Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Food, Recipes, & Cooking, #123
Think Before You Send
I'm not a confrontational sort of person. I would rather walk away than step into a verbal battle with someone, but sometimes . . . I just can't keep my mouth shut. Last week I saw a posting on Facebook and it was just one too many bits of "fake news." The headline was this:
"Doctor Warns 'Impossible Burger' Has 18 Million Times More Estrogen than Whopper."
My dear Hubs friends, do you recognize the problem with this statement? As I (calmly) explained to the person who posted:
"Estrogen refers to a group of sex hormones created by an animal's endocrine system. Impossible Burgers don't contain estrogen; they can't because they are plant-based. They contain phytoestrogen, and that's not the same thing."
The poster replied:
"Do you consider this safe? Do you eat soy in any form? A scientist has told me NOT TO EVER EAT SOY!" (Poster used of all capital letters).
I'm shaking my head now. Anyone can call him or herself a "scientist." That doesn't validate their words and turn them instantly into Gospel. So I presented a few facts:
"I eat soy in various forms. Tofu on occasion, miso, and tempeh. Do you eat flaxseed, sesame seeds, garlic, or dates? They too contain phytoestrogen. I don't want to get into an argument with you over this. I have my opinions and you have yours. But the headline on the original post is incorrect. If they get that wrong, how much faith do you have in the rest of the story?"
That was the end of the discussion.
What's my point? The internet is filled with amazing information. Gosh, some of it is even true! Before you send/forward/share, take a moment to think, consider, and research. It doesn't matter if the topic is nutrition, economics, politics, the environment, health, or any of the other 101 hot-button topics of today. All of us play a part in the dissemination of truth and fact and helpful information. Please don't read, react, and immediately promulgate. Take care with what you share.
There Was Mail!
Let's get started with today's mailbox. If you're an old friend, you already know how this works. But, if this is your first visit, let me introduce you to my kitchen.
Each week I receive questions about food ingredients, cooking or baking terms or methods, requests for recipes, and queries about nutrition. Just about anything food-related has been covered here.
I'm sharing this past week's questions and my responses; it happens every Monday. Want to join in the fun? You can leave your question in the comments below, and next week the answer will be right here. It's that easy.
The first question that popped into my mailbox was from Shauna (bravewarrior).
Types of Salt and How to Use Them
"I do have a question for you regarding salt. I keep both fine sea salt and Kosher salt in my pantry. What are the best uses for each? Kosher for cooking and sea salt for seasoning after the fact? I also see a lot of chefs using flaky sea salt to top of many dishes, especially those of the sweet/salty variety. Can you offer a tutorial on the various types of salt and the best uses for each?"
Shauna, I have a love affair with salt; in fact, I devoted an entire chapter of my book to it. Salt is an integral part of our being—so much so that it is one of our five sensory tastes (along with sweet, sour, bitter, and umami.) Before our birth, we were suspended in our mother’s wombs in a saline ocean. For thousands of years, salt has been used to disinfect, purify, and embalm.
In the preparation of food, salt can preserve meats and act as a tenderizer; when used as a brine it will sharpen and enhance the rind of aging cheese. Salt aids in the pickling of vegetables; and the inclusion of salt in yeast dough will greatly improve the crumb of a loaf of bread. Salt is the one flavor that sharpens and brightens all others. Any confectioner will tell you that even sweet tastes are enhanced with a pinch of salt.
Technology has made salt one of the most commonplace commodities on earth, but thousands of years ago underground deposits were unobtainable; salt harvests were located in just a few precious areas. Salt routes crisscrossed the globe and ships bearing salt from Egypt to Greece traversed the Mediterranean and the Aegean Seas. As early as the 6th-century Moorish merchants routinely exchanged salt, ounce-for-ounce, for gold and in Abyssinia, slabs of rock salt, called 'amôlés, became legal tender.
Of all the roads that led to Rome, one of the busiest was the Via Salaria, the salt route, over which Roman soldiers marched and merchants drove oxcarts full of the precious crystals up the Tiber from the salt pans at Ostia. As peoples transported salt and searched for new sources, roads were formed and new civic centers established. For example, Salzburg is literally the “city of salt.”
As you suspected, not all salts are created equal—my husband, the geologist, doesn't understand—but salt isn't just salt.
The salt that we consume is 98 percent sodium chloride; it's the remaining 2 percent that makes the difference. That 2 percent contains subtle flavors and aromas imparted from the waters and surrounding minerals from which the salts are harvested. I can't describe all of the salts available for cooking, but here's a list of the most common, and how to use them.
Type of Salt
Characteristics and Uses
The standard recipe salt. Fine-grained and contains anti-caking agents and (often) iodine. Use in cooking and baking, where precise measurements and table salt's consistent grain and strength are required. Store in a shaker of any kind.
The go-to salt for chefs who appreciate the lack of additives and the coarse grain (easier to get a 'pinch'). Use to to season anything cooked in a saucepan or sauté pan. You won't need to use as much as table salt. However, not all Kosher salts are alike. I'll explain below.
Flaked Sea Salt
Expensive and worth the cost. These crystals, like snowflakes, form on the top of salt flats and achieve a delicate texture from the sea freezes that blow across them. Use by sprinkling on your finest foods (such as aged steak, heirloom tomatoes, or a salad of baby greens with artisanal oil and aged balsamic vinegar) just before serving. The instant they touch your tongue they explode with flavor—think of them as Nature's pop-rocks.
Kosher salt—oh, the controversy. In the United States, there are two major manufacturers of Kosher salt, Morton and Diamond Crystal. They are not interchangeable, nor can they be used 1:1 in place of table salt. As explained by Taste.com:
"A cup of Morton is nearly twice as salty as Diamond Crystal. Its thin crystals, made by pressing salt granules in high-pressurized rollers, are much denser than those of Diamond Crystal, which uses a patented pan-evaporation process, called the Alberger method, that results in pyramidal crystals. While different brands of fine sea salts and table salts generally have around the same weight by volume, kosher salts do not. “And it’s not only the weight,” says Lalli Music. “Morton is a coarser salt. It takes a little longer to dissolve.” So even at the same weight, it actually performs differently. It’s easier to add too much of the slow-dissolving Morton salt because it may not have fully liquefied when you’ve tasted something."
My friend Kenji of Serious Eats analyzed the various types of salt and weighed them carefully. Here's a table of his findings.
Type of Salt
10 ounces, 280 g
2/3 ounce, 18 g
Morton Kosher Salt
8 ounches, 225 g
1/2 ounce, 14 g
Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt
5 ounces, 140 g
1/3 ounce, 9 g
Maldon Sea Salt
4 ounces, 115 g
1/4 ounce, 7 g
Fleur de Sel
8 ounces, 225 g
1/2 ounce, 14 g
What does this mean? For example, if you have a recipe that calls for Morton Kosher salt, and all that you have on hand is table salt, you will need to use half of the amount of salt prescribed. If you use a standard 1:1 substitution your dish will be much too salty!
Taking the "Chore" Out of Cooking
Eric asked the following question:
"Now sometimes I look at cooking as a chore. Like I would rather be doing something else. I really do think my attitude sometimes needs adjustment. Do you ever find yourself "just cooking." I think the food tastes better when cooked with joy in it. How do you deal with that?"
Eric, I think it's time to talk about the elephant in the room. You might want to sit down for this revelation—I don't always, every meal, every day, have a blast in the kitchen. It's not always sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. Sometimes life gets in the way (or at least tries to bully itself through the door). I can't promise that what I do will work for you, but I'll share what helps me.
- Have a plan: On Saturday I sit down with coffee and kitty and I map in my head of what is stored in the pantry and freezer. Saturday is my "relax" day. Another day might be better for you. Anyhow, I make a plan for what I will prepare for dinner for the entire week. Sometimes the hardest part of cooking is making the decision of "what to cook."
- Do your mise en place: That's French for "get stuff ready before you start." Look over the recipe and get out all of the ingredients you will need. If veggies need to be washed and chopped/diced, do that. If dry herbs and spices need to be measured, do that part. Ditto liquid stuff. Get as much done ahead of time as you possibly can. If you do stir-fry (and I know that you do) then you already understand the concept.
- Use your helper: Eric, you and I have been blessed with having kids that love to help in the kitchen. Sometimes just having that positive energy in the room is enough to put a smile on your face.
- Tune in to music: Who's your Muse? Tchaikovsky? The Beatles? Bobby Joel? Whatever gets your toes tapping, turn it on and turn it up.
- Have an exit strategy, a Plan B: As I said before, sometimes life steps in and tosses all of those best-laid plans out of the window. Allow yourself a grilled cheese and tomato soup kind of meal. Pancakes for dinner (or scrambled eggs) can be quick and kinda fun. If all else fails, grab the box of cereal and jug of milk. Forgive yourself, and hit the restart button tomorrow.
Do You Have a Secret for Washing Greens?
My kryptonite (the thing that scares me in the kitchen)? It's the process of washing greens!! There, I said it. Removing dirt from greens and transferring over to a colander over and over again, nah. It scares me so much I avoid buying greens (and then lie to my doctor when she asks if I'm having enough greens). I know! I wish there was an instant method of cleaning greens. Hey, maybe you know!
Rinita, if you have a salad spinner, that will help you with the process. But first, let's deal with getting the dirt and grit off of those leaves.
- Get the largest bowl you have and fill with cool water. Plunge your greens into the bowl (if you have a lot you might have to do this in batches). Swish them around but don't dump out the water (yet). That's probably your first instinct, and doing that redeposits the grime onto the leaves. The dirt should settle down to the bottom of the bowl.
- Carefully lift the leaves out of the bowl and place them in your colander.
- Check for dirt. If they look clean, whoopie! If not, fill the bowl with another batch of cool clean water and repeat.
- Now, if you have a salad spinner, give those squeaky-clean greens a whirl. If not, wrap them in a clean dish towel and gently blot. Of course, if you are going to steam the greens you don't need to bother with drying them at all.
The important thing to remember is to let gravity work for you.
Did you know that there is a Table of Contents for this series? I have created an article that provides a detailed listing of each question I've received. It's broken down by category, and within each category, the questions are listed alphabetically. Each question is actually a hotlink back to the original post.
Here's a link to that Table of Contents.
I have also cataloged all of my personal recipes that I have shared with you in this weekly Q&A series and in all of my other articles as well. The link to that Index is here. There are hotlinks to each recipe and this will be updated as new recipes are shared.
Let's do this again next week. If you have questions about foods, cooking techniques, or nutrition you can ask them here. If you are in search of an old recipe or need ideas on how to improve an existing one I can help you. If you want to learn more, let's do it together. Present your questions, your ideas, your comments below. Or, you can write to me personally at this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, I promise that there will always be at least one photo of a kitty in every Monday post.
© 2020 Linda Lum