In case you haven’t heard, salt is the new sugar. At least that’s the main message behind a recent New York City rule that requires many restaurants in the city to flag foods with high salt contents on their menus. The symbol, a saltshaker in a triangle, will signal a menu item contains more than the daily recommended limit of salt, which is 2300 milligrams, approximately a teaspoon.
Excessive salt consumption is linked to a slew of health issues, particularly high blood pressure, which is considered a risk factor for heart disease. And since heart disease kills more women annually than all cancers combined, we are happy to skip the salt. Summer is the season for seasoning, though, what with all our backyard grill sessions. So, we tapped food and wine writer Jill Norman, author of Herbs & Spices: The Cook's Reference ($19, amazon.com) for some salt-free spice combinations to give any meal an extra kick.
For a flavor profile reminiscent of the homemade touch of Italian cooking, Norman suggests using fresh herbs to make a classic gremolata. This combination is a classic garnish for osso buco and also pairs well with grilled or baked fish, lentil and bean soups, and can be stirred in meat and poultry stews. To Make: Simply finely chop together one garlic clove, a handful of flat-leaf parsley sprigs, and the grated rind of half an unwaxed lemon.
To make an spicy condiment for meals with a Japanese flair, whip up a seven spice powder. "Shichimi togarashi, often just caled shichimi, translates as seven flavors chili," explains Norman. "There are variations of the formula depending on the region but even if there are less than seven ingredients, the name doesn't change." The blend is great for spicing udon noodles, soups, nabemono (one-pot dishes) and yakitori.
2 tsp white sesame seeds
1 tsp crushed dried tangerine peel
2 tsp nori flakes (aonori)
2 tsp chilli flakes
1 tbsp sansho
1 tsp black sesame seeds
1 tsp poppy seeds
Grind the white sesame seeds and tangerine peel coarsely. Add the nori and chilli flakes and grind again. Stir in the remaining ingredients and store in an airtight container.
"In Chinese culture the balance of the five flavors—salty, sour, bitter, pungent, and sweet—ensured medicinal and culinary potency," says Norman, who suggests using this blend sparingly to flavor slow-cooked dishes, marinades, and for seasoning meat or poultry that will be roasted or grilled.
6 star anise
1 tbsp Sichuan pepper
1 tbsp fennel seed
2 tsp cloves
2 tsp ground cassia or cinnamon
Grind all the spices together to a powder. Sieve and store in an airtight container.
Kick up your Indian dinners with an aromatic garam masala blend, which Norman describes as mild, with a subtle emphasis on cardamom. It's best with kebabs and classic moghul dishes made with butter and cream or yogurt.
2 tbsp green or 3 tbsp black cardamom pods
1⁄2 cinnamon stick
2 blades mace
2 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp cloves
Remove the seeds from the cardamom pods and discard the pods. Break the cinnamon into pieces. Combine all the spices in an electric grinder and grind to a powder, then sieve. Store in an airtight container for 2–3 months.
For something a little more spreadable, try a classic Middle Eastern-inspired Za'atar. "Za'atar is a generic name for a number of herbs with a thyme-savory-oregano aroma," says Norman. It's commonly used on meatballs, kebabs, and can be used as a dip for vegetables or mixed into a paste with olive oil and spread over bread.
60g (2oz) sesame seed
30g (1oz) ground sumac
30g (1oz) dried za’atar or thyme, powdered
Dry roast the sesame seeds for a few minutes, stirring frequently. Let them cool, then mix with the sumac and za’atar or thyme. Store in an airtight jar for 2–3 months