Jessica Goldman, the lovely food writer who brings us the delicious and informative blog, Sodium Girl, tweeted me last week and asked me to join her, and a number of other bloggers in what she is calling her “Love Your Heart Recipe Rally”. For the event, she is asking participating bloggers to rework a favorite “sodium heavy” recipe into one that would be considered “sodium-free” (or at least “sodium-light”), then blog about the dish, posting on Friday, February 18th….yes, that would be today.
The rules of engagement were pretty straight forward, we had to identify our original recipe’s salty ingredients, eliminate them, and recreate the recipe with as little sodium as possible – i.e. no salt (duh), no salted butter (ouch), and no products that contain sodium content higher than 40mg per serving – or “very low sodium” according to the American Heart Association.
A very cool idea, I thought.
That was, until I told my wife about the invitation, then had to endure the humiliation of watching her double-over in laughter at the mere thought of my cooking a low-sodium meal.
“Hey….what’s so funny?”
“Are you kidding me….Sodium Girl contacted YOU as a resource for a low-sodium recipe…there must be some mistake.”
“Uh….what do you mean, don’t you think I can do it?”
“You can’t be serious. She must have included you on a dare from somebody…..yeah, that’s it. She must have put the question to some other blogger friends of hers, “who would have the hardest time cooking a low-sodium meal?”, and of all the bloggers on the net, your name came in at the top of the list! Think about it, they probably want one blogger who just can’t do it in order to make all the rest of them look like geniuses…..you’re their FAIL GUY!”
“Hey….you’re starting to hurt my feelings.”
“Oh….so you don’t see the humor in this at all? You, Mr. Duck confit is my favorite food. You, who cooks with SIX different types of SALT! You, who brines anything, that when living, used to squawk or oink. You, who would put soy sauce on his breakfast cereal if it wouldn’t set such a heinous example for the kids……Puhleez!”
“$#!%, she’s right…I’m totally screwed.”
Well, maybe not totally…..I mean, I have been professionally trained and have some pretty solid technical skills, so at least I’ve got that going for me. Of course I did my training in France, and to be honest, over the course of my two years working in French kitchens I think I only heard the phrase “trop salé” (too salty) uttered once. It was practically impossible to over-salt a dish in the eyes of the chefs training me. I was much more apt to get smacked with a curt little “vous avez oublié le sel encore?” (you forgot the salt again), even after having added some with a very heavy hand. Hmmm…., perhaps my training will prove to be more of a liability than an asset in this low-sodium challenge….merde.
Anyway, while I may not be the most obvious choice to join the “Love Your Heart Recipe Rally”, if Sodium Girl is looking to really challenge her participants, and get them to stretch and create beyond their comfort zone, then she’s found the perfect little guinea pig in me!
Joking aside, Jessica has crafted a very worthy event and I am honored to be a part of this little experiment. Fact is, even those of us who are not on doctor’s orders to limit or eliminate sodium in their diets (like Jessica is, you can read her story here), there are huge health benefits to moderating our intake of the stuff. We are a nation that regularly consumes over two times our daily recommended intake of sodium. High sodium consumption raises blood pressure, and high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, the nation’s first and third leading causes of death, respectively.
While we only need a small amount of sodium to keep our bodies working properly (between 180 mg-500 mg a day), The Institute of Medicine recommends 1500 mg of sodium per day as an adequate intake level for most Americans, and advises everyone to limit sodium intake to less than 2300 mg per day, what they call the “tolerable upper limit”. On average, Americans consume over 3,400 mg a day….OUCH.
Do I have your attention now? Good….on to the cooking!
As a recipe to rework, I’ve chosen a pork dish that I posted here not too long ago,” Ming Tsai’s Pork Tenderloin with 5 Spice Apples”. Why? Because as much as I love it (and I REALLY DO), it is a real salt-lick of a dish with the pork tenderloin brined a day in advance with BOTH kosher salt AND soy sauce. Ming calls for serving the pork with a salt-added spiced apple relish, and a whipped sweet potato dish that he makes more savory than sweet with the addition of cream, butter, garlic, and ginger (and, yeah you guessed it, more than a little salt). If you take a look at the original recipe post, I think you’ll agree that this baby is a perfect choice for a low-sodium make-over.
My plan of action was pretty straight forward in reinventing this dish. First, I had to eliminate the brining of the pork, but wanted to come up with an alternative method of bringing moisture and flavor to what would otherwise be a rather bland pork tenderloin. I did this by deciding to cut the pork into 1- 1/2 to 2″ thick medallions rather than roast it whole as in Ming’s recipe, this was to give each piece more surface area to season; I then dusted each piece on all sides with curry powder. To replace the moisture lost by not brining, I concocted a no-salt-added sauce of reduced apple cider, unsalted butter and fresh thyme.
I then decided to combine his apple and sweet potato elements into one side dish and to go more sweet than savory as a way to avoid using any salt. One of the challenges of Ming’s sweet potato puree is that it calls for a lot of cream, and while it makes for a fabulous richness and mouthfeel, it dulls the flavors of the potatoes, garlic and ginger so much that the dish requires the addition of a fair amount of salt to bring it all back into balance. So, in order to avoid getting spanked by Sodium Girl, I decided to roast the sweet potatoes in some maple syrup and ginger to enhance their sweetness and give them a little kick, then toss them with some sauteed apples, some nuts for crunch, a few cranberries for their sweet-tart goodness and color, and a touch of lemon juice for a bright acid note.
I’m pleased to say that the meal turned out beautifully, full of vibrant flavors and textures and not a lick of added sodium. I served it all with a simple green salad with a homemade (no salt) vinaigrette, and a hot, crusty loaf of bread….YUM!
A quick note of thanks to Jessica for including me in this fun event, it was an educational exercise not just for me, but f
or the whole family, as we all learned a bit about the dangers of too much salt in our diets, and a few culinary tricks to avoid using it in our cooking….and now you all have too.
Cheers – Steve
Curried Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Maple-Ginger Sweet Potatoes and Apples
For the pork:
- 1 large pork tenderloin, cut into 6 medallions
- 2 tablespoons curry powder
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
For the apple cider sauce:
- 2 cups apple cider
- 1/2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoons of cold unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 1/2 teaspoon water
For the roasted sweet potatoes and apples:
- 2 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (about 8 cups)
- 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, (2 tablespoons melted, 1 not)
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice, divided
- 2 granny smith apples, peeled, cored and cubed
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans
- 1/3 cup dried cranberries
- 3 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Chopped fresh cilantro and scallions for garnish
for the roasted sweet potatoes and apples:
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Toss cubed sweet potatoes with the melted butter, the grated ginger, 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg and some fresh ground pepper and arrange them in an even layer on a large rimmed baking sheet.
- Place sheet in the oven and cook for 15 minutes, give them a quick stir and then continue roasting them for another 15 minutes.
- Pull the sheet from the oven, drizzle the potatoes with the maple syrup, add the cranberries, and give them another stir. Place back in the oven and roast for a final 10 minutes.
- While the potatoes are roasting, heat 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter and the other 2 tablespoons of lemon juice in a small frying pan and throw in the cubed apples and chopped nuts. Cook until the apples have softened some, but still have a little crunch. Place in a bowl to reserve.
- When the potatoes have finished roasting, add them to the bowl of apples and stir to combine. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature, with chopped scallions and cilantro sprinkled over the top.
for the apple cider sauce:
- Place the 2 cups of apple cider and the 1/2 tablesoon of apple cider vinegar in a medium saucepan over medium heat, and reduce to 1/2 cup. Lower the heat and add the cornstarch slurry, whisking constantly until the sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.
- Remove from heat and whisk in the tablespoon of butter until it is fully emulsified with the cider. Toss in the thyme leaves, and season to taste with freshly ground pepper. Cover and reserve in a warm place.
for the pork tenderloin:
- Season the pork medallions with the curry powder and let stand for at about 30 minutes.
- In a large, heavy skillet, heat the canola oil over medium-high heat. Add the pork and cook, turning once, until browned on both sides, about 8 to 10 minutes total. Depending on the size of your tenderloin and thickness of your medallions, they may be fully cooked at this point, if not, transfer the skillet to the 400℉ oven and continue cooking until the center of the pork registers 150-155 ℉. Remove the meat from the skillet and tent with foil to rest for about 5 minutes before serving.