Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Chinese Style Meatballs with Stir Fry Sauce

Sizzling in the pan!

I was in a stir fry mood and already had a package of ground pork thawing in the refrigerator. Crumbled meat didn’t appeal to me but meatballs did. So I decided to adapt my Thai Inspired Meatballs recipe to Chinese style ingredients. The recipe made 12 meatballs, enough for 2 meals, plus a couple for tasting. I could have frozen half the meatballs, but opted for two stir fry dinners in a row. I use a cookie dough scoop to portion out the meatballs. Most of the time, I just bake them without rolling to get perfect rounds.

With Trader Joe's Frozen Stir Fry Veggie Medley

The vegetables were easy enough. One night I used a package of Trader Joe’s frozen stir fry medley. The next night I reheated the meatballs in a little NSA chicken broth and stir fried a package of fresh snap peas I had in the fridge, some sliced carrots, and some canned baby corn. I tossed everything, vegetables and meatballs, with homemade stir fry sauce and dinner was done.

I used a basic stir fry sauce, however it’s very easy to customize. Check out the list of optional add-ins below. You can modify the stir fry sauce to suit the meat or vegetables being used and your own personal tastes. Make a mild, delicate sauce or a robust, flavorful sauce. It’s up to you.
With Fresh Vegetables

The meatballs were great and so were the accompanying vegetables. I didn’t serve rice or noodles, but if I had, I would have doubled the liquid used in the sauce. The bottom line ‒ I ended up with two tasty Chinese style dinners, each with very little sodium.

Chinese Style Meatballs with Stir Fry Sauce

1 lb. ground salt free turkey/chicken/pork
1/3 cup fresh salt free/low sodium breadcrumbs
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp. minced shallots/thinly sliced green onions
1 clove garlic, minced
1-2 tsp. ginger (minced  or paste)
1-2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp. low sodium soy sauce (I use Chinatown)

Optional: (I used all the options)
¼ tsp. 5 spice powder
⅛ tsp. Hot chile oil (or to taste)
¼ tsp. White pepper

Combine breadcrumbs, eggs, and all the ingredients except meat. Mix well.  Break up meat and add in small clumps. Mix well. (I wear vinyl disposable gloves and use my hands.)  Let the mixture sit for at least 15 minutes in order to allow breadcrumbs to absorb excess moisture.

Form approximately 12 meatballs.(I use a cookie scoop to portion meatballs) Place on greased cookie sheet (I line my baking pan with Reynold’s non-stick foil. Parchment paper would work too.) Bake for approximately 20 minutes in a 400 degree oven until done.

Basic Stir Fry Sauce

¼ cup water or NSA/low sodium chicken broth* (Note: the flavor of Herb-Ox granules does not work well in Asian dishes)
1- 2 tbsp low sodium soy sauce (I use Chinatown)
1 tsp sugar
½ - 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 1 tbsp water*
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, minced or finely sliced
½ tsp ginger, minced/grated or paste
1 tbsp vegetable oil, if needed

*For more sauce, use ½ cup liquid with 2 tsp cornstarch

Optional Add-Ins: (Start with small amount until you’re sure you like the flavor addition)

Unseasoned rice vinegar (adds tartness & tang)
Fresh chilies, minced/sliced or hot chili oil (adds spiciness & heat)
Sweet chili sauce (Ginger People’s Sweet Ginger Chili Sauce has only 5 mg sodium/2 Tbsp)
Substitute part of the water with pineapple or orange juice
Fresh cilantro (adds a fresh, herby taste)
Pinch of Chinese five spice powder (adds a flavor similar to hoisin sauce)
Freshly ground white pepper (adds complex earthiness due its fermentation)
Molasses (adds a bit of sweetness and dark coloring)
Ketchup (adds tomato flavor along with a touch of vinegar and sweetness)
Add more toasted sesame oil, sugar, garlic, and ginger to taste

In small bowl, combine water/broth with soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and cornstarch slurry. Add desired optional ingredients. Stir well to dissolve sugar and blend in cornstarch mixture.

Stir fry whatever vegetables and/or meat are being used until almost ready for serving. Add 1 more tbsp oil, if needed. Add garlic and ginger; cook until fragrant, just a few seconds. Add sauce mixture a little at a time, and continue cooking until sauce is slightly thickened and glossy. All the stir fry should be lightly coated with the sauce.

Vary the sauce ingredients according to what’s in the stir fry. What works for chicken with snow peas may not work for beef with onions and peppers. Some stir fry combinations need a  more delicate, lightly flavored sauce, while others lend themselves to the aggressive flavors of chilies, garlic, and vinegar. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Also, don’t add all the sauce at once. Pour in just a little bit at a time, adjusting the sauce to how much food is being cooked. The goal is for the sauce to lightly coat every piece of food, leaving just enough to drizzle on rice if it’s being served. Don’t drown the stir fry in sauce.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Shopping at Whole Foods

I stopped by Whole Foods yesterday on the way back from a family get together and came home with a few products recommended by members of the Low Sodium Cooking Facebook group. Whole Foods is about a 35 minute drive from my home, and, as a result, I don’t shop there often. Plus I’m fortunate to have four well-stocked supermarkets and a natural foods store nearby, so I’m able to find quite a lot of low sodium products locally.

I didn’t do a careful investigation of each aisle. Instead, I mainly looked for items that I can not find easily at my local grocery stores. And I picked up a few things from my regular shopping list. I'm in Northern CA, so the Whole Foods products from my closest store may differ from what's available elsewhere.

I was particularly pleased to find 3 varieties of frozen NSA french fries ‒ crinkle cut, shoestring, and steak cut. Not necessarily something I’d use every day but great for gussying up a ho-hum sandwich lunch. The sweet pickle relish was almost 50% lower in sodium than other famous name brands. The 365 mayo is quite low too, as is the store brand fresh mozzarella. I was surprised to find 365 NSA almond and cashew butter. I already knew about the Kerrygold butter spread and needed to pick up some more. I didn’t get a bag of the NSA white tortilla chips because I’m still working on one from Trader Joe’s. I wanted to try the sweet white miso. It’s the lowest in sodium I’ve ever seen. I’m able to get Spicely products locally (they have a huge selection of NSA spice blends), but I couldn’t pass up buying a couple of extra packages of the breakfast sausage blend.

All in all, I was happy with the results of my shopping trip. The Whole Foods market is not too far from the Trader Joe’s I shop at, so I figure I’ll hit both stores about every two months. The more I visit Whole Foods, the more new low sodium products I’ll discover. I'm sure there are lots more to find. What are your favorites?

Here’s what I found yesterday:
  • 365 Organic Sweet Relish: 65 mg sodium/Tbsp (between 120 - 140 for brand name versions)
  • 365 Cashew Butter, Creamy: NSA
  • 365 Almond Butter, Creamy: NSA
  • 365 Mayonnaise: 40 mg sodium/Tbsp
  • 365 Organic Shoestring French Fries: NSA
  • 365 Organic Steak Cut French Fries: NSA
  • 365 Organic Crinkle Cut French Fries: NSA
  • 365 White Corn Restaurant Style Tortilla Chips: NSA (not pictured)
  • Whole Foods Fresh Mozzarella: 55 mg sodium/oz (not pictured)
  • Kerrygold Reduced Fat Irish Butter - 50% less Sodium: 45 mg sodium/Tbsp
  • Miso Master Organic Sweet White Less-Sodium Miso: 135 mg sodium/Tbsp (lowest sodium I’ve found so far)
  • Spicely Organic Breakfast Sausage Seasoning Blend: NSA

Sunday, January 8, 2017


The Stinking Rose
How do I use thee? Let me count the ways. Actually, I couldn't count the ways. It would take too much time. I use garlic in some form or another in just about everything I cook except for desserts. And not just fresh. I’ve also got garlic powder; dried minced garlic; a roasted garlic/herb spice blend; garlic flavored olive oil; frozen crushed garlic cubes; and homemade frozen garlic cloves. And, yes, I use each kind.

Too much garlic? I think not!
Garlic powder is used in rubs. Dried minced gets used in making broth/stock. Mrs. Dash roasted garlic blend is wonderful sprinkled on chicken before roasting or tossed with cooked, buttered vegetables. The garlic oil makes a great finishing touch for vegetables and soup. It’s also good for a quick saute. The Dorot garlic cubes are perfect for stews and braises of any kind, especially if I’m in a hurry to get everything started cooking. And the homemade frozen cloves are quick, convenient, tasty and can be used in just about any application.

Yup, I love garlic. But I absolutely HATE peeling garlic cloves! I’ve tried all kinds of methods and gadgets, but haven't found anything that makes the job more acceptable to me. I usually relied on the famous “bang the clove with the side of a knife” routine. It worked fine, but…

A few years ago I read about freezing the whole, peeled fresh garlic cloves that are available now in most grocery store produce sections. I gave it a try and liked it. For me, it’s a great option ‒ no peeling but with a taste close to fresh. And it couldn’t be simpler.

Ready for freezing
Just plop the fresh, peeled and separated garlic cloves on a plastic wrap lined baking sheet. Freeze. Then dump into a plastic bag for storage in the freezer. Whenever I want some garlic, I retrieve some frozen cloves. By the time I’m ready to use them, they’re partially or fully thawed. Run them through my trusty garlic press, and I’m good to go. No fuss and not much muss. The resulting flavor is a bit milder than fresh (not much bite), but that’s a trade-off I’m willing to live with.

I think I’ve got all my garlic needs covered right now. But you never know. There may be another “must-have” garlic product out there.

Garlic is a low acid vegetable, so please follow the latest safety guidelines for storing and preserving it. Do not attempt DIY garlic oil or chopped garlic in oil. For information on how to safely store and preserve garlic, please read THIS article from UC Davis and THIS article from Idaho University.