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HELP! Cooking with very specific diet restrictions??

So, cooking for a loved one, on a very restricted diet. This person especially loves Indian food (particularly lentil/dal or bean soup, and vegetable curry or sabji).

This loved one is dealing with these dietary restrictions:
-- NO SALT - of any kind, even rock/sea/black salt
-- NO SUGAR - but a tiny amount of honey or sucanat is okay
-- NO OIL - except a very tiny amount for frying spices (typical of Indian food)
-- No vinegar of any kind
-- No alcohol of any kind
-- No lemon or lime juice (allergy) - a tiny amount of other citrus juice is okay
-- No veggies of the allium family (onions, garlic, chives, leeks, etc.)
-- No mushrooms of any kind
-- No meat/fish/eggs (vegetarian for ethical/religious reasons)

I'm really struggling especially with how to make Indian food without salt; that's by far the toughest challenge. The no-onions I can get around with asafoetida (hing) - a spice commonly used by Hare Krishna devotees (who don't eat garlic/onions) to replace the onion/garlic flavour. Other items can be skipped entirely. But how do you get around omitting salt in Indian food??

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  1. How about soy or some anchovie paste for that salt undertone, I do that a lot.

    1 Reply
    1. re: treb

      I you can't eat salt you can't use soy sauce or anchovy paste -- both are high in sodium.

    2. try tamarind to replace the sour/pungent flavors of citrus & vinegar.

      and if there aren't concerns about limiting potassium, you can use a small amount of salt substitute like NoSalt.

      1. Increasing the quantities of very pungent, aromatic spices (especially cumin) should help. I also find that it's easier to cut out salt in dry curries and stir-fries, since the vegetables take on a bit of blackened/charred flavor. A good example of that is one of my favorite side dishes from Raghavan Iyer's 660 Curries - the "Saucy Eggplant and Green Tomato," which is vegan, salt-free and has only a little bit of oil (which you could easily cut down on).

        Also, sumac and mango powder are good substitutes for citrus.

        1. great call by kathleen on subbing sumac or amchur powder for citrus.

          @jennieblue, you might also want to confirm that the vinegar restriction includes organic raw apple cider vinegar. some people who can't consume the other varieties are okay with it.

          1. Another way to tackle this would be to ask the person for a couple of recipes they do enjoy. Then simply tweak the seasoning to bring in some Indian spices.
            Their stews can become your kormas.
            Their baked dishes can become your tandooris.

            Don't forget that Indian food is very diverse (not limited to the northern dishes we usually eat in North America) - so open the scope up to a wide range of dishes/flavours... Southern dishes especially are quite spicy, so using a good amount of chiles might allow you to forego the other more "subtle" notes.

            1. I usually use vinegar or citrus to sub for salt, but they're both out for your friend. Could you try subbing lemon grass for the citrus? Tamarind would definitely add the 'tang'.

              1. okay, I've never tried to omit salt but my husband is a woeful undersalter and I'm recommending things that seem to tolerate his undersalting!

                so I'd look for recipes where the spices are fried in oil - this releases the flavour and the oil carries the flavour. But if you're only able to use a very small amount of oil this may not work so well.

                I'd avoid dhal and other pulse dishes, they seem to really need the salt - unless they are pretty much stir-fried (but then oil may be a problem).

                Also as your taste buds adapt, you'll find you need less salt - and then restaurant food will be painfully salty!

                1. Wow, thanks all for the wonderful advice and suggestions! All appreciated!

                  Salt substitute from potassium has not been cleared by the doctor, so I want to be careful before introducing that. As pointed out previously soy sauce is very high in sodium, plus anchovy paste is non-vegetarian, so both are unsuitable. However the other suggestions sound great!

                  A little oil is okay, and yes frying the spices in oil really does bring out some flavour. A little citrus (not lemon or lime) is okay also but the amchur, tamarind, and/or sumac would probably match the flavours of several foods better than something like orange juice.

                  True, there is much variety to Indian cuisine (and even more in the rest of the world) and there are many more experiments waiting to be made! Thanks again for all the help!

                  1. Just a quick little side note - I notice you are not able to use sugar - try agave syrup - I'm type 2 diabetic and have switched to agave syrup in baking and things like coffee with great success. It's my understanding there is no effect on blood sugar levels with agave syrup (in case that's an issue for you).

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: nsstampqueen

                      It's my understanding there is no effect on blood sugar levels with agave syrup
                      not true. the glycemic impact is lower than that of table sugar, but it's still there. even more troubling, however, is the effect of its high fructose concentration on your liver. go easy on the agave - it's not the "healthy" alternative we once believe it to be.