My tummy is rumbling in anticipation of my favorite day of the year…THANKSGIVING! And don’t be fooled, just because you are limiting your sodium intake this festive season, you do not have to miss out on any of the rich earthy flavors that make this holiday so memorable.
I was reminded again last night, as I was cooking dinner for a group of 8 stranger – Moroccan stew, couscous, and a cauliflower salad with apple and fig chutney – that it is easy to build rich flavors without salt. The limitation of your ingredients will force you to become a more creative cook, dazzling your guests with spices and pairings they do not expect. The element of surprise will add exponential enjoyment to your sodium free meals.
This Thanksgiving, whether you are attempting a single sodium free side dish or gunning for a full blown, sodium free dinner, I challenge you to think not of what you can’t eat, but of what you can. Can’t have cheese on your mashed potatoes? Make them silky with cream or mascarpone and add a kick of flavor with roasted fennel, browned butter, or truffle oil. Your masterpieces will have the other guests drooling and who knows, it may be a sodium free thanksgiving for everyone next year.
To get your inspiration engines started, check out these tips and tricks and recipe ideas that will have friends and families colonizing your kitchen.
Tips and Tricks: Foul Play
Since we (the royal we, that is) often spend the holidays at the homes of others, you will most likely need to bring your own bird, sides, and pies for the evening. Thanksgiving dinner can be a huge undertaking for the hosts and if you want to be certain that your meal is sodium free and safe, I suggest you spend time “getting your bird on” in your own kitchen.
I spent many years lugging along a bland piece of chicken breast as my entrée, staring longingly at the crispy, golden skin of the juicy, salt brined turkey on everyone else’s plate. Clearly, cooking an entire turkey for myself was a little excessive and too big of an undertaking. If I was hosting the dinner and feeding a handful of other guests, an entire sodium free turkey would make sense. But for a single plate of Thanksgiving deliciousness (or let’s be honest, 3 to 4) a whole bird may be too much…Or not.
Secret Sodium Alert:
Most turkeys, even if you do not brine or salt them, may be injected with some sort of saline solution to keep them moist. So if you are cooking a whole bird, make sure yours is truly sodium free.
Then, a moment of holiday brilliance, I realized I could substitute the typical turkey for a much smaller piece of poultry: a Cornish game hen. Besides being easy to cook, these little juicy poultry nuggets also happen to be absolutely adorable and they are just big enough that there is plenty of juicy meat to nibble on the next day. These birds are rather flexible in terms of cooking technique – you can stuff and roast them, debone and sautée, or plop them on open beer cans and let the fun really begin – look at their posture!
This, year, I will be roasting my little friend next to my Aunt’s behemoth bird. They should get along quite nicely and can be roasted at approximately the same temperature, just a shorter amount of time.
Recipe Box: My Thanksgiving Menu
What you may begin to realize is that even when you are limiting your sodium intake, you can continue to use regular recipes. All you have to do is be conscious of where sodium may be hiding – butter, broths, brines, seasoning blends, dairy products, pie crusts/doughs/breads, baking sodium and baking powder, and packaged sauces – and then, get creative with your substitutions.
I love using Epicurious for recipe starters and find Cooks Illustrated to be one of the best culinary resources (for every level cook) available. Christopher Kimball, I heart you and your test kitchen.
Here are some of the recipes that I will using for my sodium free dinner. I’ve included my own substitutions, but if you have other flavor twists that you want to share, pass them along to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be sure to steal them.
- A spread of sodium free pickles
- curried, pickled carrots and dill pickled green beans and fennel
- Sodium free spinach dip and crudite (fancy for raw vegetables)
- substitute mascarpone, ricotta cheese, or crème fraiche for the sour cream and cream cheese
Starters and Sides:
- Brussel sprouts hash and caramelized onions
- use sweet butter and leave out the Kosher salt
- Root vegetable gratin
- brown sweetened butter to give it a nutty flavor, add some farmers cheese if you can find some (or you can make your own!) and grate some fresh nutmeg on top for added “je ne sais quoi” spice
- Cornish game hen
- Although I will be using an altered beer can chicken recipe – straight up succulent – I like the idea of this cider brine (sans salt). Although salt is an essential part of the brining process, I think the cider helps denature the protein, making it juicy and more melt-in-your-mouth delicious. If you can’t brine, but want to add an extra juice-assuring technique to your holiday cooking, I would give this a try. Plus, the gravy recipe also looks good!
- Sodium free stuffing with wild mushrooms
- I will be using sodium free bread and my favorite sodium free chicken broth to give this crunch and kick and have bought a bounty of wild mushrooms to give it a meaty texture
For more low sodium/sodium free Thanksgiving recipes check out Dick Logue’s Low Sodium Cooking Newsletter – the Thanksgiving issue.
Happy eating, happy holidays, and I’ll see you at the gym…if I can get off the couch.