Katy G. Wilkens
You Are What You Eat: Say cheese: Indian recipe provides a low-sodium alternative
By Katy Wilkens and Sarah Martin
When you follow a low-sodium diet, cheese can pack a salty punch. In fact, it’s one of the top 10 foods contributing salt to the American diet, and salt is a big problem for people who want healthy hearts and kidneys. But there are great low-sodium choices. You just have to know where to look.
Almost all cheeses, with the exception of Swiss, mozzarella, and fresh cheeses like farmer’s cheese or Mexican queso fresco, have lots of salt. Some aged cheeses like cheddar have as much as 200 mg per ounce. Processed cheeses, like American singles, can have as much as 600 mg per ounce. That’s a hefty hit against the daily 1,500 mg to 2,000 mg recommended for all Americans.
To help cut salt, we have been playing around with a soft cheese from India called paneer. Most brands are very low in sodium. The Nanak brand from Canada has only 5 mg of sodium per ounce. That is really low!
You can buy paneer in international grocery stores, Costco carries the Nanak brand, or you can make it following this simple recipe below. You can also substitute extra firm tofu in both of these recipes.
1/2 gallon whole milk
2-3 teaspoons citric acid (available online or at upscale grocery stores and health food stores)
Heat milk in a pot over medium heat, stirring frequently, until it begins to boil. Reduce heat and add citric acid 1 teaspoon at a time, stirring until the curds and whey separate. Remove from heat and allow to cool 5-10 minutes. Pour milk into a strainer lined with cheesecloth. Allow the whey to drain, and then press curds firmly to remove additional liquid. Press curds into a block and chill for two to three hours before cutting into cubes.
1 pound paneer, cubed
1 stick butter
4-5 cardamom pods
2 cups low-sodium canned tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped or grated fresh ginger
1/4 cup minced or pressed garlic
1/2 cup chopped onion
1-2 teaspoons coriander powder
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 small diced green chili or 1 can diced chili (optional)
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 cup light coconut milk or yogurt
Heat half of butter in pan and fry paneer until golden brown. Set aside. Add remaining butter to pan and melt. Add onions, garlic, ginger and chili and cook until softened. Pour in coriander and cumin and let cook a few minutes, until seeds start popping. Add tomatoes and simmer 10 to 15 minutes. Carefully transfer to blender and puree until smooth. Return paneer and sauce to the pan and heat through. Add curry powder and coconut milk or yogurt. Cook two more minutes, remove from heat, and serve.
You can substitute cooked chicken for the paneer, but the paneer will melt in your mouth. This sauce works well with shrimp or fish, too. Makes about six servings.
Carbohydrates: 12 g
Protein: 8 g
Sodium: 233 mg
2 pounds spinach
2 large onions, peeled and chopped
3 medium tomatoes, chopped
1-inch piece ginger, peeled and chopped
8 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2-3 cayenne peppers (optional), stems and seeds removed
4 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon red chili powder
1 tablespoon garam masala
2 teaspoons turmeric powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups paneer cheese (or extra firm tofu)
Warm 2 teaspoons olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onions, ginger and garlic and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Wash spinach leaves thoroughly, but don’t dry them; the water will help them cook down. Add the spinach, tomatoes, peppers and spices. If the spinach will not all fit, add it in batches or warm half in a separate pot until it is wilted, then combine. Reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer until the vegetables can be mashed to a soft pulp, about 25 to 30 minutes.
Remove skillet from heat and blend contents in a food processor or blender until mostly smooth. Return to skillet and continue to simmer another 20 minutes to allow spices to penetrate the dish.
While the spinach is simmering, heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a separate skillet over medium heat. Cut the paneer (or tofu) into small cubes and pan-fry until golden brown. Serve sauce hot over paneer cubes with roti, naan, pita or other flatbread.
Carbohydrates: 14 g
Protein: 10 g
Sodium: 49 mg
Katy G. Wilkens is a registered dietitian and department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. She has a Master of Science degree in nutritional sciences from the University of Washington. Sarah Martin is a dietetic intern with Northwest Kidney Centers.