This month we are going to cover yet another seemingly impossible sodium challenge: salt.
Because when it comes to a truly low-so good diet, if you simply take out the salt, you will still find yourself longing for it. And that’s why you cannot just remove it from your life and diet and favorite roast beef recipe; you have to replace it.
I’m not the only one saying so. The recommendations for the new 2015 Dietary Guidelines (coming later this year) actually highlight this very essential fact as well — i.e. putting emphasis on replacement versus removal — and make a few recommendations of how to do it — mainly with herbs and spices (duh).
But these aren’t the only ways to make up for the missing salt. And while you may think you could never actually replicate salt in all its glory, there are, in fact, a ton of options. Fun options. Genius options. Some that don’t even involve the spice rack or herb garden. And all of which don’t just make do in your favorite dishes, but make them especially impressive and delicious. Over the next four weeks, we will explore them all.
But before we dive into any of these amazing swaps, in order to successfully replace salt, we must first understand why it makes our food taste so gosh darn good.
In my new book (coming to you February 2016!!!), I get real up close and personal with our tastebuds — with help from my good friend, Barb Stuckey, who wrote an excellent book (Taste What You’re Missing) on the how and why we taste certain flavors (in which I was honored to be one of her “experts” for the salt chapter). Now, not to give too much away, she helped me understand how salt boosts the flavor of our food. Including:
1) Salt wakes up the flavor of food.
2) Salt balances the other tastes (bitter, sour, sweet, and umami).
3) Salt makes food taste, well, salty.
And it turns out, while we don’t know everything about salt’s superpowers, we sure can accomplish the same flavor-improving skills without the shaker. So this week, let’s tackle the first one: waking up and shaking up those ingredients:
Whether you are working with wilting vegetables, tired leftovers, or out-of-season produce, you can brighten up the flavor, with a few easy tricks.
First, use acid. A squeeze of citrus or a splash of vinegar or a dollop of yogurt will add tang. And tang will make those taste buds stand at full attention.
Second, add color. That means a sprinkle of freshly chopped herbs. A bed of purple cabbage or pink watermelon radish. Or just colorful serving ware to boost the visual appeal of the meal.
Third, add an unexpected spice or texture. Choose from the world of spices and blends to add flare to a simple bowl of rice or roasted chicken. Add crunchy, raw vegetables or a mix of crushed nuts or seeds to create textural interest. And start surprising yourself with new combinations of flavors and ingredients.
Fourth, use heat. When you roast vegetables in an oven or let a stew simmer and reduce, you are in fact boosting the natural flavors. Heat and time will increase the richness and depth of those out-of-season cherry tomatoes or the umami in a beef and mushroom soup. Heat will also release those delicious smells of your cooking ingredients, which will not only wake up your taste buds but get your nostrils involved, too. And smelling food is a part of tasting food.
Now put all those four tricks together and what do you get? A super, flavor-forward dish, without any help from salt. And if you want proof, try this one-pot Low-So Lamb Jam dinner that makes use of acid, texture, color, and heat to bring out the best in each ingredient.
Try it this week and experiment on your own. And then post all your low-so good solutions in the comments below or on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram with the hashtag #lowsogood.
LOW-SO LAMB JAM
- 1/2 lb ground lamb
- 1 tsp salt-free garlic powder
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1/2 tsp dried dill weed
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large delicata squash
- 4 tsp olive oil, separated
- 4 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes
- 2 Tbsp apple cider or balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup fresh dill leaves
- 1/4 cup Greek yogurt
Preheat oven to 400dg F.
In a medium bowl, mix the lamb with the salt-free garlic powder, smoked paprika, dill weed, and black pepper. Set aside.
Cut the ends off of the delicate squash and then cut the squash in half, width-wise. Then cut each half in half lengthwise, and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. Set aside.
In a large oven-safe sauté pan or skillet, heat 2 teaspoons of oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook until softened and slightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and let them cook and blister, about 5 minutes. Add in the vinegar and give it all a good stir. Then make small meatballs from the lamb mixture and nestle them in the tomatoes. Turn off of the heat and place the pan in the oven to cook until the tomatoes soften and start to get jammy, about 20 minutes.
Place the delicate squash in a separate, small baking pan or sauté pan. Cover with remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil and place it in the oven to cook until the squash flesh has softened and the skin is slightly crispy, about 20 minutes as well.
To assemble, put two squash halves on each plate and the cover with the lamb tomato mixture (aka the Lamb Jam). Add a few dollops of yogurt and a sprinkle of fresh dill. Then serve while warm.