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Forty days without a saltshaker
YOU WON'T BELIEVE IT'S SALT-FREE!
By Robyn Webb
178 pp. DaCapo
Reviewed by Dennis C. Rizzo
Lent is a time when the people in my family spend forty days fasting - or at least give up something for forty days in a nod to fasting. The last two years I have given up adding salt to my food.
Recently, the time came to break the fast and the whole family went out to eat at a decent roadhouse. I ordered the caramelized onion burger and a side of poutine (look it up). I added some salt to the burger. After dinner I noticed I was flushed and hyper. I am old enough that this was a bit disconcerting.
At about the same time, I had been going through Robyn Webb's newest cookbook, You Won't Believe It's Salt-Free! In it she notes that North Americans consume far more salt than we require.
Although sodium is one of the many minerals we must consume on a daily basis to keep our body's basic functions operating, we typically consume significantly more than we need. -- Our body requires anywhere from 250 to 500 milligrams of sodium a day to keep nerves and muscles working.... Meanwhile, the average American takes in anywhere from 3,400 to 3,700 milligrams of sodium per day! That certainly helps explain why 65 million Americans currently live with hypertension (high blood pressure), while another 45 million walk around with prehypertension. We are even starting to see children as young as three years old with hypertension....
Bosh. -- Had been my usual reply.
Then I went through the aforementioned pre-Easter fasting. I realized that my red-faced reaction to the restaurant meal was because my body was no longer accustomed to the massive quantities of salt I had been consuming, almost unconsciously. Indeed, it would seem that claims by health food “nuts” that the food industry is plying us with salt and fat might actually bear attention.
In my case, I was certain that cutting out salt was critical to my long-term wellbeing. But how to do this without sacrificing taste? I love to cook, and the typical recipe requires dosing with salt and pepper. Fortunately, this is not generally the problem in the home-cooked diet. Rather, it is the liberal application of the saltshaker that raises intake levels to unholy proportions.
Robyn to the rescue.
You Won't Believe It's Salt-Free! doesn't preach. I like that. I usually don't listen to preachers.
Instead, Robyn Webb has researched and kitchen-tested alternatives to salt that coax out flavors in food without adding sodium. I could compare it to quitting smoking. Once we get past the notion that food will taste bland or pasty without salt, we learn that extra salt, in fact, hides the natural flavors and tastes.
One of the easiest ways to cut down or eliminate the saltshaker is to use salt-free herb and spice blends. [These] serve as an excellent introduction to no/low-sodium cooking.
Now, using pre-mixed spices seemed somewhat sacrilegious to me. A good cook works with spices and combines them to achieve the desired effect. But, in reading through the book's recipes I realized an unfortunate fact of modern life. Many, many people have no clue how to cook from scratch.
Robyn to the rescue. Again.
Her book leads the reader through descriptions and explanations of the various spices that can be used to enhance food flavor and eliminate or reduce that knee-jerk salting of our food. Robyn spent considerable time researching the available commercial spice blends and recommends the Mrs. Dash brand (though any mix you prefer will work). She also provides details on how to purchase fresh herbs, store them, and make your own blends.
She then provides recipes for everything from Asian-style meatloaf to Zuppa di Ceci. The recipes are easy to follow, use ingredients easily found at your local grocer, and provide step-by-step instructions. This means that the recipes offer the tested combination of ingredients of interest to seasoned (no pun) cooks who want to try new dishes and provides easy directions to help the kitchen novices among us.
I tried a few. They work. And I did not feel a need to add additional salt. From a former salt-a-holic, this is inspiring.
Whether you need to cut down or eliminate salt intake, or simply are conscious of the need to reduce sodium in your diet, You Won't Believe It's Salt-Free! makes sense. It works. After my forty day fast I learned that using the saltshaker actually makes my food unpalatable; that consuming foods prepared in the typical manner at restaurants can result in excessive sodium intake.
I learned to use a Louisiana spice blend while fasting from salt. Robyn Webb provides a wide range of other, tasty alternatives for the salt-conscious among us. And the recipes are pretty good, too.