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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Carrot and Coconut Doughnuts

Please direct your attention to these salt-free carrot and coconut mini doughnuts that are fresh out of the oven…a week ago…just for you.

Inspired by both the mini doughnut pan and my newfound love of carrot cake batter, I thought this would make a perfect bite. And luckily, the recipe on the packaging didn’t need too many low-sodium adjustments.

I swapped the salt and the sodium-heavy buttermilk with lemon zest and coconut milk. I spiced up the mix with some clove, cinnamon, and ginger. And I topped the little sodium free lifesavers with a basic powdered sugar glaze and a downpour of coconut flakes.

These treats are easy to whip up and easy to eat. So turn on your oven and doughnut on.

Makes about 24 mini doughnuts

Ingredients

Carrot and Coconut Doughnut

  • 1 1/4 cups of cake flour
  • 1/2 cup of granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons of salt-free baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground clove
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Zest from 1 lemon (about 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 2 medium carrots, finely grated (about 1 1/2 packed cups)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of melted unsalted butter

Vanilla Coconut Glaze

  • 1 cup of unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1 cup of confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of coconut milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Directions

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

In a large bowl, sift (well…I usually just mix) together cake flour, sugar, baking powder, clove, cinnamon, ginger, and lemon zest.

Add in coconut milk, grated carrots, vanilla, egg, and butter. Stir until combined. Fill each doughnut mold to half full. If you’re thinking, “hey, that’s not a lot of batter,” it’s perfect. 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.

Now for the glaze. Pour the coconut flakes onto a plate and in a small bowl, stir together the sugar, coconut milk, and vanilla extract until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Immediately dunk the top side of the cooled doughnuts into the glaze and then press it lightly into the coconut flakes. Place the now-decorated doughnuts (coconut side up) back on a cooling rack. Let the glaze harden, 4 to 5 minutes. Then, enjoy.

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Low-Sodium Bagel Bites and Tid Bits

It’s been a long week since we last chatted and I miss you. Almost as much as I have missed bagel bites. And this is meant to be a compliment.

You know, bagel bites. Those small nuggets of processed dough and cheese, topped with hard chunks of sausage-ness.

I loved bagel bites. And in my childhood, they were a symbol of one thing: studying for final exams.

My mother tried to keep a somewhat healthy household. But dear old dad would always sneak in KFC on a Sunday or take-out any other day. And I quickly learned that if you could find a good reason for it, then wonderfully tasty, super processed food would find its way to the table.

Clearly, the high-stress environment of cramming AP US history into one’s adolescent brain demanded the presence of such goodies. And thus, my love affair with the bagel bite began.

But once sodium-heavy foods and almost all packaged goods were cut from my salt-free, safe list, so were those dear junk food treats. And because they are so salty and processed, I never even considered trying to recreate them for my new low-sodium diet. How could I? What a silly idea.

That is, until I was gifted a mini-doughnut pan.

Now most people would use a mini-doughnut pan to make doughnuts. Sweet doughnuts. Small ones. Which I did–so stay tuned next week for a salt-free carrot coconut cake doughnut recipe.

But I also used it to make savory doughnuts. And of course, the no-longer-silly, salt-free bagel bites.

Behold.

Ground pork. Tomato paste. Dried basil and oregano. Salt-free garlic and chili powder. Salt-free dreams turned into a doughy (and addictive) reality.

They were tasty. Like pizza, but smaller.

And while I’m still tinkering with the recipe, as I’m not yet satisfied with the texture (it’s a bit too dense for my junk food palate), I am completely excited about pushing another low-sodium boundaries. What once seemed impossible is now not far from my low-sodium reaches. And that makes me happy. And full.

So while you wait for my kitchen notes to be perfected, I want to direct you to another site for good information, good recipes, and good low-sodium outlooks.

Meet Dishy. Here.

She’s a fellow salt-free super hero who is tackling her own low-sodium diet as a result of Meniere’s Disease.

Not only does Dishy come up with stellar low-sodium dishes, she’s actually started writing awesome profiles of fellow low-sodium eaters. And I’m honored to have been recently included.

If you’ve ever thought you were alone in this low-sodium life, her interviews are a wonderful reminder that there are a lot of us out there. Ready to support each other. Guide each other. And make bagel bites to share with each other.

So this weekend, here’s your homework: Head over to Dishy (here) and take a bite of her low-so good food as well as the amazing community she has gathered.

And then, think of the bagel bite and do one thing to defy your low-sodium boundaries. Maybe that is exploring the wild aisles of the corner drug store until you find something safe and salt-free to snack on. Or maybe it is making a mini pizza.

Whatever the adventure, you’ll be surprised at what you might discover. And how good this low-sodium life can be.

Chow on.

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Kohlrabi Chicken Salad

Here we are on our last day of the kohlrabi adventure. Most of our kohlrabi has been enjoyed in the raw. Or as art.

But it’s time we enjoy this green veggie in a sandwich. With some curry and paprika. Some Greek yogurt. A pinch of freshly ground black pepper. Some quinoa (for texture). And of course, juicy chicken thigh. Cooked.

I just popped these suckers in the oven at 375 dg F for 45 minutes, until the inside was no longer pink, and mixed it in with the kohlrabi cubes and other ingredients. And in less time than it takes to make a kohlrabi caterpillar, you have a creamy, crunchy, salt-free chicken salad that screams, “hey, this isn’t celery?” Because it isn’t. It’s your new friend, kohlrabi.

It’s a perfect treat for Labor Day BBQs’s, or really any day of the week. And speaking of holidays, I hope you all have yummy plans ahead. I sure do–it’s low-sodium trout fishing time! So we’ll reconvene next Wednesday for some salt-free bagel bites.

Yeah, I said bagel bites. Start your belly engines. And…

Chow on.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup white, washed quinoa
  • 4 air-chilled chicken thighs (tip: air-chilled means they are not plumped with saline or extra
    water)
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin powder
  • 1 kohlrabi bulb, antenna removed and cut into small cubes
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons 2% FAGE Greek yogurt
  • Handful currents or raisins
  • Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch of cayenne or red pepper flakes, to taste
Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 375 dg F.
2. Put the quinoa and 1 1/2 cups of water into a small pot. Cover with a lid and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. When it is bubbling, reduce the heat to low and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, until the quinoa is plump and fluffy. While it’s cooking, be sure to check on the quinoa and stir to make sure none of the little guys stick and burn on the bottom. Add a bit more water if it is looking too dry.
2. While the quinoa cooks, place the chicken thighs on a oiled or nonstick pan. In a small bowl, mix the smoked paprika, curry, and cumin together and then rub the mixture over the thighs. Put the thighs in the oven to cook for 45 minutes, until the flesh on the inside is no longer pink.
3. Place the quinoa and kohlrabi cubes into a large bowl. Add the yogurt, currents or raisins, black pepper and cayenne. Mix until well combined. And when the chicken is cooked, cut the thighs into chunks and add them to the bowl, mixing all the ingredients again. Cover and place in the refrigerate until you’re ready to eat.
4. To serve, spread onto toasted low-sodium bread or rice crackers. Roll it in a salt-free corn tortilla with some lettuce or arugula, and make it a wrap. Or make it more of a dip and scoop it up with crackers or tortilla chips! Enjoy

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