Photo by Flickr user Girl Interrupted Eating (CC)
Chinese slow cooked pork with spices

You Are What You Eat: Slow cooking, the easy way to get rave reviews

By Katy Wilkens, MS, RD

I tell my patients at Northwest Kidney Centers that following a healthy low-salt diet means you can’t just “pick up something,” “open something,” “thaw out something” or “microwave something.” At some point, you actually have to cook something if you want to eat healthy. That is why I love my slow cooker. When I am in a hurry, it helps me keep salt out of my food.

The night before a really busy day, I put a still-partially-frozen 4-pound roast in the slow cooker, added some great Chinese seasonings, put on the lid, and went to bed. I was testing my own healthy adaptation of a recipe I’d seen in a magazine. I wanted my version to have a lot less salt so it would be better for my heart, blood vessels and kidneys.

When you cut salt, the secret to preserving good taste is to pump up other basic flavors: sweet, sour, bitter, umami and hot. This recipe uses all these flavors. For sweet, it has pineapple juice and hoisin plum sauce (replacing a good part of the salt-heavy soy sauce in the recipe I adapted). For sour flavor, both the pineapple juice and rice vinegar contribute. Green onions add the bitter kick. Bringing up the heat are fresh ginger and peppercorns. Dried shiitake mushrooms add a wonderful roasted, brothy, umami flavor. Simmering the roast all night and into the next day gave it an added bump of umami.

To serve the dish at an afternoon work potluck, I took along the slow cooker of meat and my rice cooker. I served the meat over rice and topped it with sliced bok choy. I served a healthy, low-sodium meal with no effort and it got rave reviews. Give it a try!

Slow Cooker Chinese Pork with Spices

3- to 4-pound pork shoulder roast

2 tablespoons oil

2 tablespoons hoisin sauce or plum sauce

1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce

1/3 cup pineapple juice

2 tablespoons rice vinegar (unseasoned, because the seasoned kind has salt added)

1 star anise (optional)

1 cinnamon stick

1 teaspoon peppercorns

3-4 green onions, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh ginger, chopped

2 cups water

1-2 pounds bok choy, sliced

2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons water

Brown meat in oil in large fry pan. Put into large slow cooker, or cut in half and put into small slow cooker. Add all ingredients. Cover. Set at high heat for about 8-10 hours. If you aren’t ready to eat it then, turn heat to low. About 30 minutes before eating, put rice in rice cooker, add water following your cooker directions. Set steaming tray in cooker and put bok choy on it. Turn on. When ready, serve the bok choy on a platter, put the meat on top. Use the juices in the slow cooker and add to cornstarch mixture over medium heat, until slightly thickened and clear, about 1 minute. Serve sauce with meat, bok choy and rice.

Nutrition Information: for 3-ounce serving of meat: Calories: 108, Protein 10 grams, Sodium 136 mg

The recipes in this column are meant for people who want to keep their kidneys healthy and blood pressure down by following a low-sodium diet. In most cases, except for dialysis patients, a diet high in potassium is thought to help lower high blood pressure. These recipes are not intended for people on dialysis without the supervision of a registered dietitian.

[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. See more of her recipes at]

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