Cut the sodium, not the taste
Jessica Goldman Foung tells us the benefits of cutting sodium from our diets and gives us a healthy recipe for Pad Thai in her book, "Sodium Girl’s Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook"
After being diagnosed with kidney failure as a result of lupus, Jessica Goldman Foung changed her way of eating. She experimented with recipes, including high-sodium offenders like bloody marys and pad thai, to cut the salt but keep the taste. “Low-so food is just Slow Food with the letters switched around,” she says. “It is about getting back to the kitchen, using fresh and flavorful ingredients — which is never a bad thing and usually results not only in healthier food, but more exciting meals.”
Her new cookbook, “Sodium Girl’s Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook” contains 100-plus creative dishes that are packed with flavor without the guilt. Foung tells why we should pay more attention to what’s on the dinner table.
Why should people cut back on sodium?
The sodium problem doesn’t start with the salt shaker, but [with] processed foods. On average, Americans eat more than 3,500 milligrams of sodium a day — way over the higher limit of 2,500 a day. But on top of that, salt has become synonymous with flavor. So when we cut back on salt and processed items, we are forced to start exploring other spices, herbs and ingredients — not to mention techniques that help enhance the foods.
What are some foods guilty of being high-sodium?
People are shocked to find out kitchen staples like milk (more than 100 milligrams per cup for that bowl of Raisin Bran and latte), cereal (generally more than 200 milligrams per cup), bread (more than 200 milligrams per slice) and baked goods (bagels can be almost 500 milligrams without the cream cheese) are quite high in sodium. And that’s before sandwiches, soups, salty snacks and dinner enter the picture.
What are some tips on cutting sodium when eating out?
It is important to know how food is cooked in restaurants. Most vegetables and grains get blanched or boiled in salted water. So it is always best to call a day ahead when possible to ask that fresh ingredients be left aside for your meal. And it is essential to know that words like cured, marinated, brined, pickled and breaded generally mean the starring protein has encountered some sort of salty solution or rub. So these are menu items that need to be avoided or altered.
Excerpt and recipe from “Sodium Girl’s Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook”
Pad Thai is a wonderful dish with noodles, proteins, crispy veggies, and a delicate sauce. And it is that last component—the sauce—that not only lends an explosion of flavor, but a bomb of salt. It is traditionally made with tamarind paste (the sour), palm sugar (the sweet), chili powder (the spice), and fish sauce (the savory), which is basically made from salted fi sh that is allowed to ferment for a very long time.
To get around the fish sauce dilemma, however, I focused less on its salty properties and more on its umami flavor. I think you know where I’m going with this. I simply mixed my umami broth with the rest of the traditional ingredients and let it simmer and reduce. And if you want to really accentuate the fi shy flavor in the original sauce, you can always add a few clams or fish bones to the pot when making your umami broth. Or you can simply rely on the fi sh that is in the dish to bring out the briny essence.
But before you do anything, take a breath. This recipe takes time. Not just because you have to make the umami broth and then the pad Thai sauce before you even get to your wok, but also because pad Thai is best made in batches. If you throw everything in at once, the noodles will get gummy and the wok will lose its heat. If you have everything set up around you and prepped, though, the cooking process will go smoothly and your room full of guests will be wildly entertained as you fry up their dinner to order. Just like on the streets of Bangkok.
Serves 4 to 6
Effort Level: Got Time to Spare
2 cups Umami Broth (page 140)
6 garlic cloves, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
11⁄2 tablespoon granulated white sugar
2 tablespoons molasses
1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
2 teaspoons tamarind paste (or
1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses)
Sesame oil, for frying
1⁄4 pound ground pork
1⁄8 teaspoon paprika
1⁄8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 fi lets of rockfish or tilapia (about 1 pound), cut into bite-sized cubes (about 1-inch)
4 large eggs
1⁄2 of an 8-ounce package no-salt-added rice noodles (use your judgment to decide how many noodles you want to eat)
1 cup bean sprouts
1 medium carrot, cut into thin matchsticks (about 1 cup if you buy preshredded)
1 cup thinly sliced Savoy or Napa cabbage
1 jalapeno pepper, finely diced
1 cup unsalted peanuts, for garnish
1⁄2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
1 lime, cut into wedges
Sodium-free hot sauce, for serving
+ In a small pot, add the umami broth, garlic, brown and white sugars, molasses, and rice vinegar. Mix the tamarind paste with 1 cup of water and add it to the pot. Bring the whole thing to a boil and then immediately reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cover the pot and cook for 30 minutes, stirring every so often.
+ As the sauce cooks, prep the other ingredients. In a large skillet or wok, heat 1 teaspoon of sesame oil over medium-high heat. Add the ground pork and cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the paprika and pepper and continue to stir until the pork is no longer pink, is broken up into little bits, and nicely browned, another 2 to 3 minutes. Turn off the heat, transfer the pork to a bowl, and set aside. Using the same pan, heat another teaspoon of sesame oil over medium-high heat. Add the fish and cook until the meat turns opaque, 3 to 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, add the fi sh to the bowl with the pork, and set aside. Wipe out the pan or wok with a cloth or paper towel.
+ Check on the pad Thai sauce to make sure it is not reducing too much. If it is, lower the heat or turn it off all together and keep the pot covered. You want at least 1 cup of sauce to make your noodles. This is not a thick sauce—it’s silky, not sticky—so don’t be alarmed if it is on the runny side.
+ Fill another medium pot with water and bring to a boil. Add the noodles and cook for 4 to 5 minutes (or a few minutes less than the directions on the package)—ideally pad Thai noodles will still be slightly fi rm. When ready, drain them in a colander and rinse with cold water. Using kitchen shears or a knife, cut the noodle clumps in half and set aside.
+ Make sure all of your pad Thai accoutrements are ready to go. Have the cooked pork and fi sh, noodles, bean sprouts, carrot, cabbage, jalapeño, peanuts, cilantro, eggs, and noodles prepped and in bowls near your stove, because we’re about to move quickly. Remember, it is best to make the pad Thai one serving at a time. But, of course, if the portions look large or you have extra mouths to feed, you can always split servings in half. Either way, repeat the steps below for each batch (a total of 4) and divvy up ingredients accordingly.
+ In the same large skillet or wok you used before, heat 1 to 2 teaspoons of sesame oil over medium-high heat. Add a few spoonfuls of cooked pork, a few spoonfuls of fi sh, and a few tablespoons of the pad Thai sauce. Mix until everything is coated. Then, push the meat to the side of the wok and crack 1 egg into the center. Let it set for a few seconds and then, using a wooden spoon or spatula, break it up and toss it with the rest of the ingredients. Add the bean sprouts, carrot, cabbage, and jalapeño, and mix them together, cooking and stirring for another 2 minutes. Taste a bit of the pad Thai and add more sauce if it needs extra kick. Then add a fi stful of noodles and stir for a final 2 minutes.
+ Turn off the heat and serve the pad Thai to the fi rst guests. Offer peanuts, cilantro, a lime wedge, and hot sauce for garnish. And before making another round, wipe the skillet or wok clean with a cloth or paper towel. Keep going, you’re doing great, and make sure to save a serving for yourself.