A diet overloaded with salt can contribute to high blood pressure, or hypertension. We don't like to think about it, because salt makes food taste good, but about 50 million Americans suffer from hypertension. On the other hand, salt is an essential nutrient that helps keep our bodies in working order.
The government recommends consuming no more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium daily for healthy people, which is equal to a heaping teaspoon of salt. Naturally, low-sodium diets cap salt intake at a much lower level, about 1,500 milligrams a day. The problem is, most of us are ingesting between 4,000 and 5,000 milligrams per day due to our reliance on processed foods and eating out.
Experts say that we get used to a certain level of saltiness through repeated experience.
You can change your taste for salt by cutting back, but it will take time, about two to four months.
A Charleston reader recently asked for help after her doctor told her to severely limit salt in her diet. "I live alone and do not usually cook in large quantities. Do any of your readers know low-sodium recipes or products? Very few of the ones I've tried are tasty enough to use again."
Molly Belbusti of James Island can relate. More than 30 years ago, her husband was put on low- to no-sodium diet. At the top of the list of things to do or expect was to eat a good meal and prepare to spend 4-5 hours in a supermarket of choice. They were told to check the sodium content of everything they usually bought, and then find a replacement with one-half to one-quarter of the sodium content when available.
Molly says she started buying Mrs. Dash, the only seasoning with no salt available at the time. She also began experimenting on her own with different herbs and spices. It took her more than six months to achieve something palatable that her husband would eat, and shopping was more costly, she says.
These are some of her recommendations:
-- On pork, use no-salt-added lemon pepper, garlic and rosemary. Cumin, a dash of paprika, a small amount of ground nutmeg or curry powder all enhance the flavor, too.
-- For chicken, you can season with sage, but sparingly. She also likes lemon pepper, curry powder and garlic. If using granulated garlic (powder form), get the kind without salt.
-- "All beef is excellent marinated in a good red wine with fresh garlic, rosemary and a dash of low-sodium soy sauce," she says. Marinate at least two to four hours. Remove from marinade and add lots of coarse ground pepper, then broil.
-- With fish, use lemon slices and dill. For salmon, season with garlic (lightly), dill, lemon and butter, wrap in foil and grill. Salmon also may be broiled.
-- Vegetables: Mash potatoes with garlic and a small amount of diced prosciutto ham, or powdered ranch dressing. Eat lots of salad, using cauliflower, broccoli, summer squash, zucchini or romaine lettuce; sprinkle Italian spices over the vegetables and dress with oil and vinegar. Broil zucchini and summer squash (quartered) with garlic butter, fresh ground pepper and pinch of salt or small amount of lemon juice. Grill halved tomatoes topped with Italian bread crumbs, fresh pecorino Romano cheese, garlic and several drops of olive oil.
Molly also says low-sodium chicken and beef broth also have given them good results, especially with rice, potatoes, pasta and tortellini. "Of course, if you have the time, making your own broth and freezing it in ice cube trays is so much better. "I try to measure the amount going into the trays, so I have a better idea of how many cubes to freeze together. That way, if I need 1 cup, 1 quart or 1 gallon, the bags are marked and I just empty them into the pan or pot."
Jeane Fox of Summerville suggests two books, "Secrets of Salt-Free Cooking, A Complete Low-Sodium Cookbook" by Jeanne Jones, and "The NO-SALT Cookbook" by David C. Anderson and Thomas D. Anderson.
Here is her favorite recipe from the books:
Baked Spaghetti Squash with Marinara Sauce
1 spaghetti squash
1 tablespoon oil
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the squash in half with heavy knife and remove and discard the seeds. (You may cut it crosswise or lengthwise; the latter will give you longer strands.) Place the halves, cut side down, in an oiled baking dish. Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 1 hour, or until fork-tender. Remove from the oven and pull the cooked flesh in strands from the skin with a fork.
1 (28-ounce) can of salt-free or no-salt-added whole peeled tomatoes
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 cloves sliced garlic
2 basil leaves
1 teaspoon Italian spice
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Cracked pepper to taste
Roughly chop or flash-blend tomatoes in a blender or processor. Cover bottom of 2-quart sauce pan with olive oil. Simmer garlic slices in oil; before garlic browns, add tomatoes and remaining spices. Simmer 20 minutes.
Use squash as the "spaghetti" and pour sauce over. Top with a low-fat, low-salt shredded cheese.
Stan Lechwar of Georgetown offers something adapted from recipesource.com for Von Mansolf of Merritt Island, Fla. Van asked for a chicken salad recipe that includes sour cream.
Peachtree Street Chicken Salad
3 chicken breasts
1/2 cup pecans, toasted
2 ripe medium peaches
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon brown sugar
Green leaf lettuce for serving
Place chicken in a saucepan, breast side down, in 1-1/2 inches of water. Cover. Simmer for 20 minutes until chicken is fork-tender. Cool. Cut into bite-size pieces. During this time, toast pecans in oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Coarsely break up.
Pare peaches, if desired. Cut into 3/4-inch pieces. In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice, salt, pepper and brown sugar. Toss gently with the chicken, pecans and peaches. Serve on a bed of green leaf lettuce.
Yield: 4 servings.
Ruth Reeves of Cottageville offers another version:
1 large baking hen, cooked and cut in small pieces
6 eggs, boiled and cut up
1/2 rib celery, cut in small pieces
2 tablespoons grated onion
1/2 cup diced pickle
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 ounces softened cream cheese (see cook's note)
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook's note: May use sour cream or mayonnaise in place of cream cheese. "Sometimes I use 3 ounces of cream cheese plus 1/2 cup sour cream," Ruth says.
Mix chicken, eggs, celery, onion, pickle and lemon juice. Add softened cream cheese and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve as salad or make into sandwiches.
Barbara Tuggle of North Charleston asked for a chicken bog recipe. Chicken bog, which is kin to pilau/perloo, is a specialty of Horry County and the Pee Dee area. It's basically chicken and rice cooked with sausage or bacon and spices, but recipes vary quite a bit.
The dish is synonymous with the biannual Democratic stump at the Holliday family's general store in Galivants Ferry, but it's also a regular at Fourth of July and other holiday get-togethers.
Peggy Joseph of Charleston sends Fred Downs' recipe from the "Gracious Goodness Charles-ton" cookbook. Downs formerly was a coach and teacher at Bishop England High School, but is now principal at First Baptist Church School in Mount Pleasant.
"I was going to chat with him, but the secretary said he was with students," Peggy writes. "I told her what I was going to do and she laughed and said, 'Oh, yes, Fred's Chicken Bog -- it has become legend.' "
Fred's Chicken Bog
4 skinned chicken breasts (floured)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1/2 pound smoked ham
1 large link Kielbasa sausage, cut into slices, then quartered
3 cloves garlic, chopped
Pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 bay leaf
2 cups raw rice
4 cups chicken stock
Lightly flour chicken and cook in olive oil until well-browned and remove. Add onions, green pepper, ham, sausage and garlic and cook until onions and green pepper are soft. Meanwhile, debone chicken. Transfer all ingredients to a large stockpot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook at least 30 minutes, but bog is better after cooking an hour. Serves 6-8.
Oscar Vick of Charleston makes chicken do double-duty for bog and salad.
"This is a delightful hour spent in the kitchen when you can 'kill two birds with one stone,' " he says.
Chicken Pilau (Bog) and Chicken Salad
1 quart of water
8 boneless chicken breasts, cut into quarters
1 teaspoon lemon pepper
1 teaspoon celery salt
Dash of red pepper
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Preliminary steps: In a Dutch oven, bring the water to a boil. Add the chicken and the seasonings. Let mixture come to a boil. Reduce to simmer.
Gently add the eggs. Cover tightly. Simmer for 35 minutes.
Remove the eggs and 1/2 of the cooked chicken to a salad bowl. (This is for the salad.)
For the bog:
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped bell pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
2 cups raw rice
1/2 pound thinly sliced fried Italian sausage (mild, or other sausage of choice)
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Add bog ingredients to the chicken and broth mixture in the Dutch oven. Heat on high; when mixture comes to a roaring boil, reduce to simmer and cover tightly. Place pot into oven and bake for 1 hour.
For the salad:
6 boiled eggs (see above)
Cooked chicken breasts (see above)
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons Duke's mayonnaise
1/2 cup finely diced celery
1/2 cup finely diced parsley
1/2 cup finely diced bell pepper
1/2 cup finely diced sweet onions
Remove the boiled eggs from the chicken and peel. Chop eggs and mix them with the chicken. Add remaining salad ingredients.
Note: Add more mayonnaise if salad is too dry.
"I add some garlic powder, but this is optional," Oscar says. "Also, you may add mixed nuts, sweet pickle relish and diced olives with pimiento."
Also thanks to Martha Broom of Charleston, who stews a whole hen with link sausages as the basis for her bog.
WHO'S GOT THE RECIPE?
-- We continue to seek the recipe for another style of chicken salad. Romona LaBrasca of James Island wants one with grapes, apples and walnuts or pecans.
-- A co-worker from West Ashley requests recipes for banana cream pie and for steak teriyaki that doesn't use bottled sauce.
-- Dorothy Spencer of Charles-ton would like a recipe for hot wings made with lime juice and tequila.
-- Carole Stukes of Strawberry writes: "I would like to see if any of your readers could provide a couple of recipes from the old Colony Bakery on King Street -- a coconut cake with layers inside with lemon curd or lemon pudding between layers. Also an iced fruit bar. These recipes were so good."
-- Nancy Stuckey of Pinopolis also is looking for a bakery recipe. She would like to find the recipe for the whipped cream cake made by Bulwinkle's Bakery in Charles-ton. It had a raspberry filling and was frosted with whipped cream.
Now We're Cooking publishes recipe requests and responses from readers. If you have a recipe a reader wants, or a request, contact Food Editor Teresa Taylor by calling 937-4886; writing to The Post and Courier, 134 Columbus St., Charleston, S.C. 29