Hello and Welcome Everyone,
When I think of ways to increase flavor, especially needed in regards to a low sodium diet or at least a lower sodium diet, of course I think of herbs, spices and salt-free seasonings. There are numerous ways to add flavor instead of salt like adding fresh garlic, fresh herbs, marinating, slow cooking, a pressure cooker, grilling, browning, chilies, fresh lemon juice, vinegars, freshly ground black pepper just to name a few.
However, one of the most basic and most important flavor builders or a flavor base is a French cooking term or technique called a mirepoix. I learned this technique at a young age from my Mom. A mirepoix is where I automatically start many of my recipes. If I didn’t quite know what to fix for dinner, I started cooking a mirepoix and soon an idea and a meal was created. I realized recently that this technique was reinforced by my admiration of Julia Child’s recipes and many other cooks and chefs as well. I am now watching the Food Network, especially Diner’s Dive-ins and Dives with Guy Fieri. It seems like almost every show there is a mention of a mirepoix. All of you should know about it and start using it when cooking.
What is a Mirepoix ?
Mirepoix – or mire poix pronounced (meer pwah), is a French cooking term. This French flavor base is used to increase flavor, aroma and balance. This is where you start building flavor, especially for stocks, soups, stews, gravies and sauces. Also used as a bed to braise and cook meats or fish upon. It’s a combination of chopped aromatic vegetables, traditionally onions, carrots and celery. Two parts onion, one part carrot and one part celery, all chopped the same size for even cooking. This can be large or small depending on what you are preparing. Then sautéed or sweat in unsalted butter, olive oil or a combination of the two, to soften the vegetables and start the flavor building process. Then add other ingredients to your mirepoix base like herbs, spices, seasonings, water, wine, additional vegetables, meats, legumes, etc.
There can be many variations but the basic traditional Mirepoix recipe is:
- 1 cup onion, (about 1 large) peeled and chopped
- ½ cup carrot, (about 1 medium) trimmed, peeled and chopped
- ½ cup celery, (about 1 large stalk), trimmed and chopped (the darker the green the better the flavor, and yes, you can have celery on a low sodium diet as an average stalk of celery has only about 35 milligrams of natural occurring sodium), and you don’t usually eat a whole stalk.
Note: Mirepoix is more about percentages than exact measurements.
Look upon your cutting board and see the mound of chopped onion. The carrot and celery should each be the same size mounds which together will be equal to the mound of onions.
Many countries or regions have their own combinations of vegetables they start with to create their own distinctive and unique aroma and taste. This is how we distinguish Italian food from Mexican, French or Cajun. It’s not just about the spices or seasonings, which are important, but it’s the flavor base or their unique mirepoix used to start with, which makes the flavor difference, also the look and the aroma.
A few of these unique combinations are:
- Italian – Soffritto – Onions, garlic, celery and often contains fresh parsley
- Spanish – Sofrito – Tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and garlic
- Portuguese – Refogado – Onions, tomatoes and garlic
- German – Suppengrun or Soup greens – Leeks, carrots and a piece of celeriac (celery root)
- Cajun/Creole – Lovingly called the Holy Trinity – Onions, celery and bell peppers
Today it seems that so many recipes start building their flavor with canned, boxed, cubed or paste broths and bouillons. The problem is, these are almost always very high in sodium. Even lower sodium versions can be too high in sodium. Many low sodium brands are made with potassium chloride which can affect the taste and is not safe to use for many folks on a low sodium diet because of their medications or other health issues like kidney dialysis. Just one cup of commercially made broth can contain over half of their daily sodium allowance and one cup of bouillon can have almost a full days worth of their recommended daily sodium intake.
So instead, learn to start building flavor with a mirepoix. If you don’t have good knife or chopping skills, look for fresh or frozen mirepoix in larger grocery stores. Even Trader Joe’s has the frozen ready and nicely chopped for you. Most of what I have seen available is about a ¼- ½ -inch chop or dice which is great for soups. Remember, the more you chop, the better you get. Fresh is best, so practice, practice, practice. However, having some mirepoix in your freezer can be quite handy.
This is actually where I started with the idea for Table Tasty. Once I started creating, the first ingredients I added were onions, carrots, celery. The early versions had green bell pepper, garlic and tomato. Changes came because many customers didn’t like the green bell pepper, so I changed it to red bell pepper. Many didn’t like the garlic (so I took it out) and I took out the tomato for the kidney patients especially for the kidney dialysis patients.
Soups are one of the most challenging recipes to make flavorful and low sodium. Here in the US it is very common to start recipes, especially soup recipes with a can of soup, or commercially made broth, stock, or bouillon. In fact, today it is not easy to find a soup recipe without any of these ingredients. It is best just to start building flavor with a mirepoix of some sort.
In the last newsletter I mentioned to try new flavors. Lentils are considered one of the healthiest foods in the world. Nutritious, high in fiber, and quick cooking compared to other legumes (beans). No pre-soaking needed. There are many varieties which vary in color, texture and flavor. Try them in soups, salads, vegetarian patties and side dishes. Lentils date back over 8,000 years. They are popular in Indian dishes such as (dal), as well as Middle Eastern, French, Italian, and Greek to name a few. The green French Le Puy, are a bit more expensive for lentils but quite flavorful and hold their shape. Most of us are more familiar with the brown lentils which I use a lot. There are also black, yellow, red and orange colors. Usually sold whole, you can find them also split into halves.
New Recipe: Greek-Style Vegetarian Lentil Soup
This is a quick and easy, one pot, made from scratch, hearty, flavorful soup.
Cooks in less than an hour plus chopping time for the mirepoix.
2 quarts water (8 cups), divided
8 ounces (1 cup) brown lentils or your choice of colors
¼ cup olive oil
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 onion chopped
1 large carrot, trimmed, peeled and chopped
1 stalk celery, trimmed and chopped
1 Tablespoon #112 Masterpiece Mediterranean-style salt-free seasoning
1 Tablespoon tomato paste (no salt added)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 teaspoons #103 Table Tasty salt substitute,divided, to taste
4 Teaspoons olive oil, or to taste (traditional but optional)
4 teaspoons red wine vinegar, or to taste (traditional but optional)
In large saucepan or Dutch oven, place lentils that have been picked over for stones and debris and rinsed. Cover with 1 inch of water. Over medium-high heat bring to a boil; cook for 10 minutes; drain into a strainer. Dry the saucepan. Add good quality olive oil and place over medium-high heat. Add, onion, carrot and celery, stir, add garlic and cook until onions are translucent and vegetables have softened, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in Masterpiece salt-free seasoning and cook about 1 minute. Add lentils back into pan, and 1 quart water (4 cups). Bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover and simmer about 10 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and pepper. Cover and simmer until the lentils have softened. Start checking at 25 minutes but may take 30 to 40 minutes to cook tender. Add more water if too thick. Stir in Table Tasty just before serving. Serve in soup bowls and drizzle each serving with a teaspoon of good quality extra virgin olive oil and a teaspoon of red wine vinegar (this adds more flavor and a brightness). Makes 4 servings. Enjoy.
I hope you have found this information helpful.