Category Archives: dinner

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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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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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.

Ingredients:

  • 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
Directions
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.

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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.

Yakisoba


Char Sui Spare Ribs

Mama’s Enchiladas


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Salt and Stove-Free Pasta

Hi! What did you do this weekend?

I set my oven on fire.

Yeah. I really did. I meant to make chips. I made a huge mess instead. And I’m pretty sure I’m inhaling tons of chemicals as I’m writing this. If anyone has advice on cleaning this thing out, please let me know.

But let’s talk about something with less charcoal flavor and more taste.

While my range is taking a brief vacation, I started to think about no-cook meals. Ways that I could eat food full of vitamins and flavor without using any kind of flame.

And that’s how I came to this stove-free and salt-free pasta dish. Which is not only a great idea for those times when your oven is covered in fire-extinguisher dust, but also when you have limited time to throw something together for dinner, lunch, or any other snack attack.

This particular “pasta” is made from thinly sliced asparagus, which I cut with a peeler. I then chopped up some fresh summer fruit – nectarines and tomatoes – gave it a squeeze of lime, sprinkled it with chive, freshly ground pepper, and a quick dressing made from the final bits of my salt-free Mendocino Sweet & Hot Mustard and some olive oil.

Drizzle and dig in.

So the next time you find yourself in a hazmat suit, just know that your cooking appliances may be limited, but your food doesn’t have to be.

Chow on. And safety first.

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Pork for Pops

Let me tell you something about Dads – they love pork.

Even if they say, “Jess, I don’t like pork,” the thing is, they do.

And this brings me to the second point that I want to make about the big guy – they also don’t know what they like. And sometimes, you just have to tell them.

Take my dad for example. No really, take him. Just kidding, I want him back.

My dad says he doesn’t like a lot of things. Like eggplants, curry, curried eggplant, and pretty much anything that you can’t find in (a) a snack mix, (b) in a Cobb salad, or (c) at the ballpark.

After years of playing to his so-called dislikes, I finally realized that the problem wasn’t that dear old dad hated the food, but that he just didn’t know he liked it.

I started making things like “yellow chicken” (i.e. curried chicken) and “really soft zucchini” (i.e. roasted eggplant). And turns out, dad liked it all. Even the bean dip (well, that was just bean dip).

So with father’s day around the corner, I wanted to say thank you to my dad for letting me trick him into liking things and for keeping his mind open (and his heart and kidneys safe) with all my low sodium creations, even as he settles into that time of life where’s he’s allowed to exclaim that he just likes doing things his way.

And for all those dad’s who love pork (and may or may not know it yet), celebrate them this weekend with these three recipes.

Just tell them they’re filled with love. And chicken.

Chow on.

Matzo Ball Meatballs

Honey Baked Ham Chops

Sausage Pepper Poppers

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Pasta Pretzel Bites

Um…wait…what?

Pasta pretzel bites! I made pasta pretzel bites.

I’m still not sure what you’re talking about. I’ve never heard of those before?

I know, neither had I. Until I made them 15 minutes ago.

Still lost.

Basically, let’s say that you have a serving of leftover pasta. Like two day old noodles that are facing the grim reality that, most likely, they’ll have to be tossed away. It gives a low-sodium green god or goddess like yourself a bit of a heart attack. But what can you do?

First, turn on your oven to 400 dg F.

Then, pour a drizzle of oil on your pasta and sprinkle it with salt-free spices. Like dried dill. An herb blend. Or spicy chili.

Then, simply fold them into pretzel shapes. Or a lump of old pasta shape. Or really, whatever shape they’ll make.

Then put them in the oven for 18 to 20 minutes, until the pasta puffs up and becomes crisp and crackly. Take them out and eat immediately or serve as a pre-dinner snack. Or on top of salads in place of salty parmesan crackers and bread crumbs. Or in a cup like pasta pretzel bread sticks.

And that’s it. Pasta pretzel bites.

Totally salt-free, totally awesome.

Chow on.

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