Kind of a strange situation: Friends are having to omit as much salt as possible from the husband's diet for health reasons. They've asked me for help in coming up with new dishes. Normally I would focus more on herbs/other seasonings in a situation like this, but their tastes are very simple and straightforward - both grew up Pennsylvania Dutch and don't like herbs or very seasoned foods. I've prepared some low-salt, moderately-seasoned dishes for them, but even that was too much for them. Any thoughts/suggestions?



Sodium G. March 11, 2011
All such amazing advice. Yes, it definitely takes time to adjust to no salt but the challenge is so much fun and nothing is impossible. Seriously. I just made some no salt added buffalo wings and they tasted like the real thing. I have a book coming out in a year on low sodium, kick butt cooking and in the meantime, please feel free to tell your friends to email [email protected] with ANY questions on any of their favorite meals. Low sodium, high flavor is totally possible.
Soozll November 3, 2010
One other thing they might try is to bring out the natural salt in meats. I dicovered this when I had intended to season a pot (chuck) roast after I had started it in the oven and got distracted then forgot all about it for several hours while in my garden. It had been cooking at 300F and was falling apart tender (aside from the top which was totally crusty) once I took it from the oven. I tasted it and couldn't believe that it hadn't been seasoned with anything! It was amazing how good it was. I've never put more than pepper on a chuck roast since! The caramelization and long slow roasting condensed the moisture and brought out the natural salts without adding any additional. Since then, the only thing I do is turn the roast every half hour so it doesn't get too crusty on one side. I use the meat cooked in this fashion for soups, pulled beef sandwiches and in mexican preps. Dark meat Chicken works this way as well, so pork probably would too.(.think of pulled pork?) Might be worth a try to get them started.
campagnes November 3, 2010
Wow.. lots of great advice. Thanks SO much for your help, everyone. My friends are very dear to me and being able to help them means a lot.

They asked me to prepare classic dishes that they'd find familiar - roast beef, stuffed chicken breasts, pasta dishes, that kind of thing (a little difficult, though, since they've been eating those foods to their tastes for years and years and will likely always unfavorably compare other preparations to their own - understandable).

The wife in particular discussed her unfamiliarity with herbs and her desire to learn more about them. I began to prepare dishes that highlighted particular herbs for her to become more familiar with them - rosemary roasted chicken, pork roast with thyme, chicken salad with dill - simple, clean preparations with minimal herb use. Unfortunately, they still found them to be too "herby".

I'm definitely going to suggest to them that they speak with a dietician/nutritionist.. excellent idea. I love all the suggestions for "hiding" flavor in the food. And I also really appreciate what was said about a "grieving period," and the difficulty of making such big changes in an arena that people often look to for comfort and familiarity... will definitely keep that in mind. My heart really does go out to them; they're an older couple, set in their ways, trying to do the right thing.

Thank you SO much, everyone.
Bevi November 3, 2010
I agree with drbabs. Citrus really adds new and great flavor when using both juice and zest. The Pennsylvania Dutch diet is also really big on processed starches, which can require lots of salt to add flavor. Would they consider switching to whole grain and whole wheat for an earthier taste in their starches?
mrslarkin November 3, 2010
I'm curious what, in particular, didn't they like about the dishes you prepared. Still too salty? Too spicy?

Read all nutrition labels for sodium content, that is really important. My husband has hbp and we shoot for things that have under 5% of daily value for sodium.

There are a bunch of good low-sodium cookbooks you can check out at the library.

The bottom line is, salt makes everything taste better. Kicking the habit won't happen overnight. I'm afraid they're gonna have to start liking herbs/spices a little more. Try Penzey's salt-free section for ideas:

Good luck!!
Sadassa_Ulna November 3, 2010
One thing I do to get more flavor into a dish without the visual cue is to use whole spices infused into the liquid part of the dish, then strained out. I do this for my kids who think a dish is spicier if they can see the spices. For example simmering lemon peel and cardamom pods (or bay leaves) with the rice, or sauteeing a rosemary or tarragon sprig into the butter. Then remove the evidence. Low-salt or no-salt vegetarian bouillion cubes can add flavor without being too spicy. Toasted nuts can go a long way to flavor without "spiciness." Smoking foods might be a way to add new flavor, there are shortcut methods using oolong tea, although I am no expert. This is a challenge, good luck!
Nora November 3, 2010
I agree with Soozll. In my experience, very few doctors have any kitchen experience or real training in just what the impact of their orders will be. Otherwise, could the friends be encouraged to look at this as a great opportunity to expand their tastes? There are some really good ideas above for flavor.
Midge November 3, 2010
drbabs is right: Your taste really does eventually adapt to using less salt. We've cut back on salt in our house and its amazing how resensitized to it you become.
healthierkitchen November 3, 2010
I'm sure this is so challenging for them. Soozll makes a good point - a dietician or nutritionist might be helpful. Also, if this is a temporary situation vs. a long term situation, my answer would be different. For an immediate, but not permanent time frame, I'd just go bland for a while. Grilled or roasted chicken, salmon, vegetables, plain rice dishes cooked in sodium free stock, etc. For a longer term situation where they might get really bored, maybe some lemon juice or zest would help them out with flavor without adding sodium and without being too unfamiliar. You can even make a quick spaghetti sauce a la 101cookbooks, with a can of no sodium added tomatoes and some zest. I found you need very little salt that way. The recipe is on her site. I have read that the salt flavor is a learned one and that if we don't eat it, we start not to miss it. Hope that proves true for your friend. Good luck!
drbabs November 3, 2010
Consider that whenever there's a big lifestyle change, there's a period of grieving, and they may be just getting used to the idea of having to change the way they've eaten for many years. So it just might take baby steps to help them get to where they need to be. Start with things they like and reduce the salt by half. Then keep cutting back from there. Once you stop eating salt, you do eventually get used to it. Lemon and lime juice are great flavor enhancers. You can caramelize onions to sweetness, saute apples or oranges and add them to a dish. What do they like? You start from there. (For example, if they like cinnamon in apple pie, maybe you could add a small amount to a savory dish.) Garlic powder might be too much if they don't like garlic, but onion powder might be more approachable (it's slightly sweet). You could also find out what they didn't like about what you made. Sometimes it's the unusual appearance of fresh herbs in a dish (all that green) rather than the flavor--maybe start with a tiny amount of dried herb, especially basil or oregano--to help them get used to alternate flavors. Some fresh vegetables sing on their own or with little enhancement, and we could all add more vegetables to our diet. Try baked sweet potatoes (with a little maple syrup), roasted broccoli and cauliflower with a small amount of toasted bread crumbs for crunch. (If they're watching fat, too, you don't need much to roast vegetables--I put olive oil in a Misto sprayer and spray a light coating over mine before roasting in a hot oven.) Add fruit to salads--crunch and sweetness can make up for lack of salt. The sodiumgirl blog does have great ideas, and there are tons of low salt recipes on the web. As their friend, you're in a great position to help them grieve the loss of their old way of eating and introduce some new things in a slow gentle way. (You didn't know that you signed on to be a therapist, did you?)
Soozll November 3, 2010
Maybe they need to have his doctor refer them to a dietician or nutritionist for some food prep and seasoning advice so that they can adapt it in things they already eat As you found out, what you've come up with isn't working for him because what he really wants to taste is the salty flavor he can't get from anything but salt.. It might be better if they tried some recipes that they haven't eaten before, so they have no flavor memory of how salty the finished product should taste. Might be easier that way. The library probably has an American Heart Association cookbook you could check out. They have plenty of ideas.
mcs3000 November 3, 2010
Check Sodium Girl - great site:
campagnes November 3, 2010
I feel the same way, Mr Vittles.. I'd love to help them,and I know that people like what they like, but part of me is like, "Really? Can't budge at ALL here? Really??" Sigh.
Mr_Vittles November 3, 2010
Steamed vegetables and poached chicken. Those two things will guarantee blandness and will be edible. I would not do anything even remotely fancy. I can't help but feel a bit sorry for your friends' dietary habits.
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