You'll notice that very VERY few of the recipes I use and that I'll post on this blog contain any added salt. That's usually one of the first modifications that I'll make to any recipe. Cut out the salt. It's cheating.
That's right, using salt in a recipe is like cheating. I consider it an even worse sin than using pre-minced garlic from a jar.
The purpose of this post is to convince you to cut as much salt from your diet as you possibly can.
Salt is really just a masking agent. It blinds your tastebuds. It covers up the real taste of your dish. It masks any subtleties of taste that your ingredients or your overall dish might have on their own. It's nothing more than a blunt instrument.
What's even more mortifying to me is how many restaurants cheat by using excess salt. And we're not talking TGI Friday's here either (who could blame them?--I go there for the flair myself). My wife and I have found this in a meaningful percentage of some of the really good restaurants in New York. Dishes taste like brine instead of food. It's as if the chef dumbs everything down for you, yet he still charges you $29.50 for a piece of fish.
There's also an amusing story I read years ago about how Campbell's attempted to make "low sodium" versions of all their soups...and they all tasted so bad that nobody bought them. Eventually Campbell's faced the music and realized they couldn't just put out briny soups--minus the brine--and expect people to like them. You can't get away with a lifetime of making industrial-style soup masked with salt and then just take the salt away.
Taste Things For Real
I remember when my parents made the switch to a lower-sodium diet after my father's blood pressure got up above normal. At first, it was Mrs. Dash in everything. They felt that food "needed" something. But the truth is that almost all foods have a surprising subtlety that salt only serves to cover up.
I recall distinctly making my Mom's split pea soup recipe one time years ago and deciding to leave out the salt. When I finished cooking it up and actually tasted it, I couldn't believe how bland and tasteless it seemed at first. I remember thinking to myself that if I was going to try it this way, I should at least get through to the bottom of one bowl before I furtively added back the salt.
But then I began to discover some subtleties in the dish. Huh--split peas actually had a taste! Not a strong taste mind you, but they actually did have a taste and it was pretty good! This may not strike you as an earthshaking event, but it was the catalyst that actually changed my cooking permanently to where I now never add salt to any dish.
Try actually tasting your food for real. You don't have to be a savant in the kitchen to do this. If you cook competently, use decent-quality ingredients and condition your palate away from salt, your cooking won't "need anything" at all.
Condition Your Palate Away From Salt
Will you have the same experience I had at first and think everything is so bland you can't stand it? Then try using some exta black pepper instead of salt. Or try a little cayenne pepper or chipotle pepper. Or just stick with it and try eating your food for a few weeks with no salt added (see this link on the concept of a 30-day trial to form new habits). You'll find that in a matter of days this will deepen and enrich your palate, and you won't be so conditioned to NEED salt added to everything. You'll find that you'll very quickly develop a surprising subtlety in how and what you taste. You'll actually start tasting things for real instead of tasting brine. And your food will taste better and healthier to you without salt acting as a masking agent.
Live Longer, and Save on Blood Pressure Meds!
Heck, you're likely going to have cut your salt intake down eventually anyway, since we're all going to get old someday (if we're lucky) and we'll need to watch our blood pressure. Instead, why not teach yourself now to enjoy your food for what it really is, and you'll get the side benefit on saving on blood pressure meds (uh, and erectile dysfunction too) down the road!
A final note: Most foods already contain more salt than you'd think. For example the split pea soup recipe below contains optional beef boullion cubes. Guess what those are made of? Uh huh. If you use canned vegetables, especially canned tomatoes or tomato sauces...yep, added salt. Most stores will offer low- or no sodium sauces or canned products. Consider using them. But at the very least, don't add extra salt to a dish that should taste good without masking agents.
Try this recipe out for a simple, low-sodium soup:
Easy Split Pea Soup
1 lb dried green split peas (prefer Goya)
10 cups water
1-2 beef boullion cubes (optional; can also use 1-2 cups low-sodium vegetable stock, but then use only 8 or 9 cups water instead of 10 above)
3-4 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
pieces of ham or chicken (optional)
Rinse peas, then add to water and bouillion (or stock) in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer (covered) for 30-40 minutes, occasionally dipping off foam. Add all other ingredients and simmer for another 40 minutes or until peas are soft.