A successful low-sodium diet requires one to ditch the processed foods and most prepared ingredients. But that doesn’t mean your cooking adventures will be any less convenient. Or that you have to stop eating your favorite foods (like enchiladas and orange chicken chow mein). Because while there are some high-sodium foods — ahem, bacon and soup — which should be made-from-scratch and require a little extra effort on your part, there are also plenty of no-salt-added and low-sodium products that you can buy, ready-to-eat at the store today. And with the right ingredients and tools on hand, you can cook any type of cuisine any day of the week in almost as much time as ordering takeout. With way less sodium. And way more flavor.
So that’s why I’m starting a little series of low-so pantry and kitchen essentials, broken down by type of cuisine. So that no matter what you want to eat, you have exactly what you need to make your food dreams come true. Or at least get dinner on the table quickly. And since Cinco de Mayo is just around the corner, I thought this was a good time to talk about Mexican-inspired staples that will take you from canned beans to a Build Your Own Mexican Zucchini Boat Party in no time flat. No sweat.
In the picture at the top of this page are a few of the items I always have on hand that allow me to dive deep into the world of latin-inspired cuisine. Whether that means enchiladas or breakfast tacos or a quick guacamole. And the following are staples (canned, fresh, and not-edible), that I always have on hand:
- Canned tomatoes, chopped and/or sauce, no-salt-added: Use for quick salsas or to make your own red sauces. Remember to add your own spices and look for products with extra flavor, like “fire roasted” or “basil”
- Canned beans (black and pinto), no-salt-added
- Polenta: Although not technically a part of the “Mexican” kitchen, you can use it as the base of weeknight-simple, tamale bowls
- Fresh Produce: Avocados, onions, lime, chili pepper, grated radish (GREAT for taco or ceviche night), and roasted peppers (recipe below!)
- Masa: For making homemade corn tortillas. But of course, pre-made corn tortillas work just great, too
- Tools & Entertaining: A tortilla press & bright, colorful serving ware make for a interactive and impressive taco night dinner party
- Pepitas (or pumpkin seeds): Great mixed into guacamole or on top of salads for extra texture. Toast them, keep whole, or crumble.
- Hot sauce! Look for products with under 15mg per serving. READ LABELS CAREFULLY! You’ll be surprised what you find.
As for what’s not pictured here, I also try to have the following on hand:
- Spices: Cumin seed, coriander seed, cumin powder, clove, cinnamon, chili powder, and oregano all find their way into latin-inspired dishes. Just be sure to buy spices and spice blends labeled as “no-salt-added” or with “0mg sodium”
- Dried Chile Peppers: Keep some dried poblanos and guajillo peppers in the cabinet and make your own hot sauce when you have the need for heat
- Produce: Look for jicama, cilantro, green onions, and tomatillos to add a little extra pep to your soups, salads, and sauces
- Freezer: Keep ground pork and frozen corn (with 0mg sodium) at the ready. And you can have Mexican favorites, like homemade chorizo posole, any night of the week
- Chips: White, yellow, and blue — corn chips with no sodium exist! Keep them handy for nacho night, a quick snack, or to even use like breadcrumbs for crispy (baked or fried) fish tacos
And now I turn to you! What would you add to your low-so Mexican pantry? What other items have you found that allow you to make your favorite foods, quickly, at home? Write your thoughts in the comments or on the Sodium Girl Facebook page.
As for those roasted peppers, whether your making hot sauce or pasta sauce, it’s always nice to have them at-the-ready, in your fridge. Especially because just 1/2 CUP of pre-roasted peppers can mean 1,000mg sodium! So here’s a tip: Once a week, when you plan to use the oven, start by,
Step One: Turn on the broiler.
Step Two: Line a baking sheet with foil.
Step Three: Cut peppers in half, lengthwise. Remove stem and seed. Place flat-side down on the foil-lined sheet.
Step Four: Carefully place peppers in the oven on the rack right below the broiler. Cook until the skin is black and charred.
Step Five: Carefully remove peppers and use tongs to place them in a bowl. Use the foil to cover the bowl and allow the peppers to steam and cool, for about 15 to 20 minutes.
Step Six: When cool to the touch, slip the charred skin off the peppers and discard. Having some of the charred skin still on is okay, because that is extra flavor. Use the roasted pepper as desired. Or keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. Or blend with oil, place into ice cube trays, and freeze until ready to use.
Step Seven: Turn off broiler and reset heat for whatever dish you were planning on cooking. Now you’re oven is hot and ready. And you’ve made roasted peppers for the week ahead.