What’s Cooking Blog – Entry #18: Za’atar and Low-Sodium Spice Blends
Although there are plenty of mainstream diet trends, research continues to suggest that the human body needs six essential nutrients to function. Sodium is one of those essential nutrients that serves multiple functions as an ingredient food.
You will see the words sodium and salt used throughout this blog entry, but it would be a misnomer to use them interchangeably because the two aren’t synonymous. Sodium is the main ingredient in table salt, which is combined with chloride and in some cases iodine. Check out Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat and the websites referenced at the bottom of this post to learn more about the science.
The primary role of salt is a seasoning used to amplify flavor, but that isn’t the only way this mineral is employed. Very broadly, salt is used in food preservation and fermentation as a binding and emulsifying agent; and to enhance texture, aroma, and color. Unfortunately, despite its usefulness, there’s at least one caveat. According to the FDA, the recommended daily intake of sodium is less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day for adults observing a 2,000-calorie diet. That’s equal to one teaspoon of salt. Now consider the size of a teaspoon, and remember that we should have less than one teaspoon of salt a day. That may sound manageable, but, sodium can show up in other forms like: monosodium glutamate (MSG), sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), and sodium nitrate (a preservative) to list a few. Because these aren’t used sparingly in processed, packaged, and restaurant foods, you may not realize how much you’re consuming in a day. You’re not alone. On average, Americans eat between 3,400 and 8,800 mg of sodium a day, that’s up to four teaspoons. You’ve probably heard that too much sodium has been shown to increase the risk of health problems like high blood pressure (also known as hypertension). But you may not know that most of us are at a disadvantage because blood pressure tends to increase with age. If left unnoticed it can lead to a heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, and blindness. A few small changes could make a difference.
Cooking with a low or no sodium spice blend is one of the easiest ways to help reduce your salt intake without cutting back on flavor. Berbere and Za’atar were recommended to me when I mentioned an interest in preparing more flavorful dishes using less seasoning. Berbere is a traditional Ethiopian blend made of chiles, garlic, fenugreek, and warm spices like allspice and cinnamon. Za’atar is a savory blend used in Middle Eastern or Mediterranean dishes. After intensely reciting Eine Mine Miney Moe, and playing a solo game of Rock-Paper-Scissors, I chose to use Lebanese Za’atar. This can be made with sumac, oregano or thyme, sesame seeds, and salt.
*Note: spice blends can vary by region/ location, and preference when they’re made at home.
Title of Cookbook: Olives, Lemons & Za’atar: The Best Middle Eastern Home Cooking.
Author of Cookbook: Rawia Bishara
What prompted you to check out this cookbook? We tried “Oven-Roasted Za’atar Chicken Breasts” found on Allrecipes.com and liked it so I was interested in trying other dishes that also called for za’atar seasoning.
What did you like about this cookbook? The author provided supplemental information in the introduction that I found helpful (refer to my favorite recipe, below).
What didn’t you like about this cookbook/website? I wanted more recipes for za’atar; maybe an entire cookbook with appetizers and snacks. I would have liked to have seen entrees using various meats, or recipes for the flexitarian, or vegetarian, etc.
Favorite recipe (that you tried from the cookbook/website): After reading more about the flavor profile and recommended usage, I decided to try something Bishara suggested on page 11 in the introduction of Olives, Lemons & Za’Atar.
“Za’atar: Dry oregano or thyme is often mixed with sumac, toasted sesame seeds and salt and served with olive oil and Arabic bread as a traditional breakfast in the Middle East.”
Some of my coworkers suggested doing the same thing. Why didn’t I think of this myself!?
Did you alter the recipe or make any substitutions? If so, what were they? Unsure where to source fresh Arabic bread, I substituted it with one of my favorite porous artisan bread.
I also tried za’atar with a fried egg (Olives, Lemons & Za’atar pg.16, I omitted the bread) and on homemade French fries (Simply: Easy Everyday Dishes pg. 34, I omitted polenta and substituted sweet potatoes with russet potatoes).
Would you recommend this cookbook/recipe? Yes.
- Olives, Lemons & Za’Atar: the best Middle eastern Home Cooking / Rawia Bishara; photography by Peter Cassidy.
- Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking / by Samin Nosrat; and art by Wendy MacNaughton; with a foreword by Michael Pollan.
- Simply: Easy Everyday Dishes from the Bestselling Author of Persiana / Sabrina Ghayour.
- Are salt and sodium the same thing? / Sharecare.com
- High Blood Pressure / MedlinePlus.gov
- Oven-Roasted Za’atar Chicken Breasts / Allrecipes.com
- The Right Amount of Calories, Carbs, Fat, Protein and Sodium to Get Each Day / Christina Vercelletto
- Sodium in Your Diet / U.S. Food & Drug Administration, Check the package for “Nutrient Claims” chart.
Quick Subject links to the Library catalog:
- Cooking, Mediterranean.
- Vega (New Catalog) https://mhud.na.iiivega.com/search?query=Cooking,%20Mediterranean.%20&searchType=everything&pageSize=10
- Cooking, Middle Eastern.
- Salt-free diet recipes.