4 Types of Salt and How to Use Them

Photo: QuintanaRoo Marcus likes to mix things up when he’s cooking by throwing surprise flavors into traditional dishes. However, he never denies,  knowing the basics of preparing food is the first step to learning the art of cooking. That's why in this post I want to get back to basics and explain the differences between the varying salts on the shelves of your local grocery store. Here are four different easy-to-find varieties, with tips on what they are and when to use them.

Kosher Salt. Kosher works splendid as a basic table salt, and is great to use when you are cooking or baking. It dissolves quickly and disperses fast, so chefs recommend sprinkling it on everything from chicken to chocolate. The most notable brands of Kosher salt include Morton and Diamond Crystal. However, Diamond is the more popular brand among foodies due to its natural crystal texture. Generally, these brands cost around a $1 a pound and can be found in every supermarket, general store, and bodega.

Photo: stlbites.com

Sea Salt. The sea variety of salt adds a more pungent briny flavor to just-cooked foods. Nevertheless, this variety can add an unevenly dispersion of the brackish flavor; therefore this one is best reserved as an addition to a dish after it is finished. These crystals will complement any prepared food set on the table. The color depends on the mineral content of the salt marshes. The pigments range from white to dark red. As of late, sea salt has moved from being only found at gourmet shops to being established at all local super markets.

Photo: jeffreyw

Black Salt. A pungent variety that blends sea salt with activated charcoal. You do not want to use black salt in place of the table variation or your dish will take on a strong, salty, sulfur taste, so use sparingly. I like to sprinkle it on Frittatas, tofu, or blue cheese. You can find black salt at health food stores and all artisan markets.

Smoked Salt. This aromatic edible salt product contains added smoke flavor. The best varieties have acquired their taste by being smoked over wood fires, but be careful, some types use chemicals to obtain the thick flavor, leaving a strong after taste. The colors vary from light gray to dark brown. Smoked salt lends a barbecue character to anything it is scattered on including peaches, corn-on-the-cob, and fish. My favorite quality brand is Frontier medium grind smoked sea salt found at most local markets or online at frontiercoop.com.

Back to Basics: Chayote

chayote Chayote is Native to Mexico and Central America and is a member of the gourd family, Cucurbitaceae, along with cucumbers, squash, and melons. Similar to summer squash in taste and consistency, chayote was one of the many crops introduced to Europe by early explorers. In many Asian cultures the stems and leaves are more often used in stir-frys and soups. In Latin America, the fruit is the more popular entity, and is prepared in various ways.

Peak Season: Fall through late Spring.

Nutritional Value: A great source of amino acid and vitamin C. Both the chayote leaves and fruit are edible, and have diuretic, cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory properties. Teas made from the fruits leaves have been known to relieve arteriosclerosis, hypertension, and to dissolve kidney stones.

Prep: So many different names and yet so little familiarity in many parts of the world, Chayote is a great example of how we can expand our fruits and veggies repertoire and regain the variety we once had.  There are so many great ways to prepare these fruits, which much like avocados and tomatoes are typically used in savory dishes like the sauté of chayote with corn and jalapeno chiles, shown below. Other great ways to use chayote is by adding it to enchiladas like this Avocado Tomato Enchiladas Recipe  or shaved into this Detox Recipe: Red Cabbage Slaw Salad.  My favorite is adding roasted chayote (roast whole until flesh gives when pricked with a fork) to a succotash. Try it in Red Rooster's corn succotash recipe .  With its versatile flavor profile and the fruit, stem and edible leaves, chayote is the ideal cooking companion.


chayote and corn with chiles

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Back to Basics: Avocados

Photo: barron Name: Avocado; Persea americana; Alligator Pear; a fruit, specifically a large berry that contains a single seed.

Origins: Avocado trees are native to Central Mexico, and classified in the flowering plant family, Lauraceae, which also includes cinnamon, camphor and bay laurel.

Peak Season: April – July; does not tolerate freezing temperatures and can only be grown in tropical and subtropical climates.

Nutritional Value: High in monosaturated fats (the healthy fats), as well as potassium, folic acid and vitamin K. High intake of avocados has  shown to lower LDL (bad cholesterol) and increase HDL (helpful cholesterol).

Prep: Avocados are a great addition to many meals and even better as a substitute for saturated fats like butter. Try it as a morning boost in this Avocado-Banana Smoothie Recipe. Or try it in one of these healthy alternative desserts. Luscious and luxurious without the guilt!

Avocado toast with sliced radishes for an added crunch!

Speaking of avocados as a butter substitute, my absolute favorite way to use this silky fruit is spread onto toast. The creamy texture and fresh flavor gives crispy, nutty multigrain toast the perfect partner. Another great thing? It's such a versatile dish that it can easily catered to your own tastes.

Here's some guidelines towards your new favorite breakfast:

Ingredients you'll need:

  • Multigrain bread, sliced approx. 1'' thick (the perfect ratio of bread to avocado)
  • 1/2 an avocado
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • chili flakes, to taste
  • a squeeze of lemon juice
  • olive oil

Method: Lightly brush both sides of multigrain bread and either put into a saute pan or toaster until desired crispness. Meanwhile mash up avocado in a small bowl until quite smooth. Then add squeeze of lemon (or to taste) and mix in. When toast is finished, spread avocado mixture on top and then season with salt, pepper and chili flakes.

More Optional toppings: I've been enjoying this energy boosting breakfast for so long that I've found way to zest it up and change it up a bit to keep it exciting. Radishes are a great way to add a refreshing crunch in Spring and Summer. Chamoy is another great way to add sweet, tangy and spicy all in one to your avocado routine.

What's your favorite way to jazz up your avocado?

For more Back to Basics ideas, click here.

Back to Basics: Chia Seeds

photo: sweetbeetandgreenbean Name: Chia (Salvia Hispanica), a flowering plant; member of the mint family (Lamiaceae).

Origins: Indigenous to Central and Southern Mexico and Guatemala. Cultivated in pre-Columbian era by Aztec's and was said to be as important a crop as maize (corn).

Nutritional Value: 1 oz. of chia seeds contains 18% of daily calcium intake, 27% phosphorus and 30% manganese similarly to other nutritious seeds such as sesame and flax.

Prep: Chia seeds are easily added to  smoothies, oatmealsalads, etc... for an extra boost of energy. You can even make them into a delicious and healthful pudding! The seeds, when added to a liquid, give off a gelatin-like substance making this Chia Seed Pudding Recipe a cinch.

photo: elmastudio


For more Back to Basics recipes and articles:

Argan Oil

Spring Garlic

Baby Bok Choy




Back to Basics: Argan Oil

Two weeks ago we introduced Argania's argan oil, where it comes from, and the fairness of it all. Since we know it's a new concept for some of our culinary palates I have asked our friends over at Argania to share some ideas on how to use this flavorful oil.

Name: Argan oil made from kernels from Argan Trees (Argania spinosa L.)

Origins: Indigenous to Southern Morocco, these trees grow wild in semi-arid soil and have a deep root system protecting them from soil erosion.

Nutritional Value: Argan oil is rich in vitamin E, antioxidants and fatty acids. These properties are known to lower cholesterol, increase circulation and reduce high blood pressure.

Prep: Argan oil works fabulously as a finishing oil. Use it instead of olive oil in this roasted spring-garlic hummus recipe or drizzled on top of grilled veggies, or crostini. Try it in this delicious pine nut basil argan oil pesto or on a mixed greens salad with argan oil apple vinaigrette.

Or try it in this delicious dish of spiced lamb with couscous and vegetables that was designed by the Argania team's chef just for us! It uses argan oil in each component and therefore displays the argan oil  in 3 different ways, creating layers of flavor!

spiced lamb with couscous and vegetables

Photos courtesy of Argania

Recipes from this post:

Mixed Greens with Argan Oil Apple Vinaigrette

Spiced Lamb with Couscous and Roasted Vegetables

Pine Nut Basil Pesto with Argan Oil