to the hardworking people…
I woke up this morning with Salt of the Earth playing in my head. I think I know why it is there; I lost a good friend this week, a man my family always referred to as “the salt of the earth”. I miss him.
Salt. If you’ve read this blog before, you know that I own up happily to being a salt snob. I think it is fascinating that salt from different parts of the world tastes, well, different. I have the good luck to live near a locally-owned grocery that has an *amazing* bulk foods selection, and among the spices and flours and nuts (oh my!!) there are several big glass jars of different kinds of salt.
There’s sea salt, aka “sel gris” from France, gray, moist and chunky and tasting slightly of low tide, there are a number of different smoked salts (who knew?) that taste of wood fires and autumn, and there is a bin of kosher salt which is slightly less, um, salty than the salt in the blue canister with the umbrella girl on it (which is good salt too, don’t get me wrong!).
I also discovered this week that my local dollar store sells sea salt in grinders that have twist off tops. This means that I can remove a portion of the salt, replace it with, oh, dried orange peel or maybe dried seaweed, or perhaps dried roasted garlic and oregano, or… you see, there’s no end to the possibilities!
The thing about salt is that it is an enhancer. Folks think they add salt because they like saltiness, and yes, that’s part of it, but salt makes everything just sing. A pinch of salt can bring a dish from “ok” to “oh wow” in a heartbeat.
But, too much salt and hearts do not always agree, as per the American Heart Association “Sodium has several functions in the food supply. Various forms of sodium, including sodium chloride or salt, are used as preservatives to inhibit the growth of food-borne pathogens (especially in luncheon meats, fermented foods, salad dressings, and cheese products). Sodium is also an essential nutrient used to modify flavor, plus it binds ingredients, enhances color, and serves as a stabilizer. Sodium is an essential nutrient, but very little is needed in the diet.”
Given all of that, some folks are told by their doctors to cut salt out of their diets. Scary, but far from impossible. Many canned and prepared foods are relatively high in salt, so going back to actually cooking your own food is a good start. I know, I know, it takes time you don’t have, but the trick is to make good sized batches of whatever, enjoy some and freeze the rest in appropriate portions. And, rather than salting everything as you cook, try adding just that pinch of salt at the table. It might do the trick!
Here’s a yummy, easy, low-salt chicken dish. I’m pretty sure that if you don’t tell folks there’s no added salt, they won’t miss it. Make a big batch and enjoy!
Xtreme Baked Chicken
1 onion, chopped
(1 tsp smoked paprika, optional)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 big bunch of kale or other greens, well washed
3 lbs fresh tomatoes, any variety
1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
6 chicken thighs, skin on
6 drumsticks, skin on
2 chicken breasts halved, skin on
1/4 C water
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Preheat your oven to 350.
In a large dutch oven, heat the olive oil and sautée the chopped onion. When the onion is almost translucent, add the garlic and cook a few more minutes (add the smoked paprika and stir well). Remove onion and garlic and set aside. Add the chicken to the pot (probably in two batches) and brown for 3 or 4 minutes on each side. Remove and set aside.
Add the kale or other greens to the pot, cook until well wilted. Add the beans and mix well. Add the onion/garlic back in and mix well. Add the lemon juice and chopped zest. Add the water and de-glaze any yummy bits from the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat.
Chop the tomatoes into roughly 1/2 of a cherry tomato-sized chunks. If you are using cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes, just halve them. For larger tomatoes, chop as necessary. This way all the tomato will cook evenly. No need to skin or seed (in my opinion, anyway).
Oil a 9 x 13 oven safe pan with olive oil. Put a layer of the greens/onion/beans mixture. Add a layer of the tomatoes and a good grinding of fresh pepper, then a layer of the chicken. Repeat, ending with a scattering of beans etc. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 1/2 hour. Remove the foil (careful of the steam!!), and bake for another 15-20 minutes.
Serve over rice with a good chunk of bread (for sopping, mmm!) and a green salad. There is a bit of salt in the canned beans and lemon juice is a flavor-enhancer and additional salt will not be missed.
Let me know what you think and bon appetit!