Most Americans eat too much salt, which contributes to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and other serious health problems. Some of us should eat no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, while others (those with high blood pressure, African Americans and people middle-aged or older) should stick to no more than 1,500 mg.
That’s hard to do when our diets include so many processed foods. According to Health.gov, 75 percent of our sodium intake generally comes from processed foods — stuff like frozen dinners, boxed rice/macaroni and cheese, and canned foods. How can we reduce the amount of sodium we consume? For one thing, we can make meals from scratch as much as possible, which allows us to better control the amount of salt the finished product contains.
I’m always interested in how to boost flavor with cooking techniques other than adding salt. Not only is it healthier; it just makes you a better cook overall.
I received a list of ways to boost flavor in meals without upending the salt shaker over the pan. These are great ideas, and I have a couple others I’ll tack onto the end. These tips come from Caroline Wright, who authored the cookbook I gave away last week, “Twenty-Dollar, Twenty-Minute Meals.”
1. Crushing or toasting dried spices: Dried spices can lose their flavor over time, especially in the heat of the kitchen. Release their flavor by crushing whole spices or toasting ground ones, so that their oils are reinvigorated before they begin to contribute to your dish.
2. Olive oil: A drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil to top a delicious soup, pizza or pasta just before serving it brings a bright, fresh flavor to the dish. [Lindsey's note: Try to buy really good-quality olive oil for the best result.]
3. Global pantry spices: Try different spice blends from around the world to bring unexpected flavor to your cooking, and revitalize your favorite dishes without switching up your routine. Try Szechuan peppercorns, harissa paste, or garam masala. [Lindsey's note: Make sure any spice blend you're using isn't loaded with sodium]
4. Browning meat: Browning meat at a high temperature before it is cooked more gently gives it a flavorful, caramelized layer on the outside of the meat. It brings a lot of flavor and texture to your dinner without adding any extra ingredients. All it takes is a hot, heavy pan and a bit of patience. [Lindsey's note: This is why it is so important to brown meats before you put them in the slow cooker.]
5. Seasoned breadcrumbs: Seasoned, toasted breadcrumbs are a delicious secret ingredient—they lend a lot of texture to a variety of dishes, including soups, salads and pastas.
6. Flavored oils: Blending a cooking-worthy olive oil with fresh herbs brings up its flavor—and elegance—with just a little help from a blender. The oils take on a beautiful green hue and flavor, and a spoonful makes any salad or soup look artful. [Lindsey's note: You can also buy some good flavored oils. Check out Oliveto in Roanoke County.]
7. Fresh herbs: Fresh herbs heighten the fresh factor of any dish. Since they are best added once the cooking is through, they are a great last-minute ingredient to have on-hand. [Lindsey's note: I don't think all herbs should be added at the end. It depends on the recipe.]
8. Good vinaigrettes: A good vinaigrette is not only a great dressing for a salad, but also a way to marinate vegetables or thin slices of meat or use as an extra spoonful of flavor over a pizza. Keep your favorite one in a jar in your refrigerator, ready to go.
I would add:
9. Toasted nuts are one of my favorite garnishes. They’re delicious on soups, salads, vegetables and more, and the heady flavor of a properly toasted nut packs a nice punch. They do not need to be salted nuts.
10. Fresh citrus juice squeezed over finished food is highly underrated and acts as an amazing flavor booster. Any type of seafood dish especially benefits from a squeeze of lemon while many spicy dishes are accented nicely by a squirt of lime juice. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
11. In tomorrow’s column, you’ll read about a flavor detected by the human tongue that many people do not know exists. Incorporating certain foods into your dishes will give them a new dimension that may negate the need for extra salt. Check back tomorrow for more!
Have you discovered any ways to reduce your sodium intake without sacrificing flavor? Do tell!