Category Archives: brunch

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 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.


  • 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


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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Filed under brunch, cooking, dinner, improbable eats, recipe box, tips & tricks

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.



Filed under brunch, lunch, quick fix, recipe box

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.


  • 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


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.


Filed under brunch, dinner, quick fix, recipe box

Magic Mini Cornbread Madeleines

Rule number one: you eat with your eyes. In a sensory-overload kind of way. Not in actual chewing and digesting.

Which brings us to rule number two: do not try to stick a forkful of food near those pretty little lids of yours. It will only lead to disaster.

But back to the first lesson…presentation is perhaps one of the most important tools for a low-sodium cook, other than an immersion blender. It can be just as flavor-enhancing as a good shake of cayenne and salt. And if you play around with the look, feel, or structure of a traditional recipe, the concept becomes as intriguing as the taste.

For ejemplo, cornbread.

All by itself, in its original form, cornbread is a great option for low-sodium cooks. It is a quick, no-knead means of adding a bit of carbs to a meal. And it requires very few ingredients. But to avoid salt, you need to forgo buttermilk and add some special ingredients, like whole corn kernals, honey, low-sodium yogurt, creme fraiche, herbs, or spice to perk up the dense texture. Which is all very doable and delicious.

But since we are already diverging from the original recipe, let’s really have some fun. And instead of cooking our now salt-free’d cornbread in a regular old baking pan (boring) or a skillet (so last year), let’s cook it in a madeleine mold. Better yet, let’s bake it in a mini madeleine mold.

And then, when you serve these little goodies in a little basket alongside your honey baked pork chops or whiskey pulled pork, you and your guests will be so overwhelmed by the cute-factor that no one will even notice the lack of salt.

If you don’t have a madeleine mold (thank you sis-in-law for letting me use yours), try mini muffins or even mini doughnut pans. And if you have any other genius ideas, do share in the comments below. I love genius ideas as much as mini madeleines.

So remember that the look of a meal can be a powerful addition to its overall satisfaction level. And as for rule number three, please, please, please play with your food. Not in the messy kind of way, but in the creative sense. Because cooking in general, with and without salt, is about having fun. Eating it is just the proverbial cherry on top.

Chow on.


  • 1 cup cornmeal (whole grain, medium grind)
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 pinch (or two) cayenne or chili powder
  • 3/4 cup low-sodium greek yogurt, mascarpone, or creme fraiche
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted but cooled to room temp (so as not to curdle the egg)
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 large egg
  • madeleine pan, greased
Preheat oven to 375 dg F and place madeleine pan in the oven while temp rises.
In a large bowl, mix the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, fresh herbs, and spice together. In a separate bowl, whisk the orange juice, yogurt (or mascarpone or creme fraiche), melted butter, honey, and egg together. Then add the wet ingredients to your cornbread mixture and mix until combined. Batter will be runny.
When the oven is ready, take the madeleine pan out of the oven and grease it up. Pour the batter into the molds and fill until just below the top, because they will rise and puff up a bit as they bake. Bake until the edges of the madeleines turn a golden brown and you are able to insert a toothpick in and pull it out clean, 10 to 12 minutes.
Remove the cornbread madeleines from the oven and allow them to cool. Serve with anything from soup to Southwestern fare and enjoy.


Filed under brunch, dinner, lunch, quick fix, recipe box

Gazoontite, America

First thought of the day: when I hear someone say God Bless America, it sounds to me like America is sneezing. And since it has been a pretty rough year for allergies, I think my point here makes even more sense.

Second thought of the day (or more of a confession): to celebrate this weekend of freedom (and sneezes), I may or may not have purchased a red, white, and blue one-piece pant suit. True story.

But really what we’re here to talk about is not my Claritin or my closet. It’s my kitchen, which is getting a particularly festive makeover this weekend. And other than Thanksgiving, I truly believe with all of my patriotic heart that the 4th of July is one of my favorite holidays.

In the past, I celebrated with typical American fare. Fried chicken. Potato salad. Cobblers. Pepper poppers. Which, if that is your thang, you can find here. Or try this easy and scrumptious chicken fried potato salad for a combo of everything that is down home and good.

This year, however, I thought I’d take a detour from the typical fare and really explore the diversity of this wonderful nation. And instead of macaroni and cheese, serve Chinese chicken salad.

So this weekend, if you are ready to embrace the melting pot, try out these recipes for your big potluck, BBQ, or dinner party. And get ready to red, white, and blow everyone’s mind.

Chow on.


Char Sui Spare Ribs

Mama’s Enchiladas

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Look What I Made Wednesday: Eggs Benedict

It’s time for the weekly cookbook teaser and this week, I am going to show you one of my proudest creations thus far in a four photo love story.

But before we get to the foodie shots, let me give you a brief background on this dish.

Eggs benedict is to brunch as rain is to Seattle. They define each other. They go hand in hand. And I just got an SAT anxiety flashback…so give me a moment to collect myself. How I ever got into college, I’ll never know. Those tests were totally awful. If only they were about chocolate.

But back to Benedict. The most traditional version is made of two, toasted English muffin halves, topped with Canadian bacon, poached eggs, and Hollondaise sauce. It’s like a united nations of delicious.

Of course, other variations exist, like Eggs Florentine (spinach instead of ham), Eggs Montreal (salmon instead of ham), and Eggs Sardou (with artichokes instead of muffins, anchovies for the ham, and truffles instead of Hollondaise), just to name a few.

Which means there is more than enough room for a low sodium version too.

While I’m still working on the name for this dish (Eggs Beatrice? Ten points to whoever gets the nerd reference), I’ve nailed the ingredients. So as I brainstorm for an appropriately sassy title, feel free to oogle over the photo flirting below.

Chow on.


Filed under breakfast, brunch, improbable eats, recipe box