something bright and crowd-pleasing. Something that solved a major salt-free conundrum.

And that’s why I made Low-Sodium Carrot “Cheddar” Chili.

From day one of my low-sodium diet, beans and chili have been my favorite quick fix. Hefty and full of protein, it is a healthy and belly warming dish. And it is also the perfect canvas to experiment with spices. Or in my case, really hot peppers.

So for the chili, that part was easy. I’ve been making chili for years now.

But as for the cheese, that was more difficult. Luckily, though, while watching a friend shred carrots I realized that the vegetable confetti looked a lot like cheddar. And because of carrot’s higher natural sodium content (50mg per 1 large carrot), I figured that they would not only add a familiar look to the dish, but could also provide a hint of “salty” flavor.

To increase the “cheesy” factor, I also added creamy low-sodium Greek yogurt (60mg per 6oz container) and avocado slices to the top. Green onions, a squeeze of lime, and extra jalapenos will add extra pow and can be layered on top of the chili. Or provided to guests to use at their own risk.

And there you have it. A guaranteed hit for the next parking lot (or living room) pre-game, pre-party.

And don’t worry. I couldn’t just make one dish for this contest. Stay tuned for recipe number two of the Stanford Hospital Healthy Tailgate Contest to come on Wednesday.

Dig in and chow on.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 1 can no-salt added pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can no-salt added kidney or black beans, rinsed and drained
  • Kernals from 1 large corn cob (or 1 cup frozen corn)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried cilantro
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt-free garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Pinch of ground clove
  • 1 lime, zest and juice
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar (optional)
  • 1 jalapeno, minced
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and finely shredded
  • 1, 6-ounce container FAGE greek yogurt
  • 2 avocados, cut in half and thinly sliced
  • 3 green onions, bulb removed and thinly sliced
  • Salt-free tortilla chips
Directions
1. Pour the olive oil into a large pot and turn stove to medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion to the oil and allow it soften, 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, beans, corn, and spices (ground cumin to clove). Stir and then bring the mixture to a boil. Stir again, cover the pot, and then turn the heat to low. Be sure to check on your chili every 15 minutes or so to make sure nothing is sticking (or burning) to the bottom. Set your timer for 45 minutes.
2. When the bell dings, take off the lid and add the lime zest, 1 tablespoon of lime juice, apple cider vinegar (if you are using it), and the diced jalapeno. Cook for 5 more minutes and then remove it from the heat.
3. To plate, put the chili in a large bowl or an oblong serving dish. Sprinkle the carrot “cheddar” shreds over the chili and then make even piles of the greek yogurt along the width of the serving bowl or platter. Layer the avocados over the yogurt and then sprinkle the green onions on top. Serve with a giant spoon for scooping and chips for dipping.

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Salt-Free Savory Doughnuts

It’s our final day of mini doughnut pan fun and I think–in my humble opinion–that we’ve saved the best for last.

As soon as I bought the doughnut pan, I’ll admit that I did not think about sprinkles. Or sugar. Or frosting. Or apple fritters. Actually, I may have thought about apple fritters, but that had nothing to do with the mini doughnut pan.

What did cross my mind, however, was chili pepper flakes, fresh herbs, and other aromatics like leeks, onions, and toasted garlic. Because a good low-sodium doughnut is possible. But a great one is made with a savory filling.

Of course, these treats will never replace an old fashion or jelly-filled version. But what they will do is surprise your palate.

Your taste buds will never see the rosemary coming.

Or the buttery, melted leek. Or the picante of hot pepper flakes.

And while all those flavors taste great on their own, they taste even better when they defy expectations. Especially when they also come in a small round ring.

Surprises like these are the best defense against missing the salt. When you overwhelm your mouth with new and unexpected flavors, tastes, textures, and experiences, salt will be the last thing on your mind. Or tongue.

So try these savory doughnuts. Or simply put the savory doughnut theory to work in another recipe (like savory pancakes, savory cupcakes, and savory apple and pork fritters…now there’s an idea).

And as always, chow on.

Ingredients

Savory Salt-Free Doughnuts

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 small leek (or 2 shallots), washed and finely diced
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons of salt-free baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • Zest from 1 lemon (about 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of melted unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Dried rosemary, thyme, tarragon, or chives (take your pick)
  • Red chili pepper flakes

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 dg F and spray or grease mini doughnut pan.

In a small frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the diced leek (or shallots) and cook until they have softened, about 5 minutes. Remove them from the pan and set aside.

Then, in a large bowl, sift (or, let’s be hones, just mix) together all-purpose flour, baking powder, ground black pepper, and lemon zest.

Add in the egg, butter, water, and cooked leeks (or shallots). Stir until combined. Hooray. You made your batter.

Fill each doughnut mold with the batter until it is half full. And if you’re thinking, “hey, that’s not a lot of batter,” it’s perfect. Sprinkle your herbs and/or chili flakes on top of the batter. Then put your mini doughnut pan in the oven and bake until the doughnuts spring back when touched, about 4 to 6 minutes.

Let the doughnuts cool in the pan for 5 minutes before removing and then place them on a cooling rack while you fill up the pan again. Repeat the steps until all the batter is used.

Enjoy.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Front Porch Fried Chicken

I had to take a break from the doughnut pan for a quick second, because last week I was served a bucket of salt-free fried chicken.

I have a serious love for fried chicken. I think we’ve talked about it before, but in case I wasn’t clear, let me just reiterate the depth of my affection for this Southern comfort food: there are few things I love more than fried chicken. And this is not an exaggeration.

If I could only take one thing with me to a deserted island, it would be fried chicken. If I could only wear one thing for the rest of my life, it would be a jacket made of crispy, twelve-spiced skin (which I would end up eating and then I would be naked, but deliriously happy). If I could have dinner with one celebrity, it would be Colonel Sanders. And if my husband had proposed with a golden drumstick, I would have totally said yes.

But salt-free fried chicken doesn’t come along that often.

When I have a real craving, I make it at home. I let the meat soak in a salt-free buttermilk substitute for a day. I dredge it in flavored flour. I let it sizzle in hot oil. I eat it all in one, quick swoop while it’s juicy and warm. And then I fall asleep at the table.

(Here’s the recipe)

But hot oil can be messy and time consuming–you have to let it cool before saving or discarding it. And so I usually end up baking my chicken. Which is still good and crunchy, but it isn’t fried chicken, now is it?

Enter Front Porch. A restaurant in the Bernal Heights (in the Bay Area) which I’ve eaten at many times over the past few years, enjoying beautifully prepared low-sodium meals. I’ve had juicy steaks and succulent succotash, but I’ve never enjoyed the dishes they are truly famous for. The food full of soul. Mainly, the fried chicken.

Last week, though, I got a real treat. And because I had called a day ahead and emailed the team with my list of restrictions, the kitchen was actually able to save some bird for me, keeping it far away from the brine. But I thought this meant I would enjoy a nice thigh or breast, roasted with pepper and maybe some herbs. Then the plate arrived. And it was piled high with crunchy chicken fingers. I mean, a mountain of delicious meat for me to enjoy. All salt-free. All gone before my friends finished their ribs and mashed potatoes.

The lesson here? Something is changing.

Maybe it is just here, in San Francisco. But every time I eat out these days, I’m getting majorly surprised. Over the past seven years, I’ve gone from maybe eating steamed vegetables if I was lucky, to getting a plain piece of pan-fried fish, to eating pastas with salt-free sauces, to now enjoying the menu items that have put a chef or restaurant on the map.

And who knows why. Maybe it’s because more of us are out there asking for it. Maybe it’s because chefs, good ones, typically respect the power of their ingredients. Maybe it’s because the kitchen ran out of salt.

But whatever the cause, it’s a good thing. And it serves as motivation to keep going out and asking for what you need. The worst case scenario is you end up with steamed vegetables. The best case scenario is you end up with the crispiest fried chicken you’ve had in years.

Chow on.

Note: A quick word on poultry. As you may know, it is often plumped with salt water to make the meat moist (and heavier and more expensive). When buying chicken, turkey, or other foul, check the packaging or ask the butcher about the added water content (moisture content should be 0%) and if it has been plumped. Generally, a good rule of thumb is that if the meat is “air-chilled,” it has not been plumped.

5 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized