Friday, April 30, 2010

Feelin' salty

My old friend Salt is getting kicked around on the Internet a lot lately. Between things like this damning Diner's Journal post and this reflective, informative piece from Blue Kitchen (citing another dispatch, from the Washington Post), my favorite white crystals just can't seem to catch a break.

And you know what? I feel surprisingly okay about it.

Salt and I go way back. Way back to when I was a little slip of a thing (I actually was never a little slip of a thing; that's a story for another time), though I can't tell you how exactly or when our partnership started.

Was it when I discovered the extreme joy that is eating pretzels until the roof of your mouth is raw? Was it the first time I dashed garlic salt (what a brilliant concoction!) onto a perfectly droopy, cheesy New York–style slice? Or when I realized that a little shake of this and a little shake of that could mask the then-offensive flavors of some of the vegetables I loathed as a kid (e.g. spinach, green beans, peas).

Whenever it was, that first sprinkle changed me: I became a salt fiend.

For the vast majority of my eating life, I have salted everything -- most of the time, before even having tasted it: spaghetti, broccoli, burritos, even the cottage cheese I so greedily paired with (salted) potato chips. Food didn't seem complete to me unless I could see those tiny granules glistening on top of that hamburger patty, that slice of beefsteak tomato.

But lately, things have changed. The ol' shaker doesn't hold the same appeal. That certain something is gone, and we've, you know, drifted apart.

Understanding a little more about how food works (and how flavor works) by learning how to prepare it myself has caused me to 180° on my seasoning habit. I've come to realize that the delicious foods we eat come with their own flavors, their own zest. Potatoes taste a certain way for a reason; that's what makes them potatoes, and that's what makes them delicious.

These days, I want to taste the potato in all its glory: I don't want to taste the salt. And the transformation wasn't born out of any real health reason, although we all know that limiting one's sodium intake is very, very good for you. It was born out of a love of food -- of real food, lovingly prepared. 

Not the food-like stuff that comes out of a plastic sleeve tucked into a cardboard box; not the "food" handed across a counter in a paper bag that's already spotted with grease; not something eaten (or scarfed, let's face it) purely out of convenience, without any (en)joy(ment). Food that was once part of the earth, and that then becomes a part of you.

Real food tastes good, and I'm enjoying every bite. See you later, salt shaker.

Photo by Flickr user danielygo, and isn't it gorgeous?


  1. I am so glad you have changed your salt habit! I personally don't get it when I see people salting food before even tasting it; I guess that's why it is called a habit! Good for you! Now you will have a rainbow of flavor and tastes to hang on to.

  2. Thanks for the post. I've been having "salt talks" with some family members who insist on shaking before tasting. Seems that a lot of folks prefer to taste the saltiness rather than using it as an enhancer where it should be indistinct.

    Like most things in life, it's about moderation. I also like to use lemon or lime to bring out those natural flavors.

  3. @Andrea: I used to prefer the saltiness to the flavor!

    It's weird to even think about now, but I guess I looked at food as just a vessel for salt, kind of like how some people look at salad as a vessel for dressing (or a bagel as a vessel for cream cheese -- which is actually exactly what it is).

    Lemon is my new best friend -- I use it in place of salt all the time, and I also use it in place of overly salty sauces and dressings restaurants often offer. So lovely and light.


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