January 16, 2008

Herbs, Spices and Lemon Juice Can Replace Salt Habit

Being on a low-salt diet -- whether it's to reduce the risk of high blood pressure or heart disease -- doesn't mean giving up flavorful food.

Just keep it natural, says Michael Marchetti, chef and general manager at Columbus Park Trattoria in Stamford.

"I'm very cognizant of this," he says, chopping zucchini, potatoes and cabbage and mixing them in a pot with heated olive oil for last Friday's minestrone special.

"I take low-dose blood-pressure medicine, so there are foods I have to avoid. I watch the salt. But most of the sodium comes from a box or a can."

There is science to back up what Marchetti says.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences say the average adult needs no more than 2,300 mg of sodium daily to regulate the balance of fluids in the body.

Robert Stark, a cardiologist and medical director of the Cardiovascular Prevention Program at Greenwich Hospital, says the average American ingests triple that.

The Mayo Clinic says Americans take in about 77 percent of their daily sodium from packaged and processed foods, compared to 5 percent added while cooking, 6 percent added while eating and 12 percent from natural sources.

Part of the problem lies in how the salt flavor is hidden, says Lisa Corrado, a nutritionist and personal chef who specializes in nutritional counseling through her business, The Eating Well Center in New Canaan.

Because sodium is added as a preservative, it is found in high doses in canned foods, frozen meals and restaurant food. "But people don't think of the salt because it doesn't taste too salty," she says.

Thinking about healthy sodium levels, and re-evaluating meal preparation and food shopping takes work, concedes Corrado, but good health depends on it.

Ask Kathy Kenyon, a Darien pediatric nurse whose husband had two heart attacks in 1989 and underwent heart transplant surgery more than five years ago.

"After his heart attack, I became conscious of the hidden sodium," says Kenyon. "Even a glass of milk, even skim, has 130 mg of sodium.

"I would make chili and use canned beef broth. Even the low-sodium is up there. That doesn't include the natural salt from the chicken and the salt that you're adding to it."

With the help of the "American Heart Association Cookbook," Kenyon learned to cut out much of the processed and canned food the family was used to eating. They learned to eat more fruit and vegetables as snacks. Today, much of what she makes is from scratch, and the family has discovered the flavors that were hidden by all the extra sodium.

Many find the disovery pleasing once their palates adjust, says Corrado.

Italian cuisine, says Marchetti, with its focus on natural ingredients used in homemade pastas, sauces, breads and soups, lends itself to celebrating natural flavors.

Marchetti says he draws much of his menu from his family's culinary legacy, which, as a bonus, keeps the sodium intake to the healthy levels naturally found in the meats, fowl, fish, vegetables, legumes, flours and dairy.

Marchetti, who seasons some dishes with a pinch or two of salt to enhance flavor, says he uses kosher salt to avoid the iodine found in refined salt.

Corrado and Kenyon say there are ways to season without salt.

"The idea is to find a way to make flavors bigger and brighter, not to replace them," says Corrado, who lists lemon or orange juice, garlic powder, pepper, coffee, vinegars, thyme, cilantro, basil, oregano, rosemary, sage, curry powder, dill or paprika as alternatives.

"If you like food spicy, add some hot peppers," she suggests. "If you like it sweet, how about a little honey?"

Avoid bouillon cubes, cooking sherry or cooking wine, chili sauce, meat tenderizer, seasoned salts, soy sauce, steak sauce, tamari and Worcestershire sauce, says the American Heart Association.

When shopping, stick to the perimeter of the store, where produce, meats, fish, fowl, dairy and breads are found, says Corrado. Select low-sodium or sodium-free alternatives -- including spice mixes -- wherever possible.

Be aware of such high-sodium culprits, say Stokes and Corrado, as canned broth and soup, lunch meats, frozen pizza, tomato juice, potato chips, pickles, pretzels, olives and ketchup.

"You must read the labels on everything," says Corrado. "Read the nutritional facts, not the marketing on the front."

For an item to be considered low-salt, says Milton Stokes, a Stamford dietitian and nutritionist, it should contain no more than 140 mg of sodium per serving. A low-salt claim on the front, explains Corrado, can mislead a consumer to believe the item is low-sodium when instead, it may only contain less sodium than its full-sodium match.

Offset the sodium in canned or prepared foods by draining and rinsing canned beans and opting for frozen fruit and vegetables over canned varieties. "Just toss out the sauce or spice packet if there is one," she says.

Corrado suggests not saving time by buying already stuffed or marinated meats. "Buy your meat and fish plain and make your own marinade," she says. "You can't determine how much salt a store marinade has."

When baking, salt cannot be avoided, since it acts as a leavening agent. "It's all chemistry," says Corrado. "That's tough to take out. So I opt for, say, a fruit dessert with a crumble topping. It doesn't need to rise."

Too much salt may still slip by, regardless of effort, says Corrado.

"Just drink more water," she says. "That naturally flushes the sodium."



Bolognese Sauce

4 Tblsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium carrot, diced very fine

2 celery ribs, diced very fine

1u2 onion, diced very fine

1 lb. ground veal

2 cups red wine

2 bay leaves

2 Tblsp. chopped flat Italian parsley

16 oz. crushed, peeled tomatoes

--Heat olive oil in a large sauce pot. Add carrots, celery and onions. Stir until vegetables become lightly browned. Add ground veal to the pot stirring, continuously until all the meat is crumbled and brown. Use a spoon to remove any excess oil. Add the red wine and allow the liquid to simmer for about 5 minutes. Add the bay leaves and chopped parsley.

--Add the crushed tomatoes and simmer over a medium flame for 25-35 minutes. Makes 8 servings.

- Michael and Frank Marchetti, Columbus Park Trattoria, Stamford, and Osteria Applausi, Old Greenwich


Extra-virgin olive oil

1u4 lb. prosciutto, diced (optional)

1 medium onion, diced small

2 small carrots, diced small

3 ribs celery, diced small

1u2 green cabbage, diced small

1 8-oz. can red beans, drained and rinsed

1 8-oz. can white beans, drained and rinsed

1 8 oz. can chick peas drained

2 Tblsp. Italian flat parsley, chopped

2 bay leaves

1 6-oz. can crushed tomatoes

2 potatoes, diced small

1 green zucchini, diced small

1 yellow squash, diced small


--Heat oil in a stock pot. Add the prosciutto and onion. When the onion begins to soften, add the carrots, celery and cabbage. Stir for a few minutes. Add the beans and season with parsley and bay leaves. Add the crushed tomatoes. Add the potatoes, zucchini and squash. Stir them so that they begin to absorb some of the flavor of the other vegetables. Add more olive oil if necessary. Add enough water to cover the top of the vegetables. Simmer over a low-to-medium flame for 35-40 minutes. Makes 10-12 servings.

- Michael and Frank Marchetti, Columbus Park Trattoria, Stamford, and Osteria Applausi, Old Greenwich

Chicken Bosoms with Basil Sauce

3 large chicken breasts, boneless and skinless

1u4 cup mayonnaise

1u2 cup fat-free Greek yogurt

2 Tblsp. fresh lemon juice

1u2 cup fresh basil

--Cover chicken with water by 1 inch, bring to a boil and simmer about 18 minutes. Turn burner off and steep about 11 minutes. Take them out of the water, cool in the refrigerator.

--Mix rest of ingredients in a blender and set aside for 6 hours in the refrigerator.

--Remove cooled chicken from the refrigerator and split breasts at an angle. Pour sauce over the cooled, sliced chicken and serve. Makes 6 servings.

- Kathy Kenyon

Lemon Crumb Fish

11u4 lbs. white fish fillets, sole, cod or grouper

Zest and juice from one medium lemon

2 slices sandwich bread, torn into pieces

Canola oil cooking spray

--Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

--Place the fish fillets on a cookie sheet.

--Combine the lemon zest and bread pieces in a mini food processor. Process briefly until crumbs form.

--Sprinkle the lemon juice over the fish fillets. Spread the bread crumbs evenly over the fish fillets. Spray lightly with canola oil spray.

--Bake until fish is just opaque, about 10 minutes for thin fillets. Makes 4 servings.

- Lisa Corrado, Eating Well

Citrusy Sweet Potatoes

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

Zest and juice of one orange

--Place cubed sweet potatoes in a soup pot, add cold water to cover by 2 inches. Bring water to a boil and cook potatoes until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain well and add back to the pot.

--Mash sweet potatoes with a potato masher. Stir in orange zest and juice. Makes 4-6 servings.

- Lisa Corrado, Eating Well

Pear Crisp


6 ripe pears, peeled and sliced

1 Tblsp. fresh lemon juice

1 12-oz. bag frozen cherries

2 Tblsp. all-purpose flour

2 Tblsp. granulated sugar


1u4 cup all-purpose flour

1u4 cup light brown sugar

1 Tblsp. granulated sugar

1u4 tsp. ground cloves or allspice or apple pie spice

1u2 cup rolled oats

2 Tblsp. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Canola oil cooking spray

--Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

--In a large bowl, toss the pear slices with the lemon juice. Add the cherries, flour and sugar; toss well to combine. Transfer to a 2-quart baking dish and place baking dish on a cookie sheet.

--To make the topping, blend the flour, sugars, spice and oats together. Work the butter through the topping until it resembles large crumbs. Sprinkle the filling evenly with the topping. Spray topping lightly with canola oil spray.

--Bake the crisp until it's bubbly and topping is browned, 30-40 minutes. Let cool slightly before enjoying. Makes 8 servings.

- Lisa Corrado, Eating Well

Ginger Marinated Grilled Portobello Mushrooms

4 large portobello mushrooms

1u4 cup balsamic vinegar

1u2 cup pineapple juice

2 Tblsp. chopped fresh ginger, peeled

1 Tblsp. chopped fresh basil

--Clean mushrooms with a damp cloth and remove stems. Place in a glass dish, stemless side up.

--To prepare the marinade, whisk together the vinegar, pineapple juice and ginger in a small bowl. Drizzle the marinade over the mushrooms. Cover and let marinate in the refrigerator for about 1 hour, turning mushrooms once.

--Prepare a hot fire in a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill or broiler. Away from the heat source, lightly coat the grill rack or broiler pan with cooking spray. Position the cooking rack 4-6 inches from the heat source.

--Grill or broil the mushrooms on medium heat, turning often, until tender, about 5 minutes on each side. Baste with marinade to keep from drying out. Using tongs, transfer the mushrooms to a serving platter. Garnish with basil and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings. Serving size: 1 mushroom. Calories: 69; cholesterol: 0; protein: 4g; sodium: 10mg; carbohydrate: 14g; fiber: 2g; total fat: 0; potassium: 778mg; saturated fat: 0; calcium: 19mg; monounsaturated fat: 0

- Mayo Clinic

Asian Pork Tenderloin

Cooking spray

2 Tblsp. sesame seeds

1 tsp. ground coriander

1u8 tsp. cayenne pepper

1u8 tsp. celery seed

1u2 tsp. minced onion

1u4 tsp. ground cumin

1u8 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 Tblsp. sesame oil

1 lb. pork tenderloin, sliced into 4 4-oz. portions

--Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat a baking dish with cooking spray.

--In a heavy frying pan, add the sesame seeds in a single layer. Over low heat, cook the seeds, stirring constantly, until they look golden and give off a noticeably toasty aroma, about 1-2 minutes. Remove the seeds from the pan to cool.

--In a bowl, add the coriander, cayenne pepper, celery seed, minced onion, cumin, cinnamon, sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds. Stir to mix evenly.

--Place the pork tenderloin in the prepared baking dish. Rub the spices on both sides of the pork pieces. Bake until no longer pink, about 15 minutes. Or bake until a meat thermometer reaches 160 degrees (medium) or 170 degrees (well-done).

--Transfer the pork tenderloin to warmed plates. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.Nutritional analysis per serving: Calories: 196; cholesterol: 74mg; protein: 25g; sodium: 57mg; carbohydrate: trace; fiber: 0; total fat: 10g; potassium: 442mg; saturated fat: 2g; calcium: 53mg; monounsaturated fat: 3g.

- Mayo Clinic

Rigatoni With Broccoli and Garlic

1u3 lb. rigatoni noodles

1 cup broccoli florets

2 Tblsp. Parmesan cheese

2 tsp. olive oil

2 tsp. minced garlic

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

--Fill a large pot 3u4 full with water and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until tender, 10-12 minutes, or according to the package directions. Drain the pasta thoroughly.

--While the pasta is cooking, in a pot fitted with a steamer basket, bring 1 inch of water to a boil. Add the broccoli, cover and steam until tender, about 10 minutes.

--In a large bowl, combine the cooked pasta and broccoli. Toss with Parmesan cheese, olive oil and garlic. Season with pepper to taste. Serve immediately. Makes 2 servings. Nutritional analysis per serving: calories: 358; cholesterol: 4mg; protein: 13g; sodium: 97mg; carbohydrate: 60g; fiber: 3g; total fat: 7g; potassium: 278mg; saturated fat: 2g; calcium: 95mg

- Mayo Clinic