February 11, 2011

Socca salad sandwich | Sodium | Getting real

I was hungry as I cruised my blog list and came upon Bitt's post about socca on Bitt of Raw. I'd made baked socca before in the oven, but her husband made it in a pan like a pancake. Aimee had made raw falafels, and her husband rolled his falafels up in a socca wrap. The socca wrap sounded so good and fast, and I was really hungry. I remembered making similar chickpea flour omelets like Zoa, from The Airy Way Blog, did, and not being so fond of the chickpea flour taste. But I've changed my mind about chickpea flour since then, so I was eager to roll something up in socca. Like Zoa, I used an equal amount of water and chickpea flour (1/2 cup) for my socca, plus a teaspoon of oil and a tiny pinch of salt, and I cooked up two pancakes at high speed. (Remember — really hungry.)

For the inside, I made salad with baby greens, tomatoes, avocado and some leftover chickpea chili. I needed both my hands to roll and enjoy it, so no photos. Fantastic!


Some thoughts about salt

Do you ever think about sodium? Do you try to reduce your intake? Most of us get far too much sodium in our diets, exposing us to the possibility of high blood pressure, blood clots, heart attacks, kidney disease and certain cancers? Did you know that excess sodium leaches calcium from the body? If you're young and in good health, you may think you don't have to worry about stuff like this, but waiting until problems manifest isn't always the best method for dealing with them. And doctors are finding diseases such as these occurring in younger and younger people. The issue of sodium has come up for me recently as I've been doing recipe testing for someone, and finding the recipes much saltier than I'm used to. For recipe testing I make the recipes as written, and I don't usually mention the salt in my reviews unless someone else at the table complains. But many of the dishes taste pretty salty to me, which has me re-examining my diet.

I went to the USDA's most recent release of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to see what the latest mainstream thinking is about salt. The general recommendation is this:

"Reduce daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) and further reduce intake to 1,500 mg among persons who are 51 and older and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. The 1,500 mg recommendation applies to about half of the U.S. population, including children, and the majority of adults."

The following offers a little more detail:

"For adolescents and adults of all ages (14 years and older), the IOM (Institute of Medicine) set the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) at 2,300 mg per day. The UL is the highest daily nutrient intake level that is likely to pose no risk of adverse health effects (e.g., for sodium, increased blood pressure) to almost all individuals in the general population. The IOM recognized that the association between sodium intake and blood pressure was continuous and without a threshold (i.e., a level below which the association no longer exists). The UL was based on several trials, including data from the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH)-Sodium trial. The IOM noted that in the DASH-Sodium trial, blood pressure was lowered when target sodium intake was reduced to 2,300 mg per day, and lowered even further when sodium was targeted to the level of 1,200 mg per day.46 An intake level of 2,300 mg per day was commonly the next level above the AI of 1,500 mg per day that was tested in the sodium trials evaluated by the IOM."

Americans, especially males, are getting substantially too much sodium in their diets. Many people consume double or even more than double, the highest recommended amount. Where is all this salt coming from? Table salt contains the following:

1/4 teaspoon salt = 600 mg sodium
1/2 teaspoon salt = 1200 mg sodium
3/4 teaspoon salt = 1800 mg sodium
1 teaspoon salt = 2400 mg sodium
1 teaspoon baking soda = 1000 mg sodium

But table salt and salty seasonings that you add to home-cooked food may be only part of the problem. If you are eating many purchased, prepared foods, including breads and other commonly store-bought items, you could easily be exceeding the salt guidelines. Here's a sampling of commonly consumed foods and their sodium content:

Breadcrumbs, seasoned, 1/4 cup - 795 mg
Baking powder, 1 teaspoon - 488 mg
Baking soda, 1 teaspoon - 1,000 mg
Plain bagel - 561 mg
Capers, 1 Tablespoon - 255 mg
Pesto, basil, 1/4 cup - 730 mg
Soy sauce, 1 Tablespoon - 914 mg
Soy sauce, light, 1 Tablespoon - 660 mg

If we eat a lot of snack food, restaurant food, commercial baked goods, etc., we could be getting much more salt than is healthy. Even if we eat mostly home-cooked food, relying heavily on high-salt seasonings also can lead to problems. But what happens to flavor when salt is reduced?

I've been reducing salt in my cooking for years, and at first, everything tasted bland. Then, after a short adjustment period, the real flavors of the food began to intensify for me, and too much salt became an unwelcome distraction rather than an enhancement. When a small amount of salt is used to bring out a food's flavor, it's completely different from when salt IS the flavor. I remember when my mother-in-law had to go on an extremely low salt diet for health reasons, one of the foods on the restricted list was celery. Celery? I couldn't believe it at the time. Celery didn't seem like a high sodium vegetable. Now when I bite into a piece of celery, I can taste the saltiness.

I still use salt, but very judiciously. If anyone wants more, they can always add it at the table. In fact, you will probably consume less salt if you greatly reduce cooking salt (including salty condiments like soy sauce) and add a light sprinkle at the table. Having salt on the surface of the food gives your tongue the impression that the food is saltier than it is. Other foods that taste salty can add a lot of flavor with less sodium. Compare 1/2 teaspoon of salt (1200 mg) with one tablespoon of capers (255 mg.). When buying canned or jarred foods like beans or tomatoes, I choose the no salt added varieties, and if I buy prepared soup stock, it's always the low-sodium kind.

Salt, like sugar, is an addictive substance, and hard to give up. You can compensate by adding more aromatic seasonings like onions, garlic, herbs and spices. For example, I found an amazing, organic salt-free seasoning mix at Costco that we use on everything from broccoli to popcorn, if we want to bump up the flavor. Most vegetables taste delicious to me plain, but if I'm feeling creative, I may add grated garlic, fresh lemon juice and zest, toasted sesame seeds, or green onions and herbs. Real food tastes so much better to me now, I don't miss the salt.


What do we really eat?

Everything I post on the blog is something either my husband or I have cooked and eaten, but because I tend to post the better-looking stuff, you may get an unrealistic view of what we eat. Mostly we dine simply, with occasional gustatory splurges. Above you see a simple dish of steamed kale and puy lentils with carrots. The kale was enhanced with crushed red pepper, lemon and garlic, and the lentils were pretty plain, but delicious. This is how I like to eat.

And here's my breakfast — not very pretty but great tasting. It's rolled oats with raisins, banana, walnuts, frozen blueberries, cinnamon and almond milk — no added sugar or salt.

Above is a barley soup made with dried shiitake mushroom stock. (I've linked to a recipe for stock (dashi), but it's pretty flexible and can be made with or without the seaweed. It can also be soaked overnight in the refrigerator. Here's another.)

This was a yummy Indian dish called Batata Bhaji which I found on Holy Cow Vegan Blog.


Recipe testing for Urban Vegan

Shamefully simple chickpea chili

Shamefully simple chickpea chili served over rice with broccoli/mushrooms and salad

Tofu with broccoli and black bean sauce

Tofu with broccoli and black bean sauce served over noodles


  1. Yeah! Stuff is way too salty! For dinner this evening, when I got home after being away for 12 hours, we made a quick sandwich-and-baked-beans dinner. Afterwards we were soooooo thirsty! We had homemade pickles in the sandwiches, and he also had cheese, and it was commercial baked beans, and it all adds up quickly, I'm with you!

  2. "When a small amount of salt is used to bring out a food's flavor, it's completely different from when salt IS the flavor"

    great line. i try not to eat to much salt either. now when i do stir-frys i only add soy sauce a the end, and my food keeps getting lighter and lighter each time a make it.

    do you make your own mushroom stock?that sounded really good Andrea.i loved this glimpse ntowhat you regularly eat:)! it all looked good to me!

  3. I'm with you about the vegetables, I rarely add salt when I'm boiling or steaming them (except maybe a pinch at the table if I'm feeling it).

    Lots of my food has soy sauce in it-- I didn't realize soy sauce has so much sodium in it! No wonder my mom made a big commotion when I bought the giant non-light bottle at Costco. Heh.


  4. Even your "not for the blog" photos look great. Superstar stuff. Your oatmeal looks a lot like mine.
    I try to keep away from sodium in general but I do every once in a while. I'm still trying to cut back but my worst intake is sugar!

  5. I've heard about socca a few times now, sounds like something I want to try. Your wrap looks so vegetabley and yummy. Also love the look of the barley shitake soup...I mean it all looks delectable, but that one is really appealing to me: brothy and savory. It's fun to see what you really eat...I know, I do the same on my blog, I tend to post about stuff that looks better, but probably doesn't give a good idea of eating day to day.

    Thanks for the info on salt. I try not to use to much, but it's the condiments that get me! I love hot sauces, mustards, and pickles...almost at addiction levels...they're all sodium bombs.

  6. Claire,
    Last night we had takeout Pho from a restaurant and it didn't even taste salty, but I kept waking up all night long with terrible thirst. Sheesh.

    That line about the salt is how I feel sometimes. I want to taste my food, now that I've learned what it tastes like! Yes I make my own shiitake stock. I went back and linked to two recipes in the post. Thanks for asking.

    Soy sauce is the biggest problem with cutting back on salt at our house, too. But we still use a fraction of what's in most recipes. Go get that seasoning. It's great, if you like onion and garlic.

    Thank you. Those photos were for the blog, just not fancy stuff or recipes. There are certain salty foods like olives that show up in my food sometimes — hard to be perfect. :D Sugar is another habit that tough for people to kick, I know. And let's not forget fat, while we're at it.

    You do want to try socca, Rose. For me it was an acquired taste, but it didn't take long. The flavor is really unique. I love the word brothy — it always makes me crave an earthy soup when I hear it.

    My family members all love hot sauce — we must have 20 kinds. I like to sub crushed red pepper or fresh hot peppers with a little tomato.

  7. I love chickpea flatbread so much. I almost always have some on hand for wraps and pizzas... chickpea flour is such a great ingredient.

    I need to reduce my salt intake.. cooking in restaurants, I have always highly seasoned my food and you're so right that after a period of adjustment you totally get used to less salt.

  8. oh thank you, i was going to do a search, but this really helps!all your food looks great.

  9. Exactly! Great information on sodium, thank you for putting it out there. I know that we became very sensitive to sodium after our vegan transformation (and less reliance on processed foods). Now, we just omit salt from recipes (except when baking) and add a touch of ground sea salt at the table, if needed. What a difference (for the better) in taste - who knew?!

  10. Melody,
    The flatbread has so much flavor and is so easy to make. I love it, too. Restaurant food does tend to be salty, but I think that's probably what a lot of people want. I'd love to see a low-salt campaign take hold.


    I'm so glad to hear from someone with a similar experience to mine. Thanks for writing and letting me know that you too have learned to enjoy the real taste of food!

  11. Great info on salt. I know I have a love for it, too much. I think your everyday meals look great!

  12. Yum--I love socca. I will have to make some soon because yours looks so good!

    American's are addicted to salt. I never add salt in my cooking, but like you, when I am recipe testing I do make the recipe as written. I am always afraid to sound like a broken record in my reviews about the recipe being too salty, but almost all of them are. Whenever I visit family or they visit me and I cook, they all add SO much salt at the table because they are not used to no salt. I don't even have a salt shaker, so my mom has to use the big salt canister I have in the back of the cupboard for baking, lol! I think your food looks delicious and those lentils sound fabulous along with the kale :-)


  13. Blessedmama,
    Salt really does sneak into just about everything. It's so hard to keep track of how much we're consuming. When you come to hang out, I'll try to make one of the "better" every day meals!

    I don't have a salt shaker either, so I offer the salt jar if someone needs it, and I keep it filled with kosher sea salt. I try to imagine what most people would like when I recipe test, but sometimes it's just extreme and I have to say something. Usually I only mention it if my husband complains, because he likes salt.

  14. salt is a problem for me...i've tried cutting back a few times and you're right, it does clear your palate and allow other flavors to come through. i imagine it's like how ex-smokers can taste food better after they quit. but somehow my salt intake always creeps back up gradually after i cut back.

  15. Glad you tried the socca! It's super easy to do.

    I have heard a lot about cutting down on the salt lately, timely mention for me. Lately if I see a whole teaspoon in a recipe I am in shock. Too much I think.

  16. Emily,
    Salt is a tough habit to break, especially if you enjoy eating out. Your tolerance keeps creeping back up if you're not really judicious. I have to keep working at it, but I think it's really important for health.

    It is super easy and so delicious. The first time I tried socca in a pan I didn't like it. Then I tried it in the oven and loved it. I guess the flavor has grown on me because now I think it tastes great!

  17. I try not to use much salt, but when I am cooking foods that my husband is going to eat, I have a tendancy to salt it more, because he always says it needs salt. I need to stop doing that and just let him salt his own.

    Your foods look great even if they aren't blog pics. :o) I need to try my oatmeal like you eat it. Yours sounds so good. I'm not a big oatmeal fan, but I could easily eat yours.

  18. Yay!! Oh, and I love the hearts! Happy Valentines Day to you, too. :-)

  19. Wow, you've come around on chickpea flour! I'm glad to hear, as if chickpea flour were a good friend of mine I *hoped* you would like :-) (And thanks for the links!) Your wrap looks so fantastic, better than anything I've ever done with socca, so healthy and lo-carb.

    Also, your daily meals are very appealing, the blueberry breakfast thing especially. It makes me think more of us (that is, I) should do more of this, just taking pictures of what we're having today.

    Interesting information on sodium. I've been assuming I'm safe since I have low BP. But no...

  20. Michelle,
    I tend to salt more for company, though when I think about it, they could be wanting lower salt, too. Maybe the best thing is cook low salt and have extra salt available, like you said.

    I've been mashing a banana into the oats and it gives them a sweet flavor. Sometimes I cook the banana with the oats and sometimes add it after.

    Thanks! I wish I could just keep the hearts going but it's only for Valentines Day. Darn.

    Yes, your good friend chickpea flour is now a good friend of mine. Isn't friendship great? I beg to differ, though, and say your chickpea creations are far more interesting than mine!

    I thought you DID take pictures of what you're having "today." I thought you created spectacular meals every day. :D I guess I really do think that — your dishes are always so intriguingly beautiful and delicious-looking. You mean you occasionally eat "ordinary" food? Like oatmeal? No way.


Thanks for visiting Andrea's easy vegan cooking. I love, and read, all of your comments! Please share your thoughts.

There are a few Amazon links in the posts. Thanks in advance if you click on one.

Note: ALL THE IMAGES FROM THIS BLOG WERE ACCIDENTALLY DELETED ON 1-21-12. I'M RESTORING THEM, POST BY POST, BUT IT WILL TAKE A LONG TIME. Recipe pages you visit may be missing photos, but all the text in intact. If you find a post without images, let me know so I can fix it. Thanks!