Thursday, May 22, 2014

Tortellini Soup

Cheese-Filled Tortelllini with Vegetables

I really like tortellini – pasta pillows filled with cheese, meat, or vegetables. Unfortunately, they usually don’t make appearances at the low sodium table. That’s because most of the time, they’re smothered with salty sausage-flavored meat sauce and topped with copious mounds of cheese. But when used in a flavorful soup, redolent with onion, garlic, vegetables, and lots of Italian herbs, you get a similar flavor but without all the sodium. Plus the soup is super easy to put together quickly.

I encountered this soup a few months ago at a local diner and wondered if I could make a low sodium version suitable for my husband. So the next time I went shopping, I spent time in the freezer section checking all the frozen tortellini. I was pretty happy when I found Armanino brand cheese tortellini. The label on the package said a serving size of 25 tortellini was 105 mg sodium. (Note: Some websites show 230 mg sodium per serving. I can’t explain the difference between the package label and the website information.)

I assumed that I wouldn’t be able to pack 25 tortellini into one bowl of soup and figured the final serving would be closer to 10-12 tortellini. So I bought a package and headed home to make soup.

It couldn’t have been easier. I used one carton of Kitchen Basics unsalted chicken stock and a can of no-salt-added petite diced tomatoes. To the pot I added one finely chopped onion, a couple of minced garlic cloves, a bay leaf, two peeled and sliced carrots, two sliced celery stalks, a tablespoon of salt-free Italian herb blend seasoning, and a couple grinds of black pepper. I simmered the vegetables in the broth until just tender. Then I added 20 – 24 tortellini. Once the tortellini was cooked through, I served the soup with some homemade low sodium bread. The soup was everything I had imagined – flavorful with enough chewy and cheesy tortellini to satisfy. As an added bonus it was unbelievably easy to prepare.

I’ve made it several times since that first experiment adding other vegetable with good results – coarsely chopped cabbage, sliced mushrooms, sliced leeks, frozen Italian green beans, chopped zucchini, and chopped fresh basil. (My favorite additions are leeks and fresh/frozen basil leaves.) However, I only use one or two additional veggies. I don’t want to distract from the brothy goodness. And when I have the time, I usually lightly sauté the onion and garlic. If I use extra vegetables, I sometimes use less than one serving’s worth of tortellini. That means even less sodium per bowlful.

It’s now my go-to quick meal when I don’t have anything planned, thawed, or am feeling under-the-weather. I make sure I always have a carton of chicken stock, a can of diced tomatoes, and a package of frozen tortellini ready for a last-minute yet satisfying meal. Leftovers are good the next day as part of lunch, and the recipe can easily be doubled.

Here’s the recipe, if you can call it that. It’s more a method rather than an exacting recipe. Feel free to add vegetables you enjoy. And good luck finding a fairly low sodium tortellini product in your grocery store.

Low Sodium Tortellini Soup
(Serves 2 with leftovers)

32 oz. no-salt-added chicken stock
1 14-1/2 oz. can diced/petite diced no-salt-added tomatoes
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1-2 carrots, peeled and sliced or chunked
1-2 celery stalks, sliced or chunked
1 bay leaf
2 tsp. or more Italian herb blend (no-salt-added)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 package frozen cheese toretellini

Chopped fresh herbs such as basil, oregano, thyme, parsley
Additional vegetables such as coarsely chopped cabbage, thinly sliced mushrooms, thinly sliced leeks, frozen Italian green beans, and chopped zucchini (use only 1 or 2 additional vegetables)

If desired, sauté onion in olive oil until translucent. Add garlic and continue sautéing for another minute or two.

Add broth and tomatoes, bringing to a simmer. Add the vegetables and herbs; simmer until vegetables are just tender.

Add the number of frozen tortellini for one serving or less. Bring soup to a boil; lower heat; and simmer until tortellini is completely cooked.

Serve with an additional dusting of freshly ground pepper, a sprinkle of chopped fresh herbs, and a swirl of regular of flavored olive oil.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Laura’s Lean Uncured Beef Pastrami

I was checking out the deli/cheese section of a local grocery store, when my eye spied some new products from Laura’s Lean Beef. I’d never heard of the brand before and was curious. I noticed, in particular, that there were packages of uncured pastrami and corned beef. I’ve found that sometimes uncured deli meats are a little lower in sodium than cured products, so I gave them a closer look. I singled out the package of pastrami and read its vital statistics: Serving size = 2 oz. and sodium/serving = 280 mg. My initial reaction was, “Whoa! That’s not too bad. Not for pastrami.”

Here's what the package says:
Laura’s Lean Uncured Beef Pastrami
All Natural – Gluten Free – No Nitrates/Nitrites – No Carrageenan
Made with beef raised without added hormones or antibiotics and on a vegetarian diet
Certified by the American Heart Association

But then I thought, I’m not remembering my facts correctly. I’d better compare this to another low sodium brand of deli meat. I picked up a nearby package of Hillshire Farm lower sodium smoked ham. It had the same serving size, 2 oz. But the sodium was 450 mg./serving. Same with the Hillshire Farm lower sodium honey ham. The lower sodium honey roasted turkey was 410 mg./2 oz. serving.

I know that Sara Lee has some good low sodium deli products, as does Boar’s Head. But I have some difficulty finding those products in my local stores. And, anyhow, this was pastrami. My husband’s favorite!

I tossed a package of the pastrami and a package of the corned beef into my cart and finished my shopping. When I got home, we had pastrami sandwiches for lunch. I used my own homemade low sodium focaccia and Westbrae Natural No-Salt-Added Stoneground Mustard.

These deli meats are lower sodium foods, not sodium-free products. So adhering to the serving size is important. 2 ounces. That’s it. You will not end up with a deli style sandwich – 3 inches of meat piled onto a giant roll. If you want a thicker sandwich, you have basically two options: Option 1 – add slices of tomato & onions, some lettuce, and even a sliced no-sodium pickle from Healthy Heart Market. Option 2 – make just half a sandwich. You’ll get more of that “piled on goodness” but with an overall smaller sandwich.

Laura’s Lean Corned beef is higher in sodium (330 mg sodium/serving size), so as long as the pastrami is available, that’s what I’ll be buying. Like many other lower sodium products, it’s not for everyday consumption. But it’s great to know that we can have a pastrami sandwich occasionally, and it won’t throw our low sodium regimen out of kilter.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Mishima Brown Rice Crackers

For years and years my husband and I have loved eating Japanese rice cracker snacks. Crispy, crunchy, and tasty – covered with a soy sauce or chili glaze. We also loved wasabi coated dried peas. But lately, we really haven’t been able to enjoy these tasty treats because of their high sodium content. Not until now…

A few months ago I found myself in the Asian foods section of my local grocery store. I honestly can’t remember what I was searching for at the time, but I happened to notice a new product: Brown Rice Crackers! They were on the same shelf as all the other Asian snack crackers. I thought, “Hmmm. Brown rice. Might be healthier than the regular crackers. Better take a closer look.” So I did. There were three varieties available, but the “Brown Rice – Mix – Light Seasoning” package just about floored me.

As you know, most Asian rice cracker snacks are usually high in sodium, but not this one. The bag holds 2.5 servings of 10 mg sodium/serving. Yes, that’s right! 10 mg sodium per serving. I immediately grabbed four bags and headed for the checkout lane. Since then, these delightful crackers have been part of our repertoire of treats.

Only 10 mg sodium per serving!

My husband and I split a bag, so we end up with 15 mg sodium each and approximately 144 calories each. The bag contains various sizes and shapes of crackers with these flavors: wasabi, black pepper, sesame, curry, and plain. Lots of spicy flavor. The plain crackers are half moons and have no flavored coating. They do have a nice crunch and toasted rice flavor. Since there are so many of them, they're probably what brings down the total sodium content.

My favorite is the rectangular black sesame cracker

I've been buying these snack crackers at my local grocery store. Eventually they ran out of this variety although the other two Mishima varieties are still available. Well, I wasn’t about to wait until the store restocked this item, so I went searching online. Luckily, I found that Amazon sells a 12-pack case, and I ordered one. They're not cheap, so we don't have them every day. But they're great for every once in a while. And they're a rice cracker snack that fits into a low sodium diet. One less thing to feel deprived about.

P.S. I added Mishima Light Seasoning Brown Rice Crackers to the Please DON’T Pass the Salt! Amazon Wish List. And I also wrote a review for this product. In case you’re wondering, my Amazon public name for reviews is "Suza Phone."