Recently, the Nytimes published an article about the ongoing debate surrounding the health benefits of a low-salt diet, particularly as it relates to reducing the risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Contrary to popular belief, this op-ed piece argues that there is little strong evidence to support the long (and steadfast) belief that a that low salt diet can reduce risk for hypertension/cardiovascular disease. New data, published from studies in the past two years, strongly suggest that maintaining a low-sodium diet can actually increase our chances of dying prematurely or struggling with cardiovascular disease. However, this idea has been around for a while – specifically since 1972. In the 70’s, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that the less salt people ate, the more their livers secreted renin: increased renin increased the risk of heart disease. How is this salt business of any relevant or major interest to me?
I was officially diagnosed with high blood pressure about a month ago. This diagnosis was promptly followed by a prescription for Aldomet, a blood pressure medication that has been around for decades. Upon noticing the horrid look on my face, my cardiologists suggested I take 3 weeks and reduce my salt intake (not that it was all that high to begin with, but anyways) – suggesting that in many studies, African Americans (of which I am half) seem to respond well to the lowering of salt in the diet. Maybe (just maybe?), if I could reduce my blood pressure with the low-salt diet, I could forgo the medication. During the first week of my low salt diet, my blood pressure was the same (in the pre-hypertension range); however, in the second week of my lower salt diet, my blood pressure sky rocketed (consistently, over the course of a day and in the week) to unprecedented numbers (for me) well within the full blown hypertension range! It is unclear whether the increased blood pressure was directly caused by the decrease in salt intake, indirectly caused by the stress of managing my salt intake or increased by something else entirely. In any case, I immediately ended my low salt diet and my blood pressure is back to where it was. High, but not that high. So! Where does this leave me? I have an appointment w/a second cardiologist as well as a naturopathic (holistic) physician. Stay tuned as this blood pressure saga continues. While I’m waiting to sort out what is happening to me, I’ve gone back to my normal salt intake, which allowed me to re-create this gem of a recipe for Farinata.
Farinata (socca or cecina) is an extraordinarily delicious, unleavened flatbread made from chickpea flour. It is out-of-this world delicious and a healthy vegan alternative to an egg omelet (credited to Kate – thank you) or for me, fried chicken. This dish, if cooked the way I have it below, TASTES like fried chicken. It is extremely flavorful (delicious plan, with no toppings, but incredible with the right toppings) and versatile (could use as a gluten free alternative to wheat flour pizza crust). Try it! With the salt and everything….
Olive and Thyme Farinata
1 cup of chickpea flour
1 ¾ cup of water
¾ teaspoon of kosher salt
10 cracks of black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili pepper flakes
4 tablespoons of salt +2 more tablespoons for the cast iron skillet
¼ of an onion, diced small, but not finely
5 kalamata olives, finely diced
1 teaspoon of thyme w/ a little bit for the top
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
Heat your cask iron skillet on the stovetop.
In a bowl, add the chickpea flour, water, salt, black pepper, olive oil and 1 teaspoon of thyme. Mix well with a whisk until smooth (batter is loose).
Once the cast iron skillet is hot, add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil and coat the bottom and sides of pain. Add the onions and move around pan for 30 seconds. Add the batter, and then scatter the olives and the remaining thyme on top.
Transfer the farinata to the oven and let bake (on top rack) for approximately 35 minutes. The top should be browned and firm (if the middle shakes, it is not ready).
Remove from pan after removing from oven by using a wide, flexible spatula and put on a cutting board. Cut into 8ths and serve hot/warm with a salad or all on its own! I’ve eaten it right out of the fridge with no issues as well.