Following a low sodium diet can be challenging especially when you think you need to add salt to the water when cooking rice, pasta, grains, vegetables (especially potatoes), etc.
All of your life you have salted the cooking water. You don’t even think that not salting the water is even possible. You might think all the salt and sodium goes down the drain. What about rice? The water gets absorbed along the with the salt. Naturally low sodium rice now becomes high sodium.
If the salt doesn’t have a flavoring affect, then why do almost all recipes, cooks, restaurants, etc. salt the water. It is to make those usually bland foods a bit, or sometimes a lot salty, to add flavor. Well, you don’t need to add salt to the water.
You can always use plain water to cook with, but that can dilute flavor and your concern is that your food will taste bland. If you want to add flavor, you can flavor-up anything you cook in water by adding ingredients to increase flavor. Vary the ingredients to accent what you are preparing.
Cooking tips to flavor the water without adding salt:
- Mire-poix (onions, carrots, celery) will always help make a quick flavored broth.
- Vegetables can be used for a stronger flavor like fennel, or celery root. I would avoid vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, turnips, as they can be too different or strong and really change the flavor of the dish.
- Garlic cloves – quick and easy, peeled or skins left on, a few or a lot will work for basically a garlic broth.
- Herbs and Spices – Fresh herbs or herb stems like parsley, tarragon, basil, dill, even mint (with some dishes), peppercorns, or freshly ground black or white pepper, allspice berries, a couple of bay leaves are good choices.
- Citrus – fresh lemon juice, fresh lemon zest (the yellow part), also fresh lime or orange all work well.
- White wine – not cooking wine as this usually has a bad taste and has salt added. Use something with a good flavor but not too strong. I usually avoid wine that has been aged in oak for this technique. Depending on what you’re cooking you could add red wine or a rose’ wine but remember it will turn everything sort of red or purple.
- Vinegar– there are so many kinds of vinegar. Apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, all types of flavored vinegar. Try tarragon vinegar (one of the most salty tasting), Champagne vinegar, sherry vinegar, hot and spicy vinegar and a lot more. I don’t recommend a balsamic vinegar for adding to the water, as it is too dark in color, can be too strong, and too expensive (adding this to the finished dish is better). All brands taste a little different. Shop until you find one you really like.
- Fresh chilies – mild to hot. All types will add flavor. Leave whole, chopped, with seeds or without seeds.
Tip: Taste the seasoned or flavored water before you add the rice or whatever you are cooking. You don’t want any off tastes as they will cook and add that taste into the product. If you don’t taste much, you can let it simmer a little longer. Taste again. You are not making a soup, you just want a bit of flavor in the water to transfer to the rice, pasta, grains, potatoes etc., to add some flavor. If you want more flavor, let the water reduce a little more or add more ingredients. This should do the trick.
Now take whatever pieces or chunks you are using out of the water. The flavor is spent. You want a clear broth. Drain in a colander over another pot or bowl, or lift out big pieces with a slotted spoon or spider utensil. If you want a perfectly clear broth, you will need to strain it through a fine sieve or a piece of cheesecloth.
Now cook your rice, pasta or vegetables in the flavored water or this simple quick broth.
Remember, many of these ingredients you just cooked will be used as a base. You most likely will be adding more flavor by adding or topping them with flavorful sauces like a pasta sauce, salad dressings, salsa, more chilies, vegetables, herbs and spices, salt-free seasonings, a fresh squeeze of lemon juice, etc.
Now you have rice, pasta, grains, and vegetables with lots of flavor and no salt added to the water.