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Recipe: Cut sodium with vibrant flavors

There are plenty of reasons to adopt a low-sodium diet: It’s better for your heart, it’s better for your blood pressure and it lessens the chance of a stroke.

There is only one reason to not adopt it: Food just doesn’t taste as good.

In my mind, those two considerations are of equal importance. So I set out to cook a few dishes that are low in sodium but still taste great.

I used these ideas to create three entrees without adding any salt at all. The trick is instead to use strong flavors that aren’t salt to excite and stimulate your taste buds. Acids work particularly well, such as lemon juice or vinegar, and so do hearty herbs and the sharper-tasting spices.

For example, it occurred to me that the best way to perk up a pork chop without using salt would be to serve it with a gastrique, a reduction of vinegar and sugar or honey that turns into a sweet-and-sour syrup.

You can pump it up with fruit if you want, but I made an exquisitely simple version: nothing more than honey and cider vinegar that, when reduced, brings out the apple flavor of the cider vinegar.

I also cooked the pork chops simply, with butter, slices of apple (to play off the tart apple taste of the gastrique) and onion. I used bone-in pork chops because they taste better and cooked them for only a few minutes on each side in the mixture of apples and onion. I wanted the gastrique to be the star in this dish, and it was.

LEMON CHICKEN is a dish I often make using salt. Typically, I marinate the chicken for an hour or so in a lemon-based marinade and then I grill it. Less frequently, I bake it.

But I wanted to make my salt-free chicken on the stovetop, so I decided to braise it. It’s one of my favorite ways to cook chicken.

All you have to do is sear the chicken on both sides in olive oil or butter infused with garlic and thyme or rosemary. I usually pour off the fat, which can be considerable, and then add enough liquid to come up about 1 inch in the pan.

I normally use chicken stock, but that has salt in it. So I added water, along with the juice of two lemons. Then I covered the pan, simmered it until it was done and used a cornstarch slurry to turn the braising liquid into a zippy, salt-free gravy.

LOW-SODIUM LEMON CHICKEN

  • 3 pounds chicken, cut into serving pieces
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
  • Juice of 2 large lemons (or 3 small)
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch dissoved in 2 tablespoons water

Pat chicken dry. In a large skillet with a lid, melt butter over medium- high. Add garlic and thyme; cook until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add chicken skin-side down and cook until golden brown on the bottom. Remove garlic, flip chicken and cook until golden brown on the other side. Pour off the grease.

Add water to pan to a depth of 1/2 inch. Add lemon juice. Cover and simmer until chicken is done, around 20 minutes for white meat and 30 minutes for dark. Add water if necessary. Remove chicken to a platter.

Mix cornstarch slurry into liquid. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently; cook until thickened. Serve over chicken. Serves 4.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 443 calories, 12 g total fat, 4 g saturated fat, 256 mg cholesterol, 77 g protein, 3 g carbohydrate, 1 g sugar, 1 g fiber, 154 mg sodium, 23 mg calcium.

PORK CHOP WITH GASTRIQUE

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 large onion, sliced thin
  • 1/2 large apple, sliced thin
  • 2 pork chops
  • >> Gastrique:
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar

>> To make gastrique: Heat honey in a small saucepan over medium-low for 5 minutes, until it becomes a noticeably deeper shade of brown. Add vinegar and continue to cook, swirling pan a few times, until sauce has thickened to consistency of thin maple syrup. Set aside and keep warm.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Add slices of onion and apple; saute until onion is translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add pork chops and cook 3 minutes, flip, and cook to desired doneness; the time will depend on the thickness of the chops. Serve with gastrique. Serves 2.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 352 calories, 10 g total fat, 5 g saturated fat, 26 g protein, 37 g carbohydrate, 36 sugar, no fiber, 78 mg sodium, 24 mg calcium.

FINALLE, salmon. I decided to poach it as a way of imbuing it with plenty of low-sodium flavor. My poaching liquid was full of goodness: carrot, onion, celery, the juice of a lemon and that lemon’s peel. The fish only took a few minutes to cook.

The salmon actually could use a little salt, but very little thanks to the sauce, a kind of simplified tzatziki. I started with plain Greek yogurt (less sodium than regular yogurt) and stirred in some lemon juice, chopped cucumber and salmon’s favorite herb, dill.

It was luscious. It was fabulous. It was delicious. And maybe it needed just a little bit of salt.

LOW-SODIUM SALMON WITH CUCUMBER DILL SAUCE

  • 3/4 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 rib celery, roughly chopped
  • 1 carrot, roughly chopped
  • Juice and peel of 1 lemon
  • 2 (4-ounce) salmon fillets, pin bones removed
  • >> Sauce:
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 wedges lemon
  • 1/4 cucumber, diced small
  • 1/2 teaspoon dill

An hour before cooking, make sauce: Combine yogurt, juice from lemon wedges, cucumber and dill in a small bowl. Refrigerate.

Fill large skillet with water to a depth of around 1 inch. Add onion, celery, carrot and lemon juice and peel. Bring to a simmer. Move aside some of the vegetables and lemon; gently add salmon. Add more water if needed to completely cover fish. Simmer until fish is thoroughly cooked and flakes easily, 5 minutes per inch of thickness. Serves 2.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 259 calories, 11 g total fat, 3 g saturated fat, 72 mg cholesterol, 30 g protein, 10 g carbohydrate, 6 g sugar, 2 g fiber, 113 mg sodium, 114 mg calcium.

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