Jessica Goldman Foung Eats Well, without Salt

June  4, 2013

We're sitting down with our favorite writers and cooks to talk about their upcoming cookbooks, their best food memories, and just about anything else.

Today: Jess Goldman Foung, author of Sodium Girl's Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook, shares tips for stocking a salt-free pantry and a recipe for Chicken Wraps with Plum Sauce.


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Jessica Goldman Foung was forced to eliminate almost all sodium from her diet in 2004. Determined to continue living a healthy life full of delicious food, Jess adapted her cooking and eating, slowly learning to make food taste good without salt. 

Her blog, Sodium Girl, has developed a loyal following, especially from those who thought a salt-free life was a death sentence for their palates. In her new book, Jess cheerfully shows us how our favorite foods -- like the lettuce wraps she's shared below -- can be enjoyed without piles of sodium. Put down that salt shaker, and read on.

Aside from simply eliminating salt, what was the biggest challenge you faced when you began to eat a low-sodium diet?
Other than eating without flavor, the biggest fear associated with a low-sodium diet is always having to eat at home, alone. People think that it's impossible to eat out, eat with others (like at dinner parties, weddings, and holidays), and eat well. 

Luckily though, with a little creativity, these things are possible. Simple ideas like calling restaurants ahead; sending blogs or recipes to hosts ahead of time; or even bringing the fail-proof "edible gift" help ensure that one eats well on a low-sodium diet with anyone, anywhere.

What are the 5 essential ingredients in a low-sodium pantry?
A successful low-sodium diet is not just about taking out the salt, but replacing it. And these are my top five kitchen staples that I use:
1. Spices, especially those you've never tried before, because surprising the palate is the best way to replace salt.
2. Vinegars and oils with fun names, like avocado, champagne, and grapeseed.
3. Jams and molasses are the easiest way to create quick, salt-free, and flavorful sauces for savory meals.
4. "Texture tools" like pumpkin seeds, garbanzo beans, and coconut which layer flavor and crunchy bite to dishes when raw or toasted
5. Fresh herbs and citrus: just a sprinkle or a spritz goes a long way to brighten up everything from simple sautéed greens to more complex meals.


What's your favorite low- or no-sodium dish to make for skeptical guests?
Recently, I've become obsessed with roasting tomatoes and fruit and then mixing them with lamb, sweet potato, and aromatics for a new twist on Moroccan stew, topped with crispy oven-roasted chickpeas. With a mixture of tastes and flavor pairings, guests no longer look for the salt but just enjoy sweet, savory, crunchy bites in each spoonful.

What recipe in this book was your biggest victory? Which took the longest to get right? 
I set out to makeover the saltiest recipes I could think of for this book, so they all took a little work and a ton of imagination. Overall, I think the Beet Bloody Mary takes the gold ribbon thanks to the luscious, velvety beet juice. Without the over-salted processed veggie drink, you can really taste the spectrum of flavors in this morning cocktail.

Many of your readers are on strict orders from their doctors to cut out salt, but some just want to eat less of it. What is the biggest benefit you see of cutting out or minimizing sodium in one's diet?
The "over-sodium" problem does not come from the salt-shaker but from all the over-salted products on the grocery store shelves. So to lower one's sodium, it simply means eating less process food and more fresh ingredients. Which means enjoying the process of cooking, slowing down to enjoy meals, and getting creative in the kitchen when making over favorite recipes. Which I think are all benefits that anyone can enjoy.

Chicken Wraps with Plum Sauce

Serves 4

6 garlic cloves, smashed in a garlic press
2 1/2 tablespoons peeled and diced fresh ginger
3 teaspoons sesame oil
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
2 green onions, white and green parts separated, thinly sliced
1 1/2 pound ground chicken meat (I like using half thigh, half breast meat)
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard powder
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
Red chili pepper flakes
1 (8-ounce) can water chestnuts, drained and diced
2 heads butter lettuce, leaves separated and washed

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Reprinted with permission from the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, from Sodium Girl's Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook by Jessica Goldman Foung. Photographs by Matt Armendariz. Copyright 2013

Photo of Jessica by Norbert von der Groeben

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mcs3000 June 5, 2013
Awesome to see Jessica profiled here! Can't wait to make that beet bloody mary.
Marian B. June 5, 2013
It looks so good!