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Low sodium tips for Asian/Mexican cuisines

I'm on a low sodium diet, 2000 milllgrams (about 2 tsp) or less per day. So far it's doable but has turned my cooking, grocery shopping and eating upside down. I read labels like a madman and my taste has changed to the point now I can taste salt levels in most foods more than previously. The sodium levels in commercial breads are high, and don't get me started on canned soups and veg.

However, this restriction has torpedoed my consumption of my favorite ethnic foods: Thai / Chinese, and Mexican. Sodium levels in fish and soy sauces, for example, are sky-high: 1730 mg per T, 1005 mg per T, respectively. Even low sodium soy sauce is still high in salt.

What methods or ingredients have others here used to cook tasty Asian and Mexican meals without high levels of sodium? (Yep, already use citrus juices.) I've already checked this Chow low sodium thread: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/31794...

and this one as well:

http://www.chowhound.com/topics/36910...

I'm specifically interested in techniques or suggestions for Asian / Mexican dishes.

I use potassium chloride (NoSalt brand) salt substitute, which works fine when it's dissolved in soups or stews, but sprinkled on anything, it leaves me with a bitter aftertaste. Worcestershire sauce has been a God-send, and I've finally found a flour tortilla that has only 130 mg sodium per.

I've tried Mrs. Dash herb mixes, but they taste like floor sweepings to me. (I haven't tried Penzey's yet.) However, on amazon.com I found a low/no sodium powdered chicken boullion that's not bad: Bernard's Low Sodium Chicken Soup & Gravy Base. IIRC, only 6 mg sodium per 8 oz serving prepared. I see Minor's has also introduced low sodium chicken, beef and vegetable bases, so I'll be trying those.

Or is my only alternative to restrict my consumption of these foods to one or two bites?

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  1. In your mind what makes a dish 'Mexican'?

    If you makes things from scratch you can control the salt levels directly, without having to read the fine print. There are few Mexican items that require store bought sauces and spice mixes. Cilantro, cumin, whole dried and fresh chiles, Mexican oregano, and limes are some of the flavorings that come to mind.

    I'd have double check this, but I think corn tortillas don't have added salt. Flour tortillas can be high in salt, but you can make these at home. Canned beans will have salt, though you can remove some of this by rinsing. You can control the salt if you cook beans from scratch.

    You might also be able to reduce the total sodium level by undersalting dishes during cooking, and using a light sprinkling of coarse salt at the table.

    paulj

    4 Replies
    1. re: paulj

      To my thinking (such as it is), any dish with roots or significant influence anywhere in Mexico is Mexican, and I'll also include Tex-Mex. For example, when I lived in Texas I loved carne guisada, but here in California, it's rare, if you can find it at all.

      Is there a taste difference between Mexican oregano and standard oregano off my grocer's jarred spice shelves?

      1. re: KenWritez

        You can buy a celo package of Mexican oregano for less than a dollar from the spice rack in Mexican groceries and aisles. It is also served as a condiment when you order a soup like posole or menudo. It is also an ingredient in bare-bones Texas style chili (no beans, tomatoes etc). I keep some in a small jar, and crumble a pinch in various Mexican style dishes.

        My thinking is that a few spices like this, along with fruits and vegetables (like avocado, tomatoes, zucchini, Mexican (gray) zucchini, jicama, etc) can give you Mexican style meals without sodium heavy sauces and premade items.

        paulj

        1. re: KenWritez

          Mexican Oregano is a completely different spices (its not really Oregano). There are similarities (leading the Spanish to misname it) and can be interchanged to some degree but if you pay close attention they are different.

          There is another side to the Sodium equation... the more Potassium (its Antidote in the body's fluid balance mechanism) you consume... the more Sodium you can consume safely. So if you need to sneak in some processed food... make sure to have a lot of potassium rich fresh fruit to balance out.

        2. re: paulj

          paulj, I have found corn tortillas to be a pretty low sodium food and a better low sodium option than flour toritillas. . I have found corn tortillas' sodium content to range from 10 mg to almost 100 mg per corn tortilla, depending on the brand.

        3. This link has a recipe for a soy sauce sub. I haven't tried it myself but it looks interesting.
          http://chinesefood.about.com/od/sauce...

          1. Mexican food: I'm with paulj--making everything yourself is not dificult and you can control the salt. Asian food: yes, I need to use fish and soy sauces, but do so sparingly.

            1. I've had to go really low sodium for health reasons too, and being a total foodie and an asian, this was a tough proposition. So instead of going out and eating, I really needed to start making my food at home so I can control my sodium intake. The salt-free restriction has opened up a new world of creative cooking, so here are my tips for ya!

              - Spice spice spice! I loaded up my cabinet with cumin, onion powder, tumeric, tarragon, chilli powder, mild rice vinegar, ginger powder, grand marsala and coconut milk.
              - So fresh and so minty: i stocked up on Mint which to my surprise actually seems to bring out the saltiness of chicken without adding any salt. Mix this with serrano peppers, garlic, chili powder, dill, cumin and cilantro, you got yourself a mighty yummy thai-inspired dish.

              So while you're right that you have to avoid soy sauce rich Chinese and Korean dishes, I've discovered a whole new world of spicy thai style cooking.

              Enjoy!

              1. Something I've discovered is that putting lemon or lime juice in almost anything really reduces that amount of salt needed. Lime is a natural in Tex-mex!

                I make my own taco spice mix, which contains no salt. With lime juice, I only needed to add 1/2 tsp of salt to 1 1/2 lbs of ground beef for tacos. And no one noticed.

                We also make our own salsa. I use salt-free diced tomatoes and Victorian Epicure salsa spice mix. Really easy and MUCH lower in sodium than purchased products.

                Victorian Epicure also has low sodium beef, chicken and vegetable bouillion mixes. They really aren't that great in a mug, but are wonderful for making soups etc.

                For stir-fries, I often use balsamic vinegar or worchestershire sauce (which is lower in sodium than low-sodium soy sauce...at least the brands we have here)

                I, too, am still looking for ways to lower the sodium in Asian food!

                1. One way to add flavor to asian food is to make your own dashi. I like to used dried anchovies and kombu, but I think kombu probably has quite a bit of natural salt.

                  I'd also try the different combinations found in japanese furikake. It's usually a mixture of fish flakes, sesame seeds, nori, sugar, rice wine, etc...

                  I had to be on a low sodium diet for a few months after heart surgery and lost quite a bit of weight because nothing tasted good to me until i got home and my mother started finding creative ways to feed me.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: soypower

                    SP, I recently made a Korean dish (sun dubu jigae) wherein I made my own stock with kelp, shiitakes and dried anchovies...can you eat the kelp after it has cooked in the stock, do you know?

                    1. re: Val

                      You could certainly eat the kelp if you like, but I personally find it a bit too mushy for my taste..Sort of like the veggies used when you make chicken stock.

                  2. This recipe for a vegetarian burrito filling is really good. Canned beans have a lot of salt so start with dried black beans and cook them up yourself.
                    http://homecooking.about.com/od/veget...

                    Have you tried much Korean food? The side dishes and kimchee can be salty, but the soups, stews and certain BBQ recipes are not. I make anchovy stock at home, too (the Korean version of dashi that soypower mentioned) and use it for lots of non-Korean soup and fish recipes. You can rinse the kombu or soak it briefly in cold water to remove the salt on its surface - the stock will still have plenty of flavor.
                    http://neighborhood-dish.blogspot.com...

                    Aeri's Kitchen is a great site for Korean recipes, but the link has been down for a little while - not sure if she migrated the site or what. You can also try Maangchi:
                    http://www.maangchi.com/

                    With Thai food, how do you feel about curries? A little curry paste goes a long way, so you could save on sodium there (just looked at the jar in my fridge and it has 600 mg per tablespoon). Save the fish sauce to splash a little on at the end so you get the max flavor (like the undersalting during cooking/add a bit of coarse salt when you eat method).

                    1. Hi Ken,
                      I am living with the same issue. Penzey seasonings are wonderful and even the no salt blends are very low in sodium. I particularly like the Arizona Dreaming and Forward varieties. They work well with Mexican cooking and grilling. I have switched to corn tortillas but occasionally have one from the tortilla factory. Surprisingly srirachia is low in sodium, 80mg for 1 tsp and can add a little heat as well. It is a challenge but overall low sodium makes you eat more healthy. Happy hunting!