Friday, March 13, 2009

Got Five Minutes?

I spend a lot of time thinking about sodium. I guess that sounds pretty pathetic, but since giving up shopping as a hobby these last few months, I have extra time to devote to reading labels at the grocery store. I ramped up my label reading sometime last year after a bright yellow book jumped out at me from the jumble of covers on the packed book table at Costco. The book Eat This, Not That was written by the Editor-in-Chief of Men's Health magazine. My 16 year old son found it on the kitchen island and we ended up reading it half to ourselves, half aloud, sitting side by side on kitchen stools. We shrieked (OK I shrieked...he just grumbled in his very low, getting lower by the minute voice) our way through some of the revelations in the book: 2,656 mg sodium in a Chipotle Mexican Grilled Chicken Burrito, 2,080 mg sodium in Panera's Sierra Turkey Sandwich, and an out of the ballpark homerun 5,290 mg sodium in Macaroni Grill's Spaghetti and Meatballs with Meat Sauce. Some of these amounts are high due to the colossal servings these places put in front of us. However, we found that Chili's kid's Pepper Pals Crispy Honey Chipotle Crispers has 1,870 mg of sodium. Wow! Compare that to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services recommendation that adults consume no more that 2,300 mg sodium in an entire day.

Here's a quick, quick, quick recipe that will help to control sodium. This tomato sauce takes only minutes more time and minimal additional effort than opening a jar of pasta sauce. I don't normally keep crushed tomatoes in my pantry, so that was one item I had to purchase the first time I made this sauce. Now I keep a couple of cans just for this purpose. I checked many brands of crushed tomatoes and found a wide range of sodium amounts. Bionaturae Organic Crushed tomatoes have the least of any I found. I have also used used San Marzano brand and Redpack and just added salt little by little. I always have fresh garlic and almost always have lemons. Lemons last a pretty long time in the refrigerator and are delicious in many recipes. And they come in handy for cocktails.

Lemon zest, for those of you new to this most lovely part of the lemon, is the bright yellow outer layer of the skin. To zest a lemon, gently scrape a washed and dried lemon against a zester (I use a Microplane zester) and hold the fruit very gingerly. Kind of how my first golf instructor told me to hold the club - like you're holding a bird - tightly enough that it doesn't fly away and gently enough that you don't squash it. Only take off the outermost layer of the peel. The white inner layer is quite bitter. The lemon added such a surprising, bright flavor and clearly reduced the amount of salt my palate required.

I found this recipe on which is a beautiful blog filled with delicious vegetarian recipes and mouth-watering photos. My version uses the same ingredients, albeit in different proportion, but I changed the method slightly to better control the salt.

Five Minute Tomato Sauce
(adapted from 101 Cookbooks)

makes about 1 quart

2 -3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
3 medium or two large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 (28 ounce) can crushed red tomatoes
pinch or two of salt
zest of one lemon

Heat a saucepan over medium heat. After a minute or two, add the olive oil and let it warm up a little. Put the garlic and crushed red pepper into the pan, stir and let the garlic soften for about a minute. Don't walk away as you don't want to let the garlic get brown and crispy. Add the tomatoes and a pinch of salt to the pan and bring to a simmer. Mix in the zest and then taste. If you need more salt, add another pinch. Though the original recipe says to taste for salt before adding the lemon zest, I found that when I tasted for salt after adding the zest, I needed less.

This sauce is great as-is over pasta or tortellini for a quick weeknight meal. With the lemony flavor, I think it would also be a winner with fish - perhaps gently simmering some hake or snapper right in the saucepan and serving over orzo or whole grain couscous.


  1. I will try this! And I will also pass along to my folks. This past month they have switched to a healthy eating regime (after visiting a nutrionist), which includes a cap on daily intake of sodium. In less than 2 weeks' time with the reduced sodium, my dad's "high" blood pressure was "high" no longer!

  2. That's great news Jenn! I'm so glad to hear that reducing sodium does work!

  3. Hi Wendy--Any great Pesach recipes or ideas? Charis

  4. Charis - I'm avoiding matzoh products as much as possible! We're doing lots of veggies - I did Mrs. Obama's "creamed spinach" which was decicious (see my post about her healthy eating). Roasted fingerling potatoes, baked sweet potatoes with caramelized onions (last post), and quinoa is kosher for Passover. I'll blog on quinoa later today.