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Salt of the Earth
With pink salt from Bolivia, gray salt from Spain and black salt from Hawaii, sodium is suddenly trendy.
Many chefs incorporate kosher salt into spice rubs, a combination of coarse salt and seasonings that are rubbed onto meat and poultry. Many bartenders select kosher salt for its stunning presentation on the rims of margarita glasses.
Jews tend to be great salt lovers with our attraction to lox, pickles and deli foods. Jewish enthusiasm for pickles evolved from necessity. Ashkenazi Jews came from cold climates where fresh produce was unavailable all winter. Salt solutions preserved vegetables by pickling them. Ironically, Sephardic Jews pickled food to increase its longevity in hot climates.
There's a prohibition in the Torah against eating blood in meat. To comply with this edict, kosher salt's crystals are generously applied to meat, which is then placed on a slanted board so the blood drains completely, rendering the meat kosher.
Kosher salt is best when sprinkled by the pinch full over food. Many people leave a bowl of kosher salt by the stove. I prefer to store it in a plastic container with a lid.
Seasoning with salt is the most important technique in cooking. Too much and food tastes like it was drenched in high tide; too little and your cooking is unbearably bland. The correct amount should be barely perceptible, which makes food irresistibly delicious.
1/2 cup olive oil for drizzling
Kosher salt for sprinkling, about 1/2 tsp.
Rinse cucumbers under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Peel off the skin. Slice the cucumbers as thin as possible. Arrange half of the slices on a platter, barely overlapping the slices. Drizzle with olive, covering each slice with a few drops of oil.
Using your thumb, forefinger, and middle finger, take a couple of pinches of kosher salt and sprinkle salt evenly over the cucumbers.
Serve immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to six hours ahead of serving. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Serves 4 to 6.
Sephardic Marinated Vegetables(Pareve)
Before the advent of refrigeration, Jews from the Middle East pickled vegetables to preserve them during hot summers.
- 1 bunch carrots
1/2 lb. green beans
11/2 inch knob of fresh ginger
1 Tbsp. kosher salt, or more, if needed
2 lemons, juiced
1/3 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 garlic clove crushed to a paste
1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper, or more, if you want to turn up the heat
Salting: Scrape the carrots, rinse under cold water, and cut into carrot sticks about the size of the green beans.
Snip off ends of the green beans and rinse under cold water. Scrape off skin from the ginger and dice.
Place a colander over a non-reactive bowl. Move the carrots, green beans, and ginger to the colander.
Sprinkle with kosher salt until the vegetables are well coated. Leave them for 4 hours.
To Make Marinade: Juice the lemons and strain through a fine sieve set over a bowl. Add the remaining marinade ingredients and whisk to blend.
Once the vegetables are salted, place them in a glass bowl. Drizzle on the marinade. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 3 days, stirring the contents daily to evenly coat with the marinade.
Recipe will last in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.
Middle Eastern Jews traditionally ate pickled vegetables as part of a mezze (appetizer) assortment of small dishes. But they can be tossed into salads or eaten as hors d'oeuvres.
Ashkenazi Pickled Mushrooms(Pareve)
Throughout Eastern Europe, Jewish women preserved summer produce to provide vegetables during the winter.
- 1 lb. mushrooms
1 large onion, skinned and cut into quarters
1 bay leaf
11/2 tsps. kosher salt
2 tsps. sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup white vinegar
Rinse mushrooms under cold water. Using a mushroom brush or a softer brush, brush until clean. Drain on paper towels.
Place all the ingredients in a medium-sized pot and bring to a boil. Lower the flame and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the flame and cool to room temperature.
Spoon the mushrooms and pickling brine into a clean glass jar. Cover the jar tightly with plastic wrap. Screw the top on tightly. Refrigerate for four days, turning the jar upside down and shaking daily. Mushrooms will keep for up to 3 months in the refrigerator.
Serve as an hors d'oeuvres, alongside a deli meal, or as an accompaniment to any meat or fish dish, including barbecued hamburgers.
Dry Spice Rub(Pareve)
This flavor combination enhances chicken and steak.
- 2 tsps. kosher salt
2 tsps. garlic powder
2 tsps. onion powder
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
Place ingredients into a small bowl and stir well with a spoon until spices are completely mixed together. You can store in a plastic container at room temperature until ready to use.
With your fingers, rub the spice mixture onto the chicken (cut into 8 pieces) or steak. Grill, broil or roast as usual. Recipe will generously cover 1 chicken.
Salt Encrusted Striped Bass(Pareve)
While this recipe sounds excessively salty, it yields a moist fish that is perfectly seasoned. The salt acts as a dome, which steams the fish and is entirely removed before serving.
- 1 2 lb. striped bass. Tell the fish monger to simply clean the fish. You want a whole fish with the head and tail still attached.
nonstick vegetable spray
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
4 egg whites (from large-sized, not jumbo, eggs)
21/2 cups kosher salt, or more, if needed
Preheat oven to 400°. Spray a roasting pan with nonstick spray.
Rinse fish under cold water inside and out. Drain thoroughly on paper towels. Pat moisture inside the cavity with paper towels.
Sprinkle garlic powder on both sides of the fish and inside the cavity.
In a large bowl, whip egg whites with a fork until frothy. Slowly stir in the salt, mixing with the fork until well blend-ed. You'll create a crystallized paste. Add more salt, if needed to achieve this consistency.
With your fingers, cover the fish with the salt mixture, placing it over the skin in batches. Blanket the fish with the salt mixture, making sure it reaches the roasting pan's surface so the fish is entirely covered and tented. You'll create a dome.
Roast for 30 minutes. Salt crust will be brown. Remove pan from oven. With a metal spoon utensil (not a knife), chip away at the crust, which has hardened but will break off in chunks. Using a spoon, gently brush off excess salt. Move fish to a platter. Using a paper towel, wipe off any last vestige of salt. Serve immediately.
Serves 2 to 4.
Linda Morel is a writer based in New York City. Email her at: [email protected].