Dec 16, 2014

Is your salt unrefined?

One of my priorities in my journey towards leading a healthy lifestyle is to seek those simple and cheap lifestyle tweaks first before moving on to the more cumbersome and expensive changes. What are these simple and cheap health tweaks? These are simply simple switches to unrefined or less-refined foods and toiletries-- those that are not extensively processed. Hence my switch to muscovado which is unrefined sugar, corn coffee which I cook myself and less-refined rice varieties such as unpolished brown rice and the other colored varieties such as red rice and black rice.

Probably the simplest health hack we all could do is to simply make sure that we are using unrefined salt. And so the big question is: Is the salt we see in Philippine markets unrefined? I am so happy to find that the answer could be a resounding Yes.

Market Man of opines in this article that about 98% of the Philippine population consume organic sea salt that is hand-collected and sun-dried and thus abounding in naturally-occurring sea minerals.

Salt collection is done by running sea water through a series of sloping shallow ponds that have a cemented and tiled floor. As the sea water goes through the salt ponds under the intense  heat of the sun, the water evaporates, leaving the salt crystals behind. The salt crystals are then gathered into baskets where moisture drains naturally and then put into sacks for sale to markets.

However, I found this article which rather upsets me as the salt ponds used are simply made with a plastic sheeting as the floor. Yikes! This deserves another post, however, and so I leave it at that. The point simply is that salt collection and making in the Philippines, unlike that in the US, is more rustic and thus better able to retain the goodness of salt.

What are the visual characteristics of unrefined sea salt?
Salt crystals from the Philippine seas are described as grayish or off-white in color, the crystals squarish in shape and naturally clumpy and a bit moist in texture. Remember these 4 adjectives so you can spot unrefined sea salt (at least from the Philippines): grayish or off-white, squarish crystals, clumpy and moist.

What's wrong with refined salt?
Now contrast this with refined salt which, for commercial purposes, is made pristine white, ultra-fine, free-flowing and absolutely dry. How is this done? This article details how refined salt is made and it’s quite horrifying. In a nutshell, salt is treated with chemicals to separate the minerals (which are then sold, probably to mineral supplement manufacturers), so that what is left are salt that have been stripped of life-giving minerals.

What’s more, this dead salt is then subjected to intense heat and pressure so as to dry the salt. In the process, the molecular structure of the salt is destroyed. Next, free-flowing agents are then used to make salt easy to use in a salt shaker. The end point is that salt looks divinely white and smooth-flowing but is actually salt that is devoid of minerals and contains harmful chemical residues. Worse, they are so altered that the body has a hard time metabolizing them.

Why is this done? Well, to attract buyers and lengthen shelf life, that’s why. Unrefined sea salt, being grayish in color is not very appealing and looks rather dirty. It is also moist and will be a headache to package. Fortunately for us Filipinos, our salt-making industry is backward and not equipped with this technology. Thanks to our backwardness , our salt is unrefined sea salt -- the salt that God designed to be spewed forth by the oceans He made, intended to nourish the body with essential trace minerals that support healthy neuromuscular and metabolic functions.

The bottomline is that we should simply look for unrefined sea salt in our fresh markets, and they have these characteristics:
  • grayish of off-white (not dead-white and therefore not artifically bleached)
  • moist (not dry and thus naturally sun-dried) and
  • clumpy (not mixed with free-flowing agents)

By the way, unrefined salt is the low-cost salt that we often see in our wet markets in the Philippines. Do spread the word that this salt -- not the more expensive and better-looking salt in groceries -- is really the salt that is chock full of minerals that our bodies need.


Dec 15, 2014

Deviled Eggs

Deviled Eggs

Deviled eggs are some of the more recent additions to our breakfast repertoire.  I never really thought they were that easy to prepare given the fact that they look quite fancy. I’ve been seeing to it that we get real food for breakfast. It’s been maybe two years since we’ve stopped buying canned goods and noodles. In fact the only time I bought canned goods and processed foods was when Typhoon Ruby hit the Philippines two weeks ago.

Our usual breakfast fare in the family are pan-fried fish, eggs and rarely, meat marinated in herbs and spices. Eggs are really my family’s go-to breakfast items. I love the fact that they are cheap, easy and fast to cook and can be whipped up in a variety of cooking styles -- the classic and happy sunny side up, the super easy scrambled eggs, the healthy and hassle-free boiled eggs, and then this! -- deviled eggs.

Eggs have been demonized for years but recent research shows that they are really healthy foods as they contain lecithin. Sure, there’s a dearth of native, organic and free-range chicken eggs in the Philippines, but even the commercial white eggs we have are way better than red dye-laced and nitrite-laden hotdogs and sausages.

Deviled eggs are not so common breakfast items in the average Filipino home but the moment I tried them, I realized they’d better be incorporated in every household's breakfast menu. Why, they are super-easy! Just boil eggs -- which can be done in bulk and some days ahead -- slice them in half, mix the egg yolks with 3 or more ingredients and then spoon the flavored yolk back to the egg white cups. They’re easy, no-cook dishes that are low-cost, healthy, pretty-looking, tasty, kid-friendly and can be varied in so many ways. So yeah, they're nearly perfect for breakfast.

Here’s the basickest basic Deviled Egg recipe for you:
  • Boiled eggs (the number depends on the size of your family, and their appetites, lol)
  • mayonnaise
  • mustard
  • pickle relish
  • salt
  • pepper
  • paprika (or any herb of your choice)

  1. Boil the eggs to full done-ness (hard-boiled). What I do is boil about 3 meals’ worth of eggs (about 15 pieces) and then just let them cool down and store in the ref.
  2. When you’re ready to prepare Deviled eggs, simply peel the boiled eggs and then slice each one neatly across its longitudinal equator.
  3. Scoop the egg yolks into a mixing bowl and mash with a fork. As for the egg white cups, set them aside on a pretty serving plate.
  4. In the case of 5 eggs, you may put in a heaping tablespoon of mayonnaise (I have read somewhere that you can also use avocado but I have yet to try), a tablespoon of pickle relish, half a teaspoon of mustard and then salt and pepper to taste. There really is a limitless way of varying this dish -- which is the fun part.
  5. Blend the mixture thoroughly by mashing it with a fork.
  6. Taste and adjust the seasonings and then spoon the yolk mixture back into the egg white cups. The yolk mixture has since nearly doubled at this point because of the additional ingredients and so each egg white cup can have a heaping mound of flavorful yolk blend.
  7. Sprinkle with paprika (or parsley flakes or ground basil or whatever you fancy) for some pops of color and flavor.
  8. Serve on a pretty plate.

Sorry for the washed-out photos but I assure you, they do look prettier in reality. And they certainly taste as good as they look. What is your favorite way of doing deviled eggs?
Deviled Eggs

Dec 12, 2014

Tips for Storing Fresh and Dried Herbs

herbs and spices
If you want to keep your salt and MSG consumption to a minimum, you would have to start adding in fresh and dried herbs to your cooking. The reason why packaged foods and fastfood meals are high in salt is because in an effort to keep costs down, manufacturers skip fresh herbs and spices and simply use more salt, MSG and a host of cheap, laboratory-synthesized flavorings and colorings.

One truth in culinary science is that very little salt is needed if there are enough natural flavors in a dish. The inherently rich flavors of meat, vegetables and herbs are already so satisfyingly full and deep that a pinch of salt may be all that is needed.

It is thus wise to never run out of herbs and spices in your kitchen. Here are some handy-dandy tips for storing fresh herbs and dry spices.

For Fresh Herbs

Keep an herb garden.
Planting herbs is still the best way to have fresh herbs anytime. My little garden, though not really tended to full well, gives me fresh lemongrass, ginger and scallions. I also used to have tomatoes, oregano and Thai basil -- which reminds me to replant them.

Let herbs stand in water.
If you do not have an herb garden, you can still lengthen the life of store-bought fresh herbs by treating them the way you would fresh flowers. Put them in a jar with enough water and some of them will keep fresh for a day or two. A row of pretty jars by your kitchen counter or windowsill not only is a pretty sight but also serve as ready containers for fresh herbs. Remember to change the water every day and to use them as soon as possible.

Refrigerate them.
Loosely wrap fresh herbs with paper and the store them in the ref, taking care they’re not crushed or pressed. Paper helps to absorb moisture which helps them from going bad quickly.

For Dried Herbs and Spices
Some herbs taste even better when dried. Generally however, dried herbs are not as flavorful as fresh ones yet they are more nifty and nourishing add-ons to meals compared to salt- and MSG-laden bouillon cubes and instant seasoning mixes.

  • Situate your spice rack in a cool, dark place away from heat and sunlight. Do not keep your spice rack near the stove as steam and heat can cause moisture buildup inside the spice bottles.
  • For optimum flavor, use dried herbs within 6 months after opening the spice bottle.
  • Buy only the kinds and at the amounts you intend to use within a few months.
  • Keep learning new recipes which call for the spices you have so you can use them up before they go bad.
Would you like to look at my spice rack?
Or simply learn to put together a spicy marinade?
What are your favorite spices and how do you use them?

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