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Cooking for a sometime vegetarian with a heart condition...ideas?

Hi all! Next week, I'm going to be living in a rental near the beach with family who I don't see often. Two are vegetarian and primarily get their protein from tofu, tempeh, and beans. One of these vegs. also has a heart condition and so needs low sodium in addition to the no animal fat. (He actually sneaks meat, or eats it when she's not around, but that's a whole other subject and not my immediate concern.) Another family member is in his eighties and eats low sodium, though not because of his heart. My brother is thankfully an omnivore who eats an amazing variety of food, as long as its tasty.

So, my most pressing question is this--how do I make tofu and tempeh and beans tasty without shoyu, salt, barbecue sauce, etc? Most of the ways I know to prepare them involve sodium, especially where the tofu is concerned. Please, any ideas and/or recipes would be appreciated.

Oh, and I should also say that I'm entirely fine with making vegetarian side dishes with pastas, grains, and fruits and veggies. I have several in my repertoire, and use a lot of herbs and spices to make those tasty. I just haven't figured out how to make the aforementioned protein/starch foods palatable without some sodium.

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  1. For starters, try smoked tofu, which already has far more flavour than the regular.

    There are also a lot of low-sodium marinades out there - you could buy some before you head out, since the local beach store probably doesn't carry that stuff. Pesto could work if you reduce the parmesan. If you're in a pinch, go spicy - salsa, coconut milk curries and peanut sauce all work if you make them yourself.

    Oh, and grill them. Adds tons of flavour and no sodium.

    3 Replies
    1. re: piccola

      go easy on the coconut for anyone with a heart condition.. coconut oil is considered a no-no (or a rare treat, at best) for anyone with cardiac ish-hews.

      1. re: purple goddess

        I meant the light coconut milk - would that still be a problem?

        1. re: piccola

          Mr Goddess had a heart attack 2 years ago, aged 42... we were told that coconut milk/oil/creme is a no-no.

          The alternative we were told is a can of evaporated milk with some coconut essence.


          We just save up his naughty quotient and have a proper curry with coconut creme once a month.

    2. Acids usually add a lot of flavor without much need for salt. Try a marinade of rice wine vinegar and lime and orange juice with some diced jalapeno and chile paste. Or red wine vinegar with garlic, pepper, honey and lemon peel.

      To brighten up beans and lentils without salt, squeeze a little fresh lime juice over the top just before serving.

      1. Is the non-meat-sneaking vegetarian herbivorous for philosophical reasons? If not, you can add a lot of flavor to beans, etc., with a miniscule amount of meat. Even just a bone from a smoke ham can add a ton of flavor to beans or greens. without adding any fat. Or no-sodium-added chicken broth.

        If meat is out for reasons other than nutrition, I've use chipotle peppers to flavor vegetarian beans. I've also made vegan lentils using homemade curry powder using a recipe from Mark Bittman's "Best Recipes in the World." No salt and lots of flavor, especially when using low-sodium vegetable stock.

        1. Hummus / bean dips made without salt and with lots of herbs blended in are a flavorful spread for sandwiches, base for "pizza," and dip for veggies or chips.

          If your family likes Indian food, there are a lot of great options there. (My faves: uthappam, dosai, vada, aloo gobi, baigan bartha)

          1. My family loves Indian food! In fact, my stepmom was born in India, and they lived there until she was 9. I made aloo gobi one night for dinner the last time we were there, but it was rather difficult to get any browning (hence flavor) because the only pan big enough to hold everything was nonstick. (Beach rental kitchens and their inadequate equipment are such a misery!) I don't think there is a griddle or a fryer, but is there a way to make dosa or vada without those? I could likely manage sambhar if I brought along the spices.

            I have asked Dad to pack a grill, haven't heard from him about whether he can, but that will open up a lot of everyone's suggestions. It hadn't occured to me to grill tofu--what a great idea! I think coconut milk curries are likely to be off limits because of the saturated fat, but perhaps not? I will ask.

            I don't think I could add ham or smoked meat to veggie dishes, even for flavor. My stepmom is vegetarian for a number of reasons, philosophical/ethical among them. With my food sensitivites and their preferences, cooking becomes a real challenge. Thanks everyone for the ideas, keep them coming!

            1 Reply
            1. re: amyzan

              You can make dosa in any large pan and vada in any frying pan. I know there are a lot of mixes out there if you don't want to lug all the ingredients. (The only potentially hard to find ingredient is urad dal -- it's just red lentils with the skin stripped off so that they look white.)

              If you can do moderate amounts of cheese, one of my favorite vegetarian meals are arepas, the really easy kind where you take masa, mix in hot water and whatever seasonings or salt you want. I sometimes mix in queso blanco at this stage, but you could also just top the arepas, once they're fried up in the pan, with cheese and other toppings. If you pan fry it in olive oil, it shouldn't be too unhealthy. I've topped it with just about everything under the sun, including basil, chives, tomato, grilled fish, grilled asparagus, salsa, cilantro, olive oil marinated tuna, scrambled eggs, pesto (can be made without parmesan), roasted peppers. I've never tried grilled tofu, but I'm sure that would work, too.

              I should also mention tabouleh, marinated three-bean salad, baked falafel (yogurt garlic sauce moistens it and adds lots of flavor), and chickpea salad (i.e. http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Chickpea...).

              I'd have moderate amounts of unsalted almonds or pistachios and fruit sitting around for snacking, and maybe soy yogurt in the fridge, too. Stonybrook Farms makes some wicked good ones.

              [BTW, it's cool and thoughtful of you to take on such a difficult project!]

            2. Could definitely do chili, adding tofu or setian or TVP flakes, etc.

              Whole Foods has flavored tempehs that are great scrambled with egg whites, herbs, and any other seasonings you like. I do egg whites, herbed tempeh, salsa, garlic, and onions.

              Eggplant lasagna w/ or w/o noodles; make your own low-salt sauce or buy low-salt. Could also do eggplant rollatini.

              Burritos... beans, low-sodium cheese, salsa, avocado, etc. or do a breakfast twist w/ egg whites and soy chorizo or low sodium meat sub.

              Lentil soup or lentil patties/cakes

              Stuffed acorn or delicata squash

              Lettuce wraps w/ mushroom filling or tofu filling

              1. The suggestions about lemon, garlic, Indian food, and herbs are all good, but yes, I'd steer clear of coconut milk and anything smoked, be it so innocent as tofu, as I recall from cooking for my mother after her bypass surgery. What about fish, for the person who craves meat? Enjoy your vacation cooking despite all the constraints. It's like a game - and it's good for you, too!

                1 Reply
                1. re: Amanita

                  I've not seen smoked tofu in our stores yet...but if you find it, read the label to check for sodium content as with anything else...it's true: lots of smoked foods can be high in sodium.

                2. would a veggie lasagna with tofu in place of ricotta be acceptable? could get lots of flavor from roasted veggies beforehand to incorporate. Also fresh basil...

                  1. A couple of the Moosewood cookbooks have recipes for lemon baked tofu: basically, you mix cubed tofu with a lemon-olive oil vinagrette, then bake it. I believe they include rosemary too. We've eaten it with couscous or on Greek salad.

                    I guess low-sodium soy sauce is out, also?

                    You could make fajitas, with black beans as the protein option for the vegetarians. Others could include meat, with everyone having salsa, guacamole, grilled veggies, etc.

                    Moosewood Simple Suppers (a go-to book for me, in case you haven't guessed) has a recipe for Beans and Greens Risotto that is really good. My husband (meat-eating) and I (vegetarian) both scarf it up.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: jjones21

                      Yeah, I think even low sodium soy is still too high sodium for him. I'm taking some good tortillas, frozen, in my luggage so we can make fajitas/burritos, etc. I figured that way the meat eaters and tofu eaters alike can assemble their own. I like the lemon marinated tofu idea, especially since I have some pasta with tomatoes and squash in mind for one night, accompanied by roast chicken for those who want it. The tofu would be a good alternative that night.

                      1. re: jjones21

                        that whole cookbook is just awesome. I've made about 2/3 of the recipes and only one has been a dud.

                        The broccoli cheddar (rarebit) risotto is great, as are the bread soup, lemon pasta, beans and greens risotto, bread/cheese casserole (altered a bit to add greens), poached huevos, cheese soup, beans/corn/greens soup, asparagus soup, and walnut pesto.

                        My favorite is the pasta w/ carmelied onions and blue cheese. The blue cheese pasta is heavenly :D I make it every time my husband is out of town (at least 1-2 week-long trips a month) - for some odd reason he dislikes "stinky cheese" ... silly man! But I've given up trying to convert him.

                        I need to try the tofu mushroom marsala, polenta-stuffed peppers, artichoke and feta pasta.

                      2. A few more in case you're not already at the beach and off the grid:

                        1. tofu scrambled eggs (http://www.protein.com/soyproteinreci...) made with garlic powder, chives & pepper, served with low-salt or salt-free salsa

                        2. quinoa salad (i.e. http://www.cdkitchen.com/recipes/recs...


                        3. quinoa pilaf (i.e. http://www.foodreference.com/html/qui... or http://www.recipesource.com/fgv/pilaf... ; this one sounds interesting, but i haven't tried it: http://whatdoiknow.typepad.com/what_d...)

                        4. I really like your fajita / burrito bar idea. Why not try the same thing with baked potatoes topped with broccoli, squash, veggie chilli, salsa (and meat of some kind for the omnivores)? It's a great light meal to have near the end of your stay to use up any leftovers you might have sitting around. You can top a baked potato with anything (and any leftover potato can be turned into aloo gobi).

                        1. A report back--the cooking went well! We ate out a couple nights, which made the workload a little lighter. (I had some wonderful snapper and shrimp and crab.) At the house, being without a grill, I made a whole wheat spaghetti with roasted summer squash and cherry tomatoes, lots of oregano, onion, garlic,and parmesan and served both chicken and seared lemon pepper tofu on the side. Also, my stepmom made quinoa stuffed peppers with peas, sunflower seeds and mozzarella that went over well. We made cole slaw, black bean soup, vegetable soup, and tamarind potatoes that everyone amended to their preference. I poached eggs for the soup, and my stepmom made curried tofu cubes. I brought sprouted wheat tortillas, and we steamed those for burritos or quesadillas, assemble your own, stuffed with summer squash, peppers, onions, black beans, and jack cheese. We glugged down lots of rooibos and jamaica and beer, walked on the beach, and a good time was had by all. Thanks again for all the great ideas!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: amyzan

                            I'm glad it went well, amyzan. Thanks so much for reporting back!