While everyone’s been baking their little hearts out; tempting readers with homey gingerbread cakes, elegant pavlovas, and every deletable cookie imaginable, I’ve been busy experimenting with low-sodium, heart healthy, savory side dishes that will flatter the main attraction at your holiday table.
Always mindful of making meals that delight your taste buds while nurturing your body, this is the first time I’ve had to prepare a holiday dinner that doesn’t include sausage, bacon, pancetta, or cheese. I know we’re not alone in our gustatory passion for cured pork delicacies, unfortunately, these foods have no place in a low-sodium diet! And cheese - it’s practically a food group in itself! Rarely have we met a cheese we didn’t like - whether goat, sheep, or cow’s milk, fresh, aged, brined, herbed, rolled in nuts, or sprinkled with berries - and all have been sorely missed as I master the art of flavorful, low-sodium cooking to keep my man ticking.
Baking is a real challenge as baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and baking powder (calcium phosphate and sodium bicarbonate) are essential. But, together, we’ve found a number of low-sodium products at Trader Joes (including no salt added chips that aren’t half bad) and online, including baking powder and baking soda that contain no sodium, but rather potassium as the active ingredient, and many other products that I’ll talk about in future posts.
Bread has a surprising amount of sodium, anywhere from 160 mg in a slice of whole wheat to 320 mg or more in a piece of cornbread, focaccia, pretzel bread, etc. Naturally, so do bread crumbs, even if homemade. Fortunately, I’ve always preferred Japanese-style panko for a crisp coating on my coconut shrimp or baked chicken and I was thrilled that the sodium content of Kikkoman’s Panko bread crumbs is only 40 mg per 1/2 cup serving. Other brand name bread crumbs had to be tossed, but the panko is here to stay
Which brings us to this earthy mushroom, tart green apple “stuffing” made with panko bread crumbs that I’ve served up several ways. Brimming with seasonal flavors, it takes succulent baked stuffed pork chops to another level and has garnered rave reviews when presented as vegetarian stuffed mushroom appetizers, redolent with umami, it was easy to forget the sausage Here, I stole the idea of stuffing red onions, instead of mushrooms, that I spied in November’s Martha Stewarts Living.
Mushroom, Apple and Sage Stuffed Red Onions
Yield: 8 servings
8 small-to-medium red onions
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 portobello mushroom, chopped
1 red cherry chile pepper, minced
1/2 cup Kikkoman panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup Granny Smith apple, chopped
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon fresh finely chopped sage
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat leaf parsley
3/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
1. Slice off tops and bottoms of onions, leave peel on. Using a melon baller or a spoon, scoop out the center of each onion about 2/3 way down. Sprinkle with salt if desired (I use no additional salt). Transfer onions to a prepared baking dish and cover with parchment, then foil. Bake until just starting to soften, about 40 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, add butter and olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms, apple and fennel seeds and cook for 2-3 minutes until apples are softened. Add garlic and red cherry chile, cook for one minute. Remove from heat, stir in panko bread crumbs, sage, parsley and 1/4 cup of Gruyere. Let cool.
3. Using the melon baller or a tablespoon measure, fill onions with stuffing and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup of Gruyere. Bake until tops are crisp and browned, about 20 minutes more.
Whether your traditions are centered on brisket and latkes, ham, prime rib, pork roast, seafood, or turkey – the sweetness of roasted stuffed onions in their garnet coats will make a delightful addition to your celebratory dinner.
Ours is an intimate Christmas dinner - just the three of us this year, no travel to visit relatives in blustery environs with hopes for a White Christmas or escape-the-madness golf weekend in sunny Palm Springs… and I’m not disappointed in the least. It’s been a virtually stress-free holiday season for me and I’m ecstatic!