This May, we are going to discuss all things cheese. From the creamy shmears to the hard stuff to the grated sprinkles that melt all over your nachos. Because while most cheeses end up on the low-sodium “do not eat” list, there are plenty of amazing solutions that will keep your favorite oozy, gooey, cheesy recipes on the table. So don’t say goodbye to those enchiladas or stuffed pastas or Croque Madames quite yet.
But before we get to the creative swaps, let’s talk about the real thing, i.e., the low-sodium cheeses that exist on the market.
Thankfully, there are several brands that offer low-sodium cheese options. Online you can buy Helluva Good Cheddar Cheese (25mg per oz). In the store, swiss cheese tends to be your best bet and I like to buy Primo Taglio Lacey Swiss (35mg per slice and found at most Safeways), Boar’s Head Lacey Swiss (35mg) and Boar’s Head No-Salt-Added Swiss. Lucerne also makes a No-Salt-Added Cottage Cheese (45mg for 1/2 cup and also at most Safeways). And I have also found Paneer (a hard, Indian cheese that can be fried!) with as little as 5mg of sodium at most Whole Foods Markets. Which you can use for a fun, summer take on grilled Caprese skewers (RECIPE HERE!)
Then there’s ricotta, which again you can buy with as little as 45mg of sodium per 1/4 cup. Or make your own with your own spices. And you can also find mascarpone, farmers cheese, and even some Mozerella with minimal sodium. The rule here is always read labels — not just to avoid the high-sodium products but to discover new low-sodium products, which are showing up with greater frequency on grocery store shelves.
So they are out there. Low-sodium cheeses do exist.
But, for those times when you can’t find a particular low-sodium product you are looking for or you simply just want to get creative, then let me tell you about a little trick I use when making cheesy dishes: Butternut squash. Yes. That huge bulbous vegetable makes on damn fine cheese impersonator. Let me show you.
My favorite, simple way to use butternut squash is to grate it, just like grated cheddar cheese. Whether you cut it up yourself or buy squash in pre-prepped cubes, simply toss the raw squash into a food processor, using a grater attachment, and watch it transform into thin, orange threads that will melt into your potato leek soup, chili, slow-cooker rice, and Southwestern salads. On top of baked potatoes, homemade oven nachos, or a low-so good, DIY Frito pies.
My second favorite and super simple way to use butternut squash is by boiling it with water in a pot and then pureeing it, keeping it thick to use as a spread for quesadillas. Or making it slightly thinner and using it as the cheese in creamy pasta and macaroni (RECIPE HERE!)
If you want to keep that cheesy taste in any of these dishes, you can always add nutritional yeast to your dish, which has a similar parmesan-like, umami flavor and effect. Or you can also use half butternut squash “cheese” and half real, low-sodium cheese — depending on your dietary needs and sodium restrictions.
Either way, by using a little or all butternut cheese, you will increase your vegetable intake, retain that cheesy look, and keep the sodium to a minimum. All good things.
How will you cheese this week?