Getting bored in the kitchen happens, and finding interesting ideas can be a handful. Limiting ourselves to pursue new culinary territory might seem like a good way to just get out of a rut, but it can also apply to real world nutritional needs. There are an awful lot of customers we see who can no longer have certain loved ingredients, due to health problems or newly discovered allergies. Yet the removal of an important ingredient doesn’t mean that bland or lifeless food is the only option, it just takes a little work and ironically, a little restraint.
I recently took a trip back to the fair state of Michigan to visit with family, it was my brother’s residency graduation dinner and a rare prospect to see my grandfather. My grandfather has been having some problems with his heart, so I cherish every opportunity I get to see him. Yet he was absent from the dinner, his condition has worsened to the point that he can no longer descend the two short steps outside of his own house. I love my grandfather, his health and well being means the world to me, but the thought of him being prisoner to eating his wife’s flavorless cooking hits me the hardest.
Heart disease seems to effect someone in all of our lives, and it can be said that the last words anyone wishes to hear from their doctor is “low-sodium diet”. At the Spice House, we encounter countless customers who have been forced to remove sodium from their diet, seeking out our tasty salt-free spice blends. Removing salt from a daily diet is tough, as I’ve noted in previous blog postings, sodium is a potent flavor enhancer and a staple ingredient in just about every cuisine. Finding worthwhile alternatives for salt is no picnic, but it doesn’t mean that someone on a salt free diet can’t enjoy a picnic!
So for this edition of Cooking Restraint, I’ve gone about creating a seasonal salt-free dish, in honor of my grandfather. Instead of removing salt from foods we love, it can be a whole lot easier to come up with new foods that didn’t really need salt in the first place. Rather than relying on the flavor enhancing properties of sodium, I’ve turned to other culinary tricks to enhance flavor. The sensation of heat has long been used as a great way to open taste buds, using fresh or dried chile peppers in moderation can bolster foods’ flavors in ways remarkably similar to salt. Just a dash of cayenne can invigorate a dish without making it “hot”, much in the same way we add horseradish on a roast beef sandwich. Balancing heat, sour, and sweet flavors in a single dish can offer just the same flavorful enjoyment that we usually seek out in more prevalent sweet and salty dishes.
This time of year, the blazing hot summer, I always start to crave gazpacho, the cold bread filled tomato soup from Spain. Around the summer of 2006, I had the pleasure of dining at “La Vieille Fontaine” in the city of Avignon, where they started the meal with a superb modern interpretation of gazpacho. Marrying watermelon with the tomato puree, Chef Bruno d’Angélis creates a flavorful albeit untraditional gazpacho. I didn’t have a chance to pry the recipe out of d’Angélis, but I’ve used his concept of pairing watermelon and tomato as a great base for a refreshing salt free summer soup. Blending these together with extra virgin olive oil, a clove of garlic, lemon juice, champagne vinegar, some fresh chile peppers, and a few other herbs and spices yielded a truly crave worthy soup. Mellowed with coconut water and served with cucumber and a fresh baguette, this modern gazpacho pleases without the need of a single grain of salt. Here’s the recipe:
Saltless Watermelon Gazpacho
- 2 medium tomatoes
- 1 large seedless watermelon slice
- 2 hot fresh finger chile peppers (or your favorite kind)
- 1 clove of fresh garlic
- 1/4 cup high quality extra virgin olive oil
- Juice of 1 fresh lemon
- 2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
- 1/4 cup coconut water
- 1 seedless cucumber
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon dried spearmint leaves
- 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
To prepare: Roughly dice tomatoes, garlic, chiles, and watermelon, reserve a few pieces of watermelon and chiles to garnish. In a blender, pour olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, with garlic and chiles. Blend until well combined. Add a black pepper, coriander, spearmint, and half of the cayenne pepper. Fill the rest of the blender with watermelon, tomatoes, then coconut water. Blend until watermelon is smooth but tomatoes still have body. Slice cucumbers, place evenly into soup bowls. Pour soup over cucumbers, float some reserved watermelon and remaining cayenne pepper to garnish. Serve with fresh baguette. Enjoy immediately!