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Stay cool and smart about salt this summer

Summer’s arrival means gardens and farmers’ markets overflowing with amazing bounty like berries, tomatoes and cucumbers.

The arrival of summer means gardens and farmers’ markets overflowing with amazing bounty like berries, tomatoes and cucumbers. Celebrate all that summer has to offer, but stay cool and be smart about your food choices. Many summertime snacks and seasonings contain lots of sodium, which can raise your blood pressure and strain your kidneys.

Here are a few tips and recipes to help you stay cool while avoiding deadly salt.

Cool as a cucumber

Snack foods and dips are common culprits that can increase sodium in your diet. Cool, crisp cucumbers can replace those salty snacks. Use cucumber slices instead of salty crackers, topping them with your favorite cheese or low-salt spread. Or try the recipe below for tzatziki, a mild, refreshing cucumber dip you can use on pita bread, unsalted pita chips or baby carrots. Tzatziki also is a delicious garnish for grilled meats and fish, or on a baked potato.

If you are a pickle lover, try making this salt-free alternative to add crunch and flavor to your sandwiches, salads or barbecue spreads.

Greek tzatziki

1 large cucumber

1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried dill)

1 clove garlic, crushed

2 cups plain yogurt (soy yogurt also works)

Peel, seed and grate 1 large cucumber. Squeeze out as much water as you can. This achieves the same result as salting the cucumber, but without using salt. To make it easy, squeeze the grated cucumber inside a dishcloth or press down gently through a fine sieve. Add the grated cucumber, chopped dill and crushed garlic to the yogurt. Chill it in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

Nutritional information (per 2 tablespoons):

Calories: 10, Carbohydrates: 1 gram, Protein: 1 gram, Sodium: 11 milligrams, Potassium: 12 milligrams

No-salt refrigerator pickles

8 pint jars or plastic containers

5 English cucumbers, sliced thin

1 bunch fresh dill, rinsed

2 cups white sugar

5 cups vinegar, red or white wine vinegar or cider vinegar

2 tablespoons dill weed

1 teaspoon black pepper

2 teaspoons celery seed

½ teaspoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon turmeric

Optional: cloves of garlic and red pepper flakes

Slice cucumbers and layer them in pint jars with fresh dill weed. In a pitcher, stir the sugar into the vinegar until dissolved. Add the remaining seasonings. Pour over the cucumbers. Put lids on the jars and store them in the refrigerator. These pickles will keep for up to 9 months in the refrigerator. For extra zing, add a clove of garlic to each jar, or some red pepper flakes to the spice mix. Makes 8 pint jars. One serving is one pickle.

Nutritional information (per pickle):

Calories: 17, Carbohydrates: 4 grams, Protein: 0 grams, Sodium: 1 milligram

Strawbabies

When my son was very little, he couldn’t say the word “strawberry.” It came out, “strawbaby!” Ever since then at our house, we have had strawbaby jam, strawbaby and spinach salad, strawbaby vinegar and strawbaby and rhubarb squares.

Take advantage of local berries when they are in season at local farmers’ markets – they are packed with great flavor! Here a few ideas to savor strawberries this summer.

Microwave strawbaby jam

1 cup mashed strawberries (or any combination of raspberries, blackberries, huckleberries, blueberries)

¾ cup sugar

¼ teaspoon butter or margarine

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Put ingredients in a microwave-proof bowl and mix. Microwave on high for 4 minutes for strawberries (5 minutes for all other berries). Stir and microwave another 4 minutes (5 for all other berries). Cover with plastic wrap, keep refrigerated.

1 tablespoon is 40 calories of summer!

Nutritional information (per tablespoon):

Calories: 40, Carbohydrates: 10 grams, Protein: 0 grams, Sodium: 0 milligrams, Potassium: 16 milligrams

Strawbaby and spinach salad

1 bunch baby spinach, washed

1 cup strawberries, sliced

¼ cup hazelnuts or cashews (unsalted)

4 ounces goat cheese, refrigerated

Vinegar and oil

Tear spinach into a large bowl, sprinkle with strawberries and nuts. Crumble cheese over the top and serve with vinegar and oil dressing. Serves 4.

Nutritional information (without dressing):

Calories: 204, Carbohydrates: 12 grams, Protein: 9 grams, Sodium: 195 milligrams, Potassium: 178 milligrams

Strawbaby vinegar

To preserve a few more of those wonderful local berries, make your own vinegar! Just add 1 cup of sliced berries to a quart of white vinegar, wine vinegar or champagne vinegar. Let sit for a week at room temperature, strain and use with a nice olive oil for a great salt-free dressing!

Nutritional information (without oil):

Calories: 3, Carbohydrates: 1 gram, Protein: 0 grams, Sodium: 0 milligrams, Potassium 16 milligrams

Strawbaby rhubarb squares

You can make this recipe with 4 cups of strawberries and no rhubarb, but cut back the sugar to ¾ cup.

1 cup flour

3/4 cup oatmeal

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

2 cups chopped rhubarb

2 cups sliced strawberries

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup water

3 tablespoons cornstarch

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together flour, oatmeal, cinnamon and brown sugar. Add melted butter and mix until crumbly. Press 2/3 of mixture into 9-by-9-inch square pan. Cover with rhubarb and strawberries. Combine sugar, water and cornstarch in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil for one minute or until thickened. Pour over fruit. Sprinkle remaining crumb mixture on top. Bake 1 hour. Cut into 12 squares.

Nutritional information (per square):

Calories: 251; Carbohydrates: 44 grams; Protein: 2 grams; Sodium: 8 milligrams, Potassium: 192 milligrams

We all scream for ice cream

End your summer meals with some old-fashioned, homemade ice cream. Below is Julia Child’s ice cream recipe, perfect for cooling down on a hot summer day. Fresh fruit is the secret here. Unlike most manufactured ice creams, this one doesn’t have stabilizers or emulsifiers to preserve it, so it won’t hold long. You can also try Nana’s fruit ice to cleanse your palate between or after meals.

Julia Child’s easy ice cream

1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen fruit

1/4-1/2 cup sugar

1 cup whipping cream

Hull berries or pit peaches, then slice fruit. Freeze until very hard. Do not thaw. Break into large chunks. Add fruit and whipping cream in food processor, mixer or blender. (If using a mixer, make the pieces smaller.) Beat until mixture is thick and fluffy. Serve right away. Makes 4 servings.

Nutritional information (per serving):

Calories: 272; Carbohydrates: 22 grams, Fat: 24 grams, Sodium: 20 milligrams, Potassium: 81 milligrams

Nana’s fruit ice

2-3 large lemons, limes or oranges

2 cups sugar

4 cups water or tea

Grate 2 teaspoons of fruit peel. Add to saucepan with sugar and water. Instead of water, you can use fruit-flavored ice tea or green tea. Boil for 5 minutes. Squeeze fruit to get 3/4 cup juice and add to saucepan. You can also substitute other juices, like pomegranate, cherry, apricot or strained berry juices.

To still-freeze, put mix in a metal ice cube tray or flat cake pan in the freezer. Cover with foil. When slushy, stir with a fork, working from the front to the back of the tray. This reduces the size of the ice crystals. Do this 2 or 3 times, or every half hour or so. Move from freezer to refrigerator 20 minutes before serving. Makes 8 servings.

Nutritional information (per serving):

Calories: 195, Carbohydrates: 49 grams, Fat: 0 grams, Sodium: 5 milligrams, Potassium: 31 milligrams

[Katy G. Wilkens is a registered dietitian and department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. The National Kidney Foundation Council on Renal Nutrition has honored her with its highest awards for excellence in education and for significant contributions in renal nutrition. She has also been awarded the Medal of Excellence in kidney nutrition from the American Association of Kidney Patients.]