Monthly Archives: March 2013

Low in Salt Big on Taste

P1090334There is no doubt that generally there is too much salt in our diet. The main problem is the sodium content which is really high in normal processed table salt or ‘added’ salt in processed food products. This is what gives it the negative health impact. Maldon or similar quality salts (which are specified in the recipes on this blog) still have a high sodium content but are a purer cleaner product. Nothing would give me more pleasure than to say that salt is ‘good’ for you, but I can’t. What I can say though is that salt is necessary to our diet and if you are going to use it make it a good one and try not to buy food with added salt. Better add your own which is of good quality.

P1090329There have been so many misconceptions about salt that most people think that it is bad for you.  The fact is that salt is the most important component in alkalising the blood and tissues.  Your salt intake is essential especially if you follow a unprocessed, vegetable based diet.

Being a chef, seasoning is everything to me.  It is very easy to lean on salt and overcompensate what the natural textures and flavours bring to a dish. In cutting back my personal salt intake I am using the following seasonings to satisfy my salty desires but with a 90 per cent cut back in the amount of salt I consume.

Gomasio

There is nothing new about gomasio, it is a big part of Japanese seasoning and more pertinently to this blog and the ‘macrobiotic’ diet. Accounting for health and taste it is made with a ratio of any thing from 5:1 to 15:1. I am in between this at 10:1 which I think works as a credible replacement for salt. I have also done a salt free version with wakame, a dried seaweed available from healthfood shops and some supermarkets. Unhulled sesame seeds are not the white ones which are common in Asian shops, they are darker in colour found in any health food shops or the healthy section in a supermarket. If you can’t find unhulled then do the pumpkin and sunflower seed version. The white sesame seeds contain little if any nutritional value.

Classic Gomasio

150g unhulled sesame seeds
15g good quality sea salt

Method

IMG_0530Grind the salt with a pestle and mortar . Mix the salt and sesame seeds together in a bowl. In a dry pan toast the mix off, not too much, just until aromas start to become apparent. Next transfer the mix to the pestle and start to work it with the mortar. Start by bashing it then grinding round and round until you have a coarse powder. If you don’t have one then just pulse it in whatever machine you have, don’t over do it with the machine as it will release all the oils and go really thick so you can’t sprinkle it.

Wakame and sesame gomasio

150g unhulled sesame seeds
25g dried wakame

Scrunch up the wakame so its in small pieces and toast off in a dry pan for a couple of minutes. Add the sesame seeds and toss together toasting for another minute or so then grind the mix following the instructions above.

Sunflower and Pumkin seed seasoning (omega rich)

P1090326Grind the salt first then mix the seeds and the salt. Lightly toast until the seeds start popping, When in the mortar you bash to break it up rather than grinding round and round it like the sesame gomasio. Rather than grinding you are breaking down until you have a consistency that you can sprinkle.

All of the above have a long shelf life. Put into a jar or a sealable container and incorporate into your meals and snacks.

Tamari

imgresTamari is a Japanese soy sauce made without wheat. It tends to be a far superior product to what you normally find on the shelves.  A lot of people do not realise that soya sauce contains wheat, where as tamari is wheat free and gluten free. You can also find this product with reduced salt. For an example of how to use this see Tamari seeds.

Brown Rice Risotto With Mixed Mushrooms

P1090284

It wasn’t so long back that I would never have thought brown rice can become irresistible and fit for a fine dinning experience. I always liked it and thought it was OK, but for a dinner party……not really.

Well here that theory is blown out of the water. Continually searching for healthy options around classic meals I went round the block and back with risotto using barley, kamut and spelt. Quinoa will work but is nowhere near the consistency of a good risotto and really, it is not a risotto. A risotto is with rice, in this case round brown Italian rice.

Using the round brown Italian rice is perfect for this dish. Health food shops and sections at the supermarkets will stock it. It might not even say it on the packet in the supermarket, just look for the smallest roundest grain. Cooking the rice a bit longer than directed gives it a similar richness to what butter gives  which is that creaminess. Brown rice is very forgiving as it will retain a bite even when it goes a bit over. The ‘bite’ in risotto is so important. So over cook it a little to add a rich texture. You can lose the parmesan easily, yeast flakes would work as a substitute and therefore becoming a vegan option or it stands alone with the depth of the mushrooms.

Brown rice outweighs the health benefits of any white rice. A dish like this has a certain air of originality about it as well.  Making healthy food taste good is very popular at the moment.  If you are familiar with brown rice then you will know what a chore it can be to cook time wise which is why I pre-cook this for twenty minutes before starting the recipe.

Ingredients (serves 4)

200g round brown Italian rice
200g chestnut mushrooms (use any mix of mushrooms, these are just easy to get)
150g portobello mushrooms
75g dried mushrooms
2 cloves of garlic
2 litres of veg stock (cubes or powder)
150ml white wine, sherry or vermouth
30g parmesan
1 green chilli (optional)
100g spinach
Maldon salt and black pepper
1 spring onion or chives
1 lemon

Prep list

Soak the dried mushrooms for twenty minutes (the dish is noticeably better with them and I saw them in all supermarkets when I was back in the UK). Cook the rice in boiling water for 20 mins and drain. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bit sticky.

MixedmushPeel and cut the shallots into small squares. Brush any dirt off the chestnut mushrooms, do not wash though as this gives the mushrooms a sliminess which tends to put people off them. Cut into similar sized squares as the shallots. Cut the portobello mushroom into thick slices. Chop the soaked mushrooms as finely as possible. Press the garlic to a pulp. De-seed and chop the chilli. Grate the parmesan. Make up the stock which needs to be kept hot and add the liquor from the soaked mushrooms to it.

Method

Sautee the portobello slices until browned on each side (if you are using them). Take out of pan and put onto paper to remove excess oil. Fry off the chestnut mushrooms (or mixed mushrooms) and the dried ones in oil. When they start browning add the shallots. When it is all browned and dry add the garlic and green chilli ,combine and cook for a further two mins. Add the precooked rice and stir it in until the excess oil has been absorbed. Add the white wine and let the liquid cook out.

RisottopanWhen the rice starts sticking to the bottom add the stock, a ladleful at a time. Everytime it reduces add more stock. Keep it moving with a spatula which stops it sticking to the bottom.

P1090274After 20mins taste a grain and if its soft but with some bite turn off the heat making sure it is still wet. Add the grated parmesan, ground black pepper, spinach leaves and cooked portobello mushrooms. Put a lid (or cover with foil) on and leave for 5 mins. Take the lid off and gently fold the contents until they are evenly mixed through and the cheese has melted. Be gentle so as not to break or mash up the contents. The risotto needs to be loose so add some more stock if necessary.

To plate up put the risotto put a spoonful in the middle of the plate and smooth it over the surface, to make it nice and flat instead of a pile. Sprinkle to finish with finely cut spring onions.