Last month, Gary Imhoff of DC Watch had some salty words to say about health and nutrition. Just as the innovative, promising Healthy Schools Act was making its way to become law, Gary objected to the efforts to reduce the consumption of sugar and salt in our schools. These ingredients, Gary claimed, "pose no real dietary or health dangers to the average person."
Unfortunately, one third of Americans are far beyond average: they are either overweight or obese. A major factor in this health crisis is overconsumption of sodium, which contributes to heart disease among other illness. The Washington Post recently reported that the Center for Disease Control estimates that an average of 77 percent of our sodium intake actually comes from packaged food -- the canned, boxed, and bottled foods we buy at the market. That article also reports that the federal government is taking this health threat seriously with a new effort (not yet officially announced, but planned to span a 10-year period) to curb the amount of sodium in processed food and restaurants.
It's great news, and I hope the federal government follows through. Indeed, here at Bread for the City we've already started down that path. In the past few years, we have greatly reduced much of the sodium in the items in our food pantry.
Yet Gary objects to "food police" who he says wants us to live in "a world without flavor." The good news for Gary is that ours is a wide world full of flavors, with many ways of preparing food that is both tasty and healthy.
Here at Bread for the City, we're able to go beyond the pantry to explore this world of healthy food. Each month at both the NW and SE sites, BFC holds nutrition and cooking workshops, geared toward helping clients make tasty, easy-to-prepare, healthful, inexpensive foods at home.
Just a few weeks ago, I gathered with Bread for the City clients from age 3 to about 73, as we spent an hour peeling, chopping, stirring, and laughing. We talk a lot about salt in these classes. With chili pepper flakes, vinegar, garlic, onion, and lemon as the seasonings on these dishes, the flavor was plentiful -- all without using any salt. Participants knew that if they chose, they could add salt to the food on their own plates. But, remarkably, every participant declined to add any.
Given that many participants struggle with hypertension and other health conditions, it was a pleasure to hear: “I can do this.” “More please!” “I’m going to make this for a potluck!” and more. Everyone ate, everyone was satisfied, and this was without the pervasive shake, shake of the salt shaker.
So we encourage Gary to venture out into the world of healthful flavors! Try cooking with healthful seasonings like natural herbs and spices, low-sodium vinegars, citrus peel, garlic, hot pepper, and onion. Maybe the recipes from our recent workshops could be some inspiration to him. They're a big hit over here.
(The budget for this workshop, by the way, was just $30-35 for the recipes below, which fed about 10 people. Minimizing animal products helped make that possible. And they’re all available at Giant or Safeway, where most of our clients shop; most ingredients are also available at the Latin markets.)
Black Bean Salad
- 1 can of low-sodium black beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 package of frozen corn, thawed and drained
- 2 large tomatoes, diced
- 1/3 red onion, minced
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro and/or fresh parsley
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- Splash of olive oil
- Splash of red wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons of lime juice, plus the zest of one lime
- 1 teaspoon of cumin
- red chili pepper flakes (to taste)
- 1 avocado, sliced or diced (optional)
Mix all ingredients except avocado in large bowl. (Can prepare salad one day in advance and keep covered in refrigerator.)
Add optional avocado to bowl immediately before serving.
- 2 bunches of kale (about 1 pound), center ribs and stems removed, leaves thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons chopped almonds
- 3 tablespoons raisins
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 7 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- Parmesan cheese shavings
Place raisins in small bowl with balsamic vinegar. Let soak for several hours or overnight.
After soaking is complete, remove raisins from bowl with a slotted spoon, keeping remaining vinegar in bowl.
Add apple cider vinegar, honey, olive oil, and optional salt to balsamic vinegar in bowl and wisk together.
Add kale, raisins, and almonds. Toss to coat.
Let marinate at least 20 minutes at room temperature, tossing occasionally. Can marinate for a few hours to soften kale even more.
Sprinkle cheese shavings over salad right before serving.
Toasted Pita Triangles
- Whole-wheat pita
- Olive oil
Preheat oven to 350.
Combine olive oil with herbs.
Cut pita into triangles. Open each triangle so there are now two pieces.
Lightly brush each pita triangle with olive oil mixture.
Place on a baking tray.
Warm pita in oven for a couple of minutes, checking frequently so they do not burn.