Have you ever tasted potatoes without salt? Or even a cookie without a whisper of salt mixed in with the flour? It’s no surprise that I’m passionate about this ingredient; I mean, my blog is named after it after all—www.notwithoutsalt.com. So, I thought it appropriate that we talk about it here. In the few paragraphs I have with you all, I want to first assuage the bad reputation salt has received over the years, then talk about how to salt and finally to share a couple recipes where salt really shines, not just in flavor, but in its power to preserve and transform the texture of certain foods.
Salt calms bitterness, heightens sweetness, helps pull out hidden flavors, has the power to preserve and we need it. Salt is used in our bodies to maintain fluid in our blood cells and transmit information in our nerves and muscles. Because our body cannot make it on its own, we need to feed our bodies some salt—“some” being the key word. The overindulgence on salt in the recent years doesn’t come from over-salting the real foods you are cooking in your kitchen, but rather it’s the sudden influx of processed foods. As we’ve turned towards producing foods cheaply, we’ve lost much of the flavor in the ingredients used, thereby needing to saturate the food with salt in order to get it to have any taste. When you are adding salt in the process of cooking your own food, there is little concern with adding too much to affect your health in a negative way.
Now that we’re not afraid of it, let’s talk about using salt while we are cooking. Have you ever noticed how much better restaurant food can taste when you compare it with what we cook at home? Most often, it’s because a good chef knows how to use salt. When you are cooking, use salt throughout the entire process. When you do this, every component of the dish is properly seasoned. Carrots will taste sweeter, onions more pronounced and spices more flavorful. If you wait to salt only at the end, your food will taste of salt, but as you salt throughout, the dish really comes together and you taste the ingredients rather than the salt. Taste throughout the entire process. Add more salt if needed and quit salting if there’s too much. This way you have more control on the final product. Also, salt your food from up high, this way the salt is dispersed evenly throughout the dish.
In my kitchen I have a variety of salts. I use kosher when I’m cooking and a good flaky sea salt for the end. The kosher salt is course, so I can feel how much I’m adding as I’m pinching it between my fingers. It’s also not nearly as harsh as table salt. The finishing salt adds a nice crunch to the final and slowly dissolves on the tongue, giving a saltiness that builds. These salts are also not nearly as harsh as table salt.
Now let’s get cooking. The first recipe I want to share is for a raw zucchini salad. In this salad the salt is added to sliced zucchini then left to marinate. The texture of the zucchini softens while the flavor is brought out. The zucchini is quickly rinsed then tossed with a bright vinaigrette and loads of fresh herbs.
Then finally, we have preserved lemons. It’s really as simple as cut lemons left to marinate in salt and its own juices, but what happens in that jar is nothing short of magic. Somehow the lemons become perfumed and floral. They are salty, yes, but not harshly so. It’s the sort of ingredient that when added to dressings, marinades, salads, poultry, etc. your guest won’t know what it is, except that they love it. Preserved lemons are used all over Morocco and it’s there where I decided I needed them in my life. Now my fridge is rarely without them.
Entire books can be written on the subject; in fact, there are several that I’d recommend, but somehow I think I may be part of a lone few who enjoy spending weekends reading about salt. But my hope is that this sort of crash course on the subject shares with you just a bit of my passion for this necessary ingredient. If you’ve yet to be convinced, I’ll let the recipes change your mind. Happy salting!
by Ashley Rodriguez
RAW ZUCCHINI SALAD
This recipe is from Rhulman’s 20. Serves 4.
1 zucchini, cut into thin slices or long peeled strips
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup fresh herbs
Put the zucchini in a colander and sprinkle evenly with 1 teaspoon salt. Toss and sprinkled evenly with another 1 teaspoon salt. Let stand for 10-20 minutes.
In a small bowl combine the shallot, garlic, lemon juice and oil. Whisk to combine.
Shake the moisture off the zucchini. Taste and if it is too salty give the zucchini a quick rinse in cold water, then pat dry with a clean towel.
Toss the zucchini with the vinaigrette and finish with the fresh herbs. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.
Adapted from Paula Wolfert, The Food of Morocco
5 lemons (Meyer lemons work beautifully here)
1/4 cup salt, more if desired
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
5 coriander seeds
2 bay leaves
Have ready a sterile 1-pint canning jar.
Quarter the lemons from the top to within 1/2 inch of the bottom, sprinkle salt on the interior of the lemon, then reshape the fruit.
Place 1 tablespoon salt on the bottom of the mason jar. Pack in the lemons and push them down, adding more salt, and the optional spices between layers. Press the lemons down to release their juices and to make room for the remaining lemons. (If the juice released from the squashed fruit does not cover them, add freshly squeezed lemon juice — Leave some air space before sealing the jar.
Let the lemons ripen in a warm place, shaking the jar each day to distribute the salt and juice. Let ripen for 30 days. To use, rinse the lemons, as needed, under running water, removing and discarding the pulp, if desired — and there is no need to refrigerate after opening. Preserved lemons will keep up to a year, and the pickling juice can be used two or three times over the course of a year.
Gently shake the jar each day to distribute the salt.