Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tips & Tricks, Good Eats, and Recipe Box: This Spud's For You

I think potatoes are (a) utterly delicious and (b) really confusing to spell.  I like them fried, baked, sliced, in soups and stews ... but mostly, I like them fried.  At first, I thought it would be impossible to find low-sodium or sodium-free versions of these beloved potato products - and I took to making my own sweet potato fries at home (which, if I say so myself, was not a bad substitute...recipe below).  But I had completely underestimated the possibilities of no-sodium/low-sodium snacking and in almost 6 years of searching for a salt-free French fry or a sodium-free bag of chips, I've compiled the following list of delicious salt-free options, which even have the salt freaks exclaiming snacking nirvana.'

For A Sit-Down French Fry Fix:

Hop into Frjtz - a Belgium fry and mussel palace located in the Mission and Hayes Valley.  Just ask the incredibly accommodating staff (yes, they know me by name) to hold the salt on your LARGE cone of fries.  Don't hesitate to explain your reason for salt shaker resistance - the more they understand your situation, the more serious they will take your request.

As for the sauces - for which they are famous - they are all heavy in sodium content.  So to be absolutely safe, ask for a wedge of lime to give it a zest of flavor.  Or douse the fries in pepper.  I've even recently seen malt vinegar available at the condiments counter - that has a nice kick too.  And if you're really craving something more substantive, I have been known to bring my own bottle of low-sodium mustard in my purse.  Don't be embarrassed.  It's totally cool and the people staring are just jealous. But if you're not up for social defiance, you can eat them sauce free.  These fries are so perfectly crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside that they don't need any cover up.  They are natural beauties.

Added tip:  If you attempt ordering French fries at other restaurants, and I do, just remember to ask if they cut them fresh or if they come from a bag.  If they come from a bag (i.e. frozen) they most likely have sodium.  Also, make sure the potatoes are not blanched in salt water before being cooked.

For Out-Of-The-Bag Snacking:

My first experience with no-salt/low-sodium snacking was with Kettle Chips unsalted, proud spuds.

In 2007, during a crisp fall afternoon and a mostly unproductive work day, I spent an hour and half crafting a heartfelt letter to the Kettle Chips crew thanking them for their bravery and leadership in the production of a salt-free chip, which had filled a large void in my junk-food junkie soul...and would they be so kind as to create another innovative salt-free chip product to dazzle my taste buds (balsamic vinegar and rosemary anyone?).  The next day, I received a kind response, but no mention of any future salt-free lines and no shipment of a life-time supply of unsalted chips to my door.

While I continue to wait for my free box of Kettle Chips (wink wink), these other brands are also jumping on the salt-free train and making my no-sodium snacking dreams come true.

Utz has unsalted potato chips and no salt BBQ 

Terra Chips has unsalted potato chips, unsalted Hickory BBQ (so delicious!), and unsalted Sweet Potato chips for a totally wild taste experience.

Added tip: When I make my own tuna tartar - yeah, you've got some drool on the side of your lip - I line the plate with salt-free potato chips and use them to transport the dreamy, diced fish from the plate to my mouth. East meets west in a dazzling salt-free appetizer.

For A DIY, At-Home Adventure:

When Super Bowl Season rolls around, grab a few sweet potatoes and follow these instructions:

1.  Turn on oven, preferably to 400 degrees.

2.  Wash and scrub your spuds, but no need to peel.  I think the skin, when crisp, makes them extra delicious.

3.  Cut the sweet potato into fourths and then into thin strips - you want each fry to be about half and inch wide at the most (check out the picture here to get a good idea of size and length).  The thinner they are the crispier they will get.

4.  Put all of your potato sticks on a pre-greased or pre-sprayed baking sheet - you want most of them to be touching the bottom of the sheet so they all cook evenly - and sprinkle olive oil (about 2 tablespoons) and a mixture of the following spices:

For spicy - cumin, paprika, white pepper, and cayenne
For herby - rosemary (fresh or dried), white pepper, ground mustard, a pinch of cayenne
For special - use a flavored olive oil (like orange, avocado, or truffle!)

5.  Toss the potato sticks so they are evenly coated with the oil and spices.

6.  Bake for 20-30 minutes.  Watch the first batch carefully and from then on, you'll know how long it takes.

7.  Repeat until all the potatoes have been cooked and gobbled up - make sure you set a good handful (or ten) aside for yourself.

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