PURDUE EXTENSION COLUMNIST: Flavor your food without salt and sugar

I am sharing some of the information that I recently presented at two programs on “Flavor Without Salt and Sugar.” No salt and reduced salt eating are recommended for many who have blood pressure, heart disease and kidney issues. How much salt is recommended for a healthy person? The amount is 2,400 mg which is about 1 teaspoon. I encourage you to measure salt out and look at 1 teaspoon: it appears to be a lot. Another good experiment to try involves seeing what you do with a salt shaker. Don’t change your behavior for the next experiment. Have a bowl or container handy and every time you use the salt shaker first shake the salt shaker in the same manner as you would shake it on food into the bowl. At the end of the day, measure what you have shaken in the bowl. Often this amount is eye opening. The challenge beyond this is when we use convenience foods in our cooking as most have way too much added salt. In addition, when we eat out, most foods available to us have too much sodium added as well.

If you are on a sodium-restricted eating plan, it is very hard to eat out. When it comes to cooking, you need to cook and prepare foods that are in their closest to original form if you really want to limit the sodium.

In the process of reviewing information and organizing the program, I decided that we had to have some tastings. As a result, I ended up making some spice mixes as this is a for-sure way to reduce salt. Many commercial spice blends are high in sodium. For example, 1 teaspoon of garlic salt adds about 970 milligrams of sodium to a recipe while 1 teaspoon of garlic powder adds only 2 mg of sodium. Making your own spice blends or buying pre-made spice blends is a win-win idea that gives your food a pop of flavor while reducing your sodium intake. Herbs come from leaves of shrubs and spices come other parts of plants.

When cooking, make changes according to what you and your family enjoy when it comes to spices and herbs. Experiment with different amounts and varieties. I made this Mexican-seasoning blend as I wanted to use it to flavor bean dip and Mexican chicken soup. This is just a great seasoning to use vs. buying a package of taco seasoning where salt is the first ingredient.

MEXICAN SEASONING BLEND

½ tsp. onion powder

½ tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. paprika

1½ tsp. cumin

1½ tsp. dried parsley

1 T. chili powder

Here is a great chicken soup recipe that uses the Mexican seasoning blend. This is a soup recipe so you can be creative and add what you like. I was more than pleasantly surprised at the wonderful flavor in this soup. The only salt flavoring in my soup came from the salsa as I added water for the liquid instead of the reduced salt broth. This soup has lots of flavor. It gets better when reheated and it can be frozen.

MEXICAN CHICKEN SOUP

1 lb. of boneless chicken thighs

16 ounce jar of salsa

2 T. Mexican seasoning

2 cups cooked kidney beans or a 15 oz. can of kidney beans, drained and rinsed

2 cups cooked black beans or a 15 oz. can of black beans, drained and rinsed

1 medium onion chopped and sauteed

16 ounce bag of frozen corn

3 cups of water or reduced salt broth.

Brown and cook the chicken thighs and chopped onion, then cut the cooked chicken into small pieces. Place the chicken in the slow cooker or pan on stove. Add the salsa, kidney and black beans, corn, Mexican seasoning and 3 cups of reduced sodium chicken broth or water. Cook on low for 4 hours in the slow cooker or below simmer on stove. Serve garnished with shredded cheese, plain yogurt or sour cream.

Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross is a Purdue Extension educator in Elkhart County. She can be reached at 533-0554 or at lienhart@purdue.edu.

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