A reason to season: all about salt

I'm frequently asked about including salt in my recipes. Here's an important reminder from the archives about what role salt plays in both flavor and nutrition. Hopefully this will dispel any continuing confusion you may feel!

People are afraid of salt! You know how we became fat phobic? We’ve become salt phobic. We have the mistaken idea that we shouldn’t add salt to anything. Here’s my reminder: if you’re cooking with whole foods and you’re using good quality salt, you don’t have to be phobic about it because it’s doing it’s job: balancing potassium and building flavor.  

Did you know that sodium and potassium work together to keep our bodies balanced?

The two work in partnership as the sodium-potassium pump, by which sodium and potassium ions are moved across the cell membrane. Potassium is pulled into and sodium is pumped out of our cells to support nerve signals, healthy blood pressure, muscle contractions and enzyme metabolism.  

Sodium and potassium are dance partners like Fred and Ginger! (This is a clip from one of my favorites, Swing Time.) You need each if you’re going to be in balance. If, on the one hand, you’re eating a lot of processed foods, LOADED with sodium, you’re going to have excess sodium and not enough potassium. However, if you’re using sea salt in preparing beautiful fresh foods loaded with potassium, you can consciously consume adequate amounts of each mineral. A beautiful dance! 

Still concerned about seasoning with salt? A recent post in the NY Times Well blog, A Low-Salt Diet May Be Bad for the Heart, shares that, “...a diet that’s too low in sodium may actually increase the risk for cardiovascular disease, a review of studies has found.”

Concerned about getting enough iodine, essential to health, if using sea salt instead instead of iodized table salt?. The good news: we only need 150 mcg’s daily, which is quite simple if you include Iodine-rich foods such as cranberries; probiotic-rich foods such as organic yogurt. kimchi, and sauerkraut; goat cheese; organic potatoes (one of the richest sources of iodine in the vegetable kingdom!); and sea vegetables, such as kelp. Just this month, NPR shared Seaweed On Your Dinner Plate: The Next Kale Could Be Kelp. 

Salt builds flavor!

Salt plays a starring role in bringing out the flavor of food, moving the flavor to the front of the palate where it is best perceived. 

Salt acts like a scrubbing bubble. Let’s say I’m making soup. First, I’m sauteing onions in the pan. They’re dancing around in the oil, but I want them to sweat and give up their juicy sweetness. What do I do? I add a pinch of salt. That salt penetrates the onion like a scrubbing bubble, coaxing out the flavor. The onions go through a transformation, exuding liquid, gradually becoming translucent and golden — the result of that pinch of salt. 

Whenever I add new characters to the pan — celery, carrot or whatever — I build flavor by adding another pinch of salt. If i you just add salt when your soup in finished, you short change flavor. Yes, you might need a little at the end; but by adding those pinches of salt as you go along, you’re really letting the salt do its magic, and bringing out the natural flavor that’s already in the food. 

Enjoy learning more about the MANY delicious types of sea salts and how to cook with them in selmelier Mark Bitterman’s Salt 101.  Mark is an expert in artisan-made salts. 

My Toasty Spiced Roasted Potatoes relies on a little spice razzamatazz: I throw some mustard and coriander seeds into a hot pan and toast them for about thirty seconds. It gets their oils going, and they get fully released — along with a load of anti-inflammatory ingredients — when I grind them a few seconds later. I then bake them along with some lovely fingerling potatoes coated with olive oil and sea salt, and it’s heaven on a plate. Or so say the potato critics in my crowd, and they’re not an easy bunch to please.

Everybody needs a simple vinaigrette!! In this video with my friend Sandy Kleiman we demonstrate starting with the acid (in this case lemon juice) then adding the salt FIRST so the salt can dissolve. If you add the oil first, there’s nowhere for the salt to go! You won’t believe how easy and delicious this is. No more bottled dressings!

Lemony Balsamic vinaigrette is another simple dressing that lends a light, refreshing flavor to all manner of foods. Since it could hardly be easier to make, I recommend keeping some on hand at all times. I know I do.