Canned tuna, low in salt.

“What do I do with this can of no-salt tuna?” asked Paola, the home helper who prepares meals for a friend of mine. My friend is supposed to be on a salt-restricted diet to control high blood pressure. 

I’m supposed to be on a salt-restricted diet too. But I’ve become awfully lax about it. Just now, I sliced an avocado and, without thinking, sprinkled it with salt . I enjoy cooking for my friend once a week, so now I’ve got good reason to pay closer attention. 

Because salt enhances flavors, it’s hard to give up. Many nutritionists advise that you will soon get used to natural flavors without the salt. But, in the meantime, my advice is to kick up the flavors with the use of herbs, spices and, especially, lemon juice, vinegar and other acidic ingredients such as tomatoes, wine, 

Much excess sodium comes in the form of prepared foods—store-bought mayonnaise, soups, canned tomato sauce, canned tuna, not to mention ready-to-eat meals like pizza. But, I found lots of salt-free and reduced-salt foods at the grocery. Tuna and other canned fish. Canned tomatoes and tomato sauce. Chickpeas and other legumes. Caldo (broth), a good starting point for many soups. A deeper search would probably turn up more foods, such as salt-free cheese.

Reducing salt intake pretty much means eliminating some favorite salt-laden foods and condiments such as soy sauce, olives, capers, pickles, mustard, ketchup, ham and bacon, or else using them in miniscule quantities. 

 I suggested to Paola that she make tuna-salad sandwiches with the salt-free tuna she had. Now that I have stocked up on salt-free products, I am making a salt-free meal to take to my friend. For a starter, I’m making cold borscht with beets and salt-free broth. The main dish is tuna-mac, a summertime salad that my kids always loved.  Can I crank up the flavors to make up for the lack of salty mayo?  

Cold borscht made with roasted beets and salt-free broth. 

A tuna-mac salad with no mayonnaise. The dressing is made with olive oil and yogurt and generously seasoned with spices and herbs.

No-Salt Summer Borscht

Sopa Fria de Remolachas Sin Sal

This recipe is a simplification of true Ukrainian borscht, but it’s delicious and refreshing. Other vegetables such as carrots or beet greens can be cooked with the beets.

No-salt added chicken broth.

Roasting beets concentrates their flavor. I just happened to have roasted beets in my freezer, so that’s what I used. But you can make the soup with diced, raw beets. Cook them in the soup until they’re soft enough to puree easily.

You’ll need salt-free chicken broth/stock for the borscht. If you’re making your own, use the orange zest, bay, ginger, cloves and cardamom in the stock. If starting with store-bought broth, cook it briefly with the aromatics to add flavor to the soup.

Serves 4.

Aromatics for the broth.

4 cups no-salt chicken broth

3 strips of orange zest

1 bay leaf

1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled

3 cloves

3 cardamom pods

2 cups diced beets (roasted or raw)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar

¼ teaspoon allspice

1/3 cup cream

2 tablespoons orange juice

½ cup Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon chopped chives

Minced or grated orange zest

If using store-bought broth, place it in a pan with the strips of zest, bay, ginger, cloves and cardamom. Bring to a boil and simmer 8 minutes. Remove from heat and let the broth infuse with the spices.

Heat the oil in a pan. Sauté the onions and garlic until softened, 5 minutes. Do not let them brown. Add the diced beets. Strain the broth into the pan with the onions. Pick out the piece of ginger, chop it and add to the pan with the beets. Add the vinegar and allspice. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce heat and cook, covered, until the beets are very tender, about 20 minutes.

Use an immersion blender to puree the soup until smooth. Add the cream and blend again. Return the pan to the heat and cook 2 minutes more. Pour the soup into a container. Allow to cool, then stir in the orange juice. Refrigerate until serving time.

In a small bowl, whisk the yogurt with the chives and minced orange zest. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with the yogurt sauce.

No-Salt Tuna-Mac Salad

Ensalada de Atún y Macarrones Sin Sal

I used four small (80-gram) cans of light tuna canned in water, no added salt, no oil. Drained, I had 8 ounces of tuna, making about 1 ½ cups.

Pasta for tuna-mac.

I use a pasta called tiburones—sharks—in Spanish. It’s more like lumaconi (snails) than like elbow macaroni. Use any shape you like for this salad. 

Season the oil-yogurt dressing generously with dry mustard powder and smoked pimentón. Add other flavors, to taste. Red pepper flakes or chopped fresh chile are terrific salt place-holders for those who enjoy “hot” flavors (my friend does not). A few aromatic seeds—dill, celery, cumin, mustard—add punch and crunch. Right before serving, fold in chopped fresh herbs. I used basil, but parsley, cilantro, chives or tarragon would be good as well. I finished the salad with a teaspoon of capers, about two capers per serving. Yes, capers are brined. Used as seasoning, they pack a real punch for not much sodium. 

Serves 4.

8-ounce package of elbow macaroni

Extra virgin olive oil (5-6 tablespoons, divided)

12 ounces canned salt-free tuna

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

¼ cup finely chopped onion

¼ cup chopped celery

½ cup chopped red and/or green pepper

1 teaspoon dry mustard powder

1 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera (smoked paprika)

Pinch of cayenne

¼ teaspoon black mustard seeds

¼ teaspoon dill seeds

1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar

½ cup Greek yogurt

Hard-boiled egg

1 teaspoon drained capers (optional)

Chopped fresh herbs

Salad greens, to serve

Sliced tomatoes, to serve

Cook the macaroni in boiling water with no salt until done to taste. Drain, rinse in cold water and drain well. Place the macaroni in a bowl and add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Stir to coat the macaroni with oil.

Drain the canned tuna, reserving the liquid from the can to be used later. Break up the chunks of tuna and place them in a bowl. Add the lemon juice to the tuna. Add the tuna to the macaroni. Add the onion, celery and chopped peppers to the macaroni.

In a small bowl, combine the mustard powder, pimentón, cayenne, mustard seeds, dill seeds and vinegar. Whisk in 3 tablespoons of the oil. Stir in the yogurt and combine well. Thin the dressing with 2 tablespoons of the reserved liquid that was drained from the canned tuna.

Fold the dressing into the macaroni and tuna. Add more of the reserved liquid, as needed, to keep the mixture creamy. The hard-boiled egg can be chopped and added to the salad or can be saved to garnish at serving time. The capers, if using, can be mixed in with the dressing or scattered on top when serving.

Cover and refrigerate the salad until serving time. 

Remove the salad from the fridge 30 minutes before serving. If needed, add 1 or 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the salad. Fold fresh herbs into the salad immediately before serving. Garnish the salad with salad greens and sliced tomatoes. 

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