Herbs and spices can add a zing to your recipes without the excess sodium.
By Beverly Burmeier
If you need to cut your sodium intake, cooking with new flavors may be your best bet. “We often tell people to take things away from their diet, but I prefer to emphasize adding things, in this case herbs and spices,” says Gavin Pritchard, RD, of Greenwich Hospital in Connecticut.
Julieanna Hever, RD, CPT, author of The Vegiterranean Diet (Da Capo), agrees, saying cooks can “go to town on flavor with fresh herbs, spices, vinegars and other taste boosters.”
Pritchard suggests buying fresh herbs as needed and keeping dried spices on hand for convenience (replace every six months for fullest flavor). He says curry powders and spice blends, especially those with any kind of pepper, will retain potency longer if refrigerated; store others in airtight containers in a cool, dark place. Buy whole spices like cardamom or peppercorns and grind them in an inexpensive coffee grinder as needed.
Slowly cut back on the amount of salt you cook with until you don’t use any at all. Linda Murdock, author of A Busy Cook’s Guide to Spices (Bellwether Books), advises cooks new to using herbs and spices to start out using one-quarter teaspoon of one or two spices for every two-person helping; for fresh herbs, increase that amount fourfold. Add dried herbs early in the cooking process, fresh at the end of the cooking cycle.
Different flavors have an affinity for different foods. For beef, try bay leaf, marjoram, nutmeg, onion, pepper, sage or thyme. Season lamb with curry powder, garlic, rosemary or mint. Good pork spices include garlic, onion, sage, pepper and oregano. For chicken, try ginger, marjoram, oregano, paprika, poultry seasoning, rosemary, sage, tarragon or thyme. Flavor fish with curry powder, dill, dry mustard, marjoram, paprika or pepper.
Vegetables can also use a flavor boost. For carrots add cinnamon, cloves, dill, ginger, marjoram, nutmeg, rosemary or sage. Flavor corn with cumin, curry powder, onion, paprika or parsley. Enhance green beans with dill, curry powder, marjoram, oregano, tarragon or thyme. Sprinkle potatoes with dill, garlic, onion, paprika, parsley or sage, and use cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg or onion to give a flavor burst to winter squash.
“A basic, crisp, always welcoming side dish, this salad is a necessity in the
Middle East,” says Julianna Hever. “Fresh herbs, such as basil, cilantro, parsley, and dill,
provide an additional infused essence.”
1 cup chopped unpeeled cucumber
1 cup chopped tomato
½ cup chopped red bell pepper
1 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1 tbsp chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice with zest
½ tsp minced jalapeño
1. Combine the cucumber, tomato, bell pepper, cilantro and parsley in a medium bowl.
2. Pour the lemon juice and zest over top, and add jalapeño and pepper (if using). Toss to combine and serve immediately. It will keep in an airtight container stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, but fresh is best, as it loses its crispness rapidly.
Reprinted with permission from The Vegiterranean Diet by Julieanna Hever (Da Capo, dacapopress.com)