How to use other ingredients and reduce salt in cooking, Lifestyle News

Tasty cooking with less salt is possible, says chef Edward Chong, who runs the kitchen at Peach Blossoms, a Cantonese restaurant in Parkroyal Collection Marina Bay, Singapore.

Even before the Health Promotion Board urged Singaporeans to switch to low-sodium alternatives last month, the 39-year-old executive chef was already using less salt in his cooking.

He estimates that in two years, he managed to reduce his consumption of table salt by up to 80%.

He says, “Paying attention to the use of salt allows me to better express the flavors inherent in other products and ingredients.

That doesn’t mean serving bland dishes, he hastens to add. Instead, it derives flavor from high-quality, natural ingredients.

Last year he proposed a kombu broth so flavorful that when he uses it for dishes like abalone porridge, he doesn’t need to add any salt.

He shared the broth recipe, which calls for dried scallops, dried whelks and kombu from Japan, with his wife. The natural umami means she needs less salt and soy sauce when using the broth for dishes such as mee hoon kueh and steamed fish.

Chef Chong says his wife wants their two sons, ages 16 and 13, to eat healthier, but flavor still matters.

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According to dietitians, the recommended daily limit for sodium is 2,000 mg, which is equivalent to one teaspoon (5 g) of salt.

Taste buds can be retrained to enjoy low-sodium foods, says Ms. Ong Li Jiuen, 43, a dietary officer at Changi General Hospital.

She suggests trying the taste rehab challenge for a month: choose foods lower in sodium and eat more homemade meals with less salt or seasoning. Use fresh ingredients like vegetables for flavor.

Taste buds will adapt, she says, and develop less salt tolerance.

Cooking at home is ideal because you can reduce the amount of salt by using alternatives such as lemon juice and garlic, says Dr. Kalpana Bhaskaran, president of the Nutrition and Dietetics Association of Singapore.

Dr. Bhaskaran, who also heads Temasek Polytechnic’s Glycemic Index Research Unit, suggests leaner cuts of meat as another option to boost flavor while cutting fat.

Herbs and spices also enhance the flavor. Ms. Siew Yu Yao, 27, a dietitian at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, suggests using curry leaves, bay leaves, cumin seeds, ginger, garlic, shallot and coriander.

Substitutes for salt

Celery

Celery contains vitamins A and C and is a good source of minerals and antioxidants. Its leaves and stems add flavor and sweetness to dishes.

Tomato

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Tomatoes contain an antioxidant called lycopene and are a rich source of folate and vitamins C and K.

Thanks to their full, “meaty” flavor, which comes from a high load of glutamates, tomatoes are used in condiments such as ketchup and pasta sauces.

Corn

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A good source of vitamin B1 and dietary fiber, corn adds sweetness to dishes like soups with its sucrose and umami flavor.

Onion

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Filled with vitamins, flavonoids and phytochemicals, onions are high in glutamate, which makes them tasty.

Carrot

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Carrots can be eaten raw as well as sautéed or simmered in soups. This versatile vegetable adds sweetness and color to dishes.

Mushrooms

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Packed with B vitamins, folate, minerals and antioxidants essential for a strong immune system, mushrooms contain glutamate and bring a strong earthy flavor to dishes.

Fresh or dried mushrooms provide flavor, but glutamate is more concentrated in dried mushrooms, giving them more umami.

Spices

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Ground cumin, coriander, turmeric and garam masala have an unmistakable aroma and flavor. These spices work well in marinades and curries.

But be careful with the garam masala. Dr. Bhaskaran notes that the salt content of the spice mix can vary between brands and some contain a considerable amount of sodium, from 146mg to 765mg of sodium per teaspoon.

So check the nutrition information panel and choose a mix with no added salt or no sodium or salt content.

Yogurt

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Some recipes call for salt as a tenderizer, but yogurt works just as well and has less sodium. The spiciness of yogurt also adds complexity to dishes.

A versatile staple, it can also be used to replace coconut milk in curries and mayonnaise in salad dressings.

Lime juice

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A natural flavor enhancer, lime juice contains minimal sodium. The pungent acidity helps tone down the fishy taste of seafood.

Other than a marinade, it can be used for salad dressings and dips.

Low sodium salt, sauces and seasoning

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For a product to be classified as low in sodium, it must contain less than 120 mg of sodium per 100 g.

If a product is labeled “no salt added” or “unsalted”, the ingredient list must not contain sodium chloride, sodium compounds, or any ingredient containing added sodium chloride or other sodium compounds .

Dried seafood

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Kombu (dried kelp), dried scallops and dried whelks provide umami flavors.

When a dish has layers of well-balanced and complex natural flavors, there is less need for salt to enhance the taste or cover the meat game.

Sources: Ms. Ong Li Jiuen, Chief Dietetics Officer at Changi General Hospital; Ms. Siew Yu Yao, Dietitian at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital; Dr. Kalpana Bhaskaran, President of the Nutrition and Dietetics Association of Singapore and Head of the Glycemic Index Research Unit at Temasek Polytechnic; and Mr. Edward Chong, Executive Chef of Peach Blossoms at Parkroyal Collection Marina Bay, Singapore.

Recipes Using Salt Alternatives

ABC Chicken Soup

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In this recipe from the Food Services Department of Changi General Hospital, this nourishing soup is packed with vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber.

For more flavor, blend half of the cooked vegetables before adding them to the soup. The soup is also suitable for babies, children and the elderly. For a vegetarian version, replace the meat with tofu for protein.

Ingredients

1.2 liters of water

250 g chicken breast, remove the skin and cut into bite-sized pieces

Two tomatoes (200g), quartered

One whole ear of corn (340g), cut into four to five parts

Two carrots (200g), peeled and cut into small pieces

Two stalks of celery (200g), chopped

Two medium russet potatoes (300g), peeled and cut into small pieces

One medium sized onion (150g), peeled and cut into small wedges

1 tablespoon goji berries, soaked (optional)

Half teaspoon of pepper

A quarter of a teaspoon of salt

Method

1. Bring water to a boil in a saucepan.

2. Add the chicken and boil for five minutes.

3. Skim off the scum and add the tomatoes, corn, carrots, celery, potatoes and onion.

4. Cover and simmer over low heat for about 40 minutes.

5. Add the gojis, if any, and boil for one minute.

6. Season with salt and pepper.

7. Serve hot.

Makes five servings.

Fish tikka

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In this recipe by Mrs. Siew Yu Yao, Dietitian at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, there is no need to use salt as the spices will give enough flavor to the fish. Serve this hot dish with brown rice and a side of vegetables to complete your meal.

Ingredients

390g low-fat yoghurt

Two tablespoons of turmeric

1.5 teaspoons ground coriander

1.5 teaspoons ground cumin

Two teaspoons of garam masala

Three tablespoons of lime juice

300g white fish fillets

Two tablespoons of oil

Method

1. In a medium bowl, combine yogurt, turmeric, cilantro, cumin, garam masala and lime juice.

2. Marinate the fish in the mixture for at least 25 minutes.

3. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat.

4. Add the marinated fish fillets. Cook for five minutes, then turn the fillets.

5. Cover and cook fish for another two minutes or until cooked through.

Makes four servings.

Whole braised bichon with chicken

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This recipe from the Health Promotion Board uses ingredients such as mushrooms, cilantro, and chili to add a variety of flavors to this dish, which also uses salt and low-sodium seasonings.

Ingredients

400g lean chicken

600ml low sodium chicken broth

50 g dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked until tender

Three tablespoons of low-sodium oyster sauce

A tablespoon of healthier dark soy sauce

Half a tablespoon of healthier ketchup

25g cornstarch mixed with boiled water

500g of whole grains bichon

200 g leafy green vegetables, sliced

A teaspoon of healthier oil

A pinch of low sodium salt

Four teaspoons of sesame oil

A teaspoon of fried shallot crisps for garnish

A tablespoon of chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

1 red chilli, chopped for garnish

Method

1. Boil the chicken in the chicken broth. Cool, slice and reserve for later use.

2. Boil mushrooms with oyster sauce, dark soy sauce and ketchup. Take out the mushrooms when they are puffy and cut them into thick slices.

3. Bring the rest of the sauce to a boil. Add the cornstarch slurry to thicken the sauce.

4. While the sauce is reducing, blanch the bichon in hot water until tender. Drain and reserve.

5. Blanch the green vegetables in hot water with a little oil and a pinch of salt. Drain and reserve.

6. Throw it away bichon sesame oil and drizzle with sauce.

7. Top with chicken, mushrooms, greens, shallot chips, fresh cilantro and chopped chili before serving.

Makes four servings.

Kombu Stock

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This recipe is from Executive Chef Edward Chong, Peach Blossoms. Use this broth in place of a chicken-based broth for porridge, noodles, clay rice or stir-fries.

For a vegetarian version, remove the dried scallops, dried whelk and bonito flakes, and replace them with a whole cob of corn.

Ingredients

50g dried scallops

100g dried whelks

four liters of water

200g kombu (dried kelp)

60g dried bonito flakes

200 ml cooking sake

Half tablespoon of Japanese sesame oil

Method

1. Put the dried scallops, the dried whelk and the water in a pot.

2. Bring to a boil.

3. Add the kombu and simmer for 30 minutes.

4. Add dried bonito flakes, cooking sake and sesame oil.

5. Turn off the heat, cover and let the mixture sit for 15-20 minutes.

6. Filter the kombu stock and it is ready to use.

Makes 10 servings

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.

Freeda S. Scott