Garden, Plant, Cook!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

More Herbs, Less Salt Day

Dear Folks,

August 29th is designated as "More Herbs, Less Salt Day" and usually listed in the "wacky national day of' lists," but it is more than just a "something" to list for August 29th.

(You CAN find ‘something' on just about every day of the year if you are looking for a reason to throw a party.)

First, let me start by saying salt is not the enemy.  We need it to balance water/mineral levels in our bodies and to reduce bitterness in some foods.  Breads and grains would be almost like eating straight flour if you did not add some salt to the baking/cooking methods.

The problem is our tendency as human beings to overindulge in something.  If a little is good a lot must be better.  Given the ‘manufactured food' frenzy which began with the advent of convenience foods and TV dinners more than 5 decades ago, and has not abated at all,  it is no wonder that many of us simply got used to highly salted foods as the means good taste.  (Some health professionals even call it an addiction.)

Happily the "idea" of using herbs and spices has resurrected from almost obscurity (the bottle of really old Italian Seasoning in the back of the cupboard) to the current explosion of food shows and celebrity chefs doing amazing things with flavor-based seasoning.

What is a flavor-based seasoning?  Herbs and spices have a distinctive taste and scent which is imparted to foods cooked or prepared with them via the essential oils in those herbs and spices.  Those essential oils contain some of the common buzz words, "phenolic" "polyphenol"  "antioxidant" — vitamins C and E are types of  Phenolic., along with many other vitamins and minerals — most are considered antioxidant in effect.

If you would like some scientific and interesting history on "phenolic" read:

If you are familiar (many are by now) with the super antioxidant properties of blueberries it may surprise you to learn that Dark Opal Basil contains some of the same antioxidant properties.

FLAVOR FIRST: Chose, first, to flavor your food with herbs and spices, and then add salt to enhance it.

One of my favor examples are rosemary and lemon with any starchy food.  Traditionally, folks reached for the salt shaker with foods like potatoes or rice, because the flavor is mild to bland.  In experimenting years ago I discovered an natural affinity of rosemary to anything starchy — a perfect compliment of the flavor of the rosemary with foods like potatoes.  (Rosemary bread has become so common at restaurants, many diners expect it.)

When I started "talking up" the idea of rosemary with a baked potato, the usual response was - "it still needs salt."  So I went back to experimenting and discovered a spritz of fresh lemon juice on the hot baked potato with a sprinkle of crushed rosemary was so amazingly good, even my "meat and potatoes guy" had to admit it was just about perfect with just those two ingredients.  He's a salt-shaker guy so he won't give up the shaker, but did thoroughly enjoy that baked potato with out the salt.

Salt is considered a flavor enhancer — really in many cases it is a flavor ‘hider' particularly when the food is not tasty.  I see herbs and spices as being the real flavor enhances.  Things like the rosemary above make the basic flavor of the potato just jump out and sparkle.

Rosemary, garlic and black pepper are a combination which can improve anything on the grill or roasted, and anything starchy.

I don't suggest you throw the salt shaker out, but do suggest as I say to my guy when I've prepared the meal, taste it first because of the herbs and spices I've added and then reach for the shaker if you need it.

If you want to try and cut back on the salt and give your family an option, make your own seasoning salt with your favorite herb/spice blend.  Mix 10:1 parts of (10) seasoning to (1) salt.  If the seasoning is coarse, use kosher salt, if the seasoning is fine, use a fine sea salt.

Use that when experimenting and at the table.

I hope you celebrate not only today, but from now on with the flavor-power of herbs and spices.

A Note About My Books: Both my beginners gardening book and my cookbook are now available through ibookstore for your iPad or similar.

"Edible Landscaping In The Desert Southwest: Wheelbarrow to Plate"
"101+ Recipes From The Herb Lady"

And of course you can still purchase them through your favorite book seller in print.

Lectures Coming Up:

I have two food demo programs coming up at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum.  Details to follow but save the dates — there will be a small fee to attend, which covers materials and benefits the Arboretum.

October 9th, 2010, 2-4 p.m. Learn all about the history of salsas and make your own to take home.

November 20th, 2010 1-3 p.m. Tofu and Soybeans - not just for vegetarians.  Holiday food recipe ideas using tofu and edamame for the vegan, vegetarian and meat lover's vegetarian family and guests.

Check the calendar on the bottom of the blog for more details as we get closer.

Have a great day,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady