Tuesday, January 31, 2012

I Get By With (No Salt and) A Little Help From My Friends

What are our friends for, if not to push us out of our comfort zone? My good buddy Jess aka Sodium Girl was kind enough to do that when she looped me into her Sodium Free Recipe Rally of 2012.

For full disclosure, salt and I have a very loving relationship. My favorite candy is salty black licorice. I'm the daughter of a man who used to get caught with his little hand in the pickle barrel at the grocery store, and the sister of a man who traipsed around Turkey with jars of pickled vegetables tied in plastic bags to the outside of his backpack. Because I'm not in the habit of eating processed foods, I feel comfortable salting the food I make at home without hesitation; I channel chef friends when I cook, hovering my hand above a dish and liberally showering it with a salty downpour.

So when Jess challenged me to cook a meal salt-free, one that I otherwise would salt, I went for a recipe from the weeknight meal arsenal, enough part of my routine that I'd theoretically miss the salt if it didn't come to the table. I chose my sister Dana's Winter Lentil Soup.

The key is using power house spices (here it's cumin and curry) until you forget the salt. Oh yeah, and that little gift to man called chili pepper flakes. I'm obsessed with all things chili these days (cue the plane tickets to Korea burning a whole in my drawer until May)! Those flavors plus a certain salinity I swear I taste in the collard greens (is this possible? is this allowed?) made my sister's recipe proud, no salt needed.

Dana's Winter Lentil Soup

1. Saute 1 diced yellow onion in olive oil in a sauce pan over medium heat.
2. After a couple minutes, add 2-3 diced celery ribs and 2-3 diced carrots.
3. Once the mirepoix is soft, add about 4-5 cloves diced garlic, give a quick stir, then add 1.5-2 quarts of any salt-free broth you choose (Jess's favorite is mushroom stock; I've made tasty fava stocks using the empty pods).
4. Add 1 lb rutabaga or turnips, peeled and cut into half-inch cubes, and 3/4 cup lentils (I like French green lentils--their small shape makes them chewy, and the range of colors is so pretty).
5. Bring to a boil and then right away reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 30 minutes.
6. Add cumin, curry powder, and red chili pepper flakes to taste.
7. When the lentils are about 5 minutes away from chewy-soft and ready to eat, add in a head of collards or kale (for either, cut away the stems first--I recommend gnawing on them while you cook--and tear up the leaves roughly before throwing them in the pot).
8. Stir a couple more minutes, do one more taste check for spice level, and ladle into bowls.
9. I recommend topping with toasted walnuts for a nice nuttiness and crunch, but that's because I recommend topping EVERYTHING with toasted walnuts!

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