A few years ago my husband, the chef, went through a phase of filling our cabinets with an assortment of (rather pricey) artisan salts in an effort to help me learn the art of proper seasoning. My terrible knife skills aside, my one amateur kitchen move that made him positively crazy was my resistance to salt (I grew up in a household where the only salt in our pantry was a lonely blue bottle of “salt substitution”). It made him insane to watch me prepare a chicken or assemble a sheet pan of vegetables without sprinkling on a healthy pinch (or three). So, he tried his best to tempt me.
Nearly every time he swung open our front door, a small shopping bag filled with containers of new, colorful salts dangled from his hand. Soon, our shelves were overrun with tiny glass jars packed with salts so foreign from the basic table salt of my youth that they hardly even passed as extended relatives. There were bottles of fragrant fleur de del, canisters of coarse pink Himalayan flakes, delicate pinch bowls overflowing with glistening grayish grains, and octagonal jars of dramatic black salts so striking it was hard to believe they were anything more than décor. Soon, I found myself sprinkling the different salts on every meal I prepared. Needless to say, my lone blue bottle of pretend salt soon found its way into the trash.
This week, the Guardian published a wonderful article titled "How to Balance the Flavors in Your Cooking," which reminded me why adding a bit of salt to our food is so important. In addition to playing a vital role in that holy culinary flavor canon of salty, spicy, sour and sweet, adding a good dash is about more than simply making food taste, well, salty. When used properly, salt sucks the moisture from vegetables before roasting, and helps to balance out sweetness and eliminate bitterness from our foods. I have a pretty good feeling that those adults out there who complain that they don't enjoy eating vegetables really mean that they don't enjoy eating under seasoned vegetables. A generous sprinkle helps transform anything, from a tray of oatmeal cookies to a sad, on-the-way-out pile of greens, into something truly worthwhile to eat. Which is why we currently have a whole half shelf in our pantry dedicated to the stuff.
Nowadays, I like to think I’ve become progressively better at seasoning. I add salt to everything I make in order to draw moisture from produce, add balance to my baking and generally enhance any dish -- no matter how basic. However, it is not always practical to purchase fancy salts on my weekly market trips, and so in recent years I’ve made a habit of whipping up my own DIY salt blends to serve as solid substitutes.
Oven Dried Cranberry and Orange Peel Salt
- 1 cup fresh cranberries
- 1 medium-sized orange
- 1 cup kosher salt
Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Throughly rinse the fruit and pat dry. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the orange peel in thin slices. Arrange the cranberries and the orange peel on the baking sheet and bake for about 8 hours, or until the fruit is completely dry, but not burned. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and allow to cool.
Add the dried cranberry and orange peel to a food processor and pulse about 10 times, or until the mixture turns to salt-sized flakes. Pour the mixture into a medium-sized bowl. Add the salt. Gently mix and pour the salt blend into an airtight jar. When kept sealed, the mixture will last for about 2 weeks.