Sunday, April 29, 2012

Grilled Swordfish with Tropical Fruit Salsa

Fire up the grill for this easy and delicious meal!

Grilled Swordfish with Tropical Fruit Salsa - serves 4 (~250mg sodium per serving)

1 lemon, juice and zest
1 lime
1 ripe mango, diced into small pieces
1/4 c diced fresh pineapple
2 fresh jalapenos, seeded and chopped fine
1/2 red onion, diced fine
1/2 red bell pepper, diced fine
2 T chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 t sugar
1/4 t cayenne
2 lb swordfish steak (four 1/2 lb steaks)
olive oil
salt and pepper

For the salsa:
Combine the mango, pineapple, jalapeno, red onion, red pepper, sugar, a scant 1/8 t salt, and cilantro in a small container. Add the juice of 1 lime, plus the juice of 1/2 lemon and stir. Cover and set aside until the swordfish is ready.

For the swordfish:

Prepare the grill - light the charcoal and when ready pile onto one side of grill to create a two zones of heat. Brush each swordfish steak with olive oil and season with a very small amount of salt and black pepper to taste. Grill over coals in hot part of grill for about 3 minutes per side, turning once. Transfer to cooler part of grill and cook for another 3 minutes per side, turning once. Serve on warm plate topped with lemon zest and tropical fruit salsa. Cut the remaining 1/2 lemon into quarters and place one onto each plate to squeeze onto the swordfish if desired. Serve immediately.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Lamb and Butternut Tagine

A tagine  is a North African stew that is named for the traditional pot that is used for cooking. We altered our chicken version to take advantage of some lamb that we had in the freezer.

Lamb and Butternut Tagine - serves 4 (500mg sodium per serving)

~1.5 lb lamb stew meat, cubed
1 T canola oil
1 medium onion
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 T harissa
1 t ground cumin
1 t ground coriander
1/4 t salt
1/2 t ground cinnamon
3 c low sodium organic beef broth
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced into cubes
2 c golden raisins
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

Preheat oven to 350F.

Brown the lamb in oil in a dutch oven over medium high heat, then remove meat from pan, cover and set aside. Saute the onion until softened, then add garlic and cook another minute or so until fragrant. Return the lamb to the pot and add enough broth to cover the contents. Cover the pot and braise the lamb in the oven for 1.5 to 2 hrs. Add broth as necessary to keep the lamb covered.

Return the pot to the stovetop. Add all remaining ingredients except chickpeas and bring to a simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add the chickpeas and cook for about 5 more minutes.

Serve alone, or with couscous.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Salt-Free Harissa

Harissa is a hot chili sauce that originated in Tunisia. We use it mainly to make tagines (North African stews), but have had to get it via mail order since it is too exotic for most grocery stores. Since this is kind of a pain, we decided to make our own. After synthesizing about six different recipes, this is the one we came up with:

Harissa (makes enough to fill a small jelly jar, and will keep for one month in the refrigerator)

4 oz dried red chili peppers (such as guajillo, ancho, etc. - we used California chiles)
10 cloves garlic
1 T whole coriander seed
1 T whole cumin seed
1 t whole caraway seed
2 T lemon juice
olive oil

Soak the dried chiles in very hot water for 30 minutes to 1 hour, then drain.

Meanwhile, toast the seeds in a dry skillet until they pop and become fragrant. Grind the toasted spices to a fine powder. (We use a dedicated coffee bean grinder for this, but you could use a mortar and pestle or a small food processor.)

Pulse the chiles, garlic, spice mix and lemon juice in a food processor. Add oil as necessary to bring the consistency to a thick liquid paste. When the ingredients are thoroughly processed, use a small spatula to transfer the contents to a small jar. Add a thin layer of oil to the top of the sauce so that none of it is exposed to air. Cover and refrigerate.

Use 1-2 T at a time to add flavor and heat to soups and stews.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Chicken Piccata

It did not take too much effort to create a lower sodium version of chicken piccata. We did it by starting with organic chicken, using white wine only instead of broth for the sauce, and reducing the amount of salt and Parmesan cheese in the breading. These reductions allowed us enough leeway to keep the delicious capers that are a signature flavor in this meal.

Chicken Piccata (serves 4) - 545 mg sodium per serving*

2 chicken breasts (about 1 pound)
1 egg
1/2 c flour
 2 T grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 t salt
1 t pepper
~2 T olive oil
4 T unsalted butter
1/2 c dry white wine
3 T lemon juice
3 T capers, rinsed thoroughly and drained
3-4 T chopped fresh flat leaf (Italian) parsley

Slice the chicken in half to make two thin cutlets from each breast. Pound the cutlets until they are evenly flat and about 1/4" thick. Beat the egg and place into a dredging bowl. Mix the flour, cheese, salt and pepper in a second dredging bowl. Coat each piece of chicken with the egg, then dredge in the flour mixture to cover, then brown in a skillet with a small amount of oil. This is best done in two batches. Remove chicken from skillet and cover.

Add more oil to pan and use 1 T of the flour mixture to make a roux. Add oil as needed to maintain a thick liquid consistency. Cook the roux until slightly browned. Add the wine and lemon juice and cook to for a few minutes to reduce the liquid. Whisk in the butter 1 T at a time until combined. Add capers and cook for another minute or two, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

Plate the chicken, cover with sauce, and garnish with parsley. Serve hot.

*Actual sodium content is probably less than this maximum because not all of the salt in the flour will be transmitted to the finished meal. Rinsing the capers probably reduces their sodium content as well.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Recipe Coversion: Batter Fried Chicken

Week 14's adventure was a successful recipe conversion.Unfortunately, success did not occur the first time we attempted this! Our starting point was a wonderfully delicious batter-fried chicken recipe from Cook's Country (the August/September 2009 issue). When we made this in the pre-salt-avoiding days it was messy, but super good. Well worth the clean up.

The major problem we needed to solve was how to brine the chicken in a low sodium way. When we tried again about a month ago, we substituted KCl for the NaCl. The result was some really funky off tastes that overpowered all of the other flavors. We could have tried the recipe and omitted the brine altogether, but we felt that it was important to the texture of the chicken - especially the white meat. This week we tried again with a modified "brine" with greatly reduced salt content and had better luck. Our only other modification was to omit the salt from the batter.

*Since I cannot tell how much of the salt in the brine ends up inside the chicken, my sodium math is only approximate. To be safe, I will assume that all of it somehow gets incorporated and my estimate will represent an upper limit for this recipe.

Batter Fried Chicken - serves 4 (not more than 675 mg sodium per serving*, but probably much less)


1 Q water
1 T salt
3 T sugar
2 lbs bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces (breasts should be cut in half to reduce volume of each piece)


1/2 c flour
1/2 c cornstarch
1 T pepper
1/2 t paprika
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1 t low-sodium baking powder
1 c cold water


3 Q oil (peanut or vegetable)

Dissolve the salt and sugar in 1 Q of water, then soak the chicken in this brine for 30 minutes to 1 hour (in refrigerator).

Whisk the flour, cornstarch, seasonings, baking powder and water together in a large bowl. Refrigerate this mixture while chicken brines.

Heat the cooking oil in a large Dutch oven to 350 degrees. Remove chicken from refrigerator and drain the brine. pat chicken dry with paper towels. Stir batter and add chicken pieces to bowl. Transfer chicken to cook pot one piece at a time, allowing excess batter to drip back into bowl. To avoid crowding the pan, work in small batches. Keeping oil between 300 and 325 degrees, cook the chicken until batter is golden brown and meat meat reaches 160 F for white meat and 175 F for dark. This should take 12-15 minutes. Drain cooked chicken on wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet. Reheat oil to 350 F between batches.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Week 13: Seared Ginger-Balsamic Salmon with Hot and Sour Slaw

We didn't have the energy to create something original this week, so we tried a new recipe that was published in last Sunday's newspaper. I found it online here, if you want to give it a try. It was not particularly low sodium, but we did manage to reduce it to an acceptable level by leaving out the salt and using less soy sauce. It made a delicious meal that was a nice change of pace from our usual salmon dish.