I don't know how else to express it, but my friend Jess Goldman Foung bubbles and bounces, her energy so all-consuming, and so contagious, that after I meet up with her I feel buzzed. Do you know people like this? People whose very being shines so bright they make the air a few degrees warmer? She's a lit match, a jolt of caffeine, a prism that shoots rainbows through a room.
And the thing is, the crazy thing is, Jess was really sick, way before I met her. When she was a 21-year-old student at Stanford, she landed in the hospital with a Lupus diagnosis so severe her kidneys had basically shut down. As a college senior, while her friends were studying and going to parties, she was in full-on renal failure.
Jess writes in her new cookbook:
"I could have functioned as a 21-year-old, on dialysis, waiting on the transplant list. But that wasn't the life I wanted to live. I was attached to machines every three days for three to four hours at a time, and while I was happy to be alive, I longed to be free."
In addition to receiving excellent medical care from her team at Stanford Hospital, Jess chose to radically change her diet. She cut out sodium from all non-natural (processed) sources and slashed her intake of foods whose natural sodium levels were simply too high. She focused on reversing her destiny. She got educated, and she started educating others.
Sodium Girl's Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook barely contains Jess's bubbly personality. I feel her energy on every page, and I marvel at how she has created low-sodium recipes that are fun, joyful, and celebratory.
The balsamic blueberry steak sauce I've made twice now (pictured above) is a perfect case in point. I don't eat much steak, so I paired the sauce with some middle eastern lamb meatballs, fragrant with cinnamon, cumin, clove, and allspice -- like kofte, but round. I left out the salt to be true to Jess's spirit, and because I wanted to see if the sauce would be boldly-flavored enough to compensate for what I worried might be bland, no-salt-added meatballs.
With balsamic vinegar, molasses, brown sugar, and blueberries, the sauce had flavor to spare.
My boys swept those meatballs through that sauce, swirling them around and around, then licked the platter clean. Robust, brightly-hued, balanced, beautiful, the sauce filled our bellies and lifted our spirits.
It was Jess on a plate.
If you or anyone you know must follow a reduced-sodium diet, please check out this cookbook. The recipes make over high-sodium favorites (ketchup, green bean casserole, buffalo wings, bloody marys, French onion soup) and also offer modern, new dishes (like pistachio and broccoli pesto-crusted salmon, beet carpaccio towers, ricotta with pumpkin crumbs) as well.
If you don't (yet) actively limit your sodium consumption (I don't, generally) but you do have any other health or dietary challenges, I also recommend it. Jess's voice will empower you and lift you up.
Jess also publishes the Sodium Girl blog, which offers free recipes, tips, and practical information on low-sodium living. (She just gave away a Vitamix; alas, I missed the deadline to encourage you to enter, so I basically owe you all a Vitamix.) There are also links to several other recipes from or inspired by the book, including this post about Jess on Foodie Crush, which is completely adorable.
Finally, it bears mentioning that Jess is only 30 years old. While she writes about a dietary lifestyle more often associated with older adults, her youthful perspective truly sets this book apart.
Recipe for Balsamic Blueberry Sauce
This is a very close adaptation of Jessica Goldman Foung's balsamic blueberry steak sauce from Sodium Girl's Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013). All ingredients and quantities are hers; I've simply adapted the technique and hit it with some lemon.
This sauce partners beautifully with lamb meatballs (or kofte), or any kind of cheeseless meatball for that matter. (Jess has a pork and quinoa meatball in her book that looks great.)
Makes 1- to 1-1/2 cups sauce
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 onion, diced (she uses Vidalia; I used a yellow Spanish onion)
6 tablespoons balsamic (not the fancy kind)
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
4 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons molasses
2 cups blueberries (I used frozen, unthawed)
Lemon juice, to brighten at the end
In a small saucepan, saute the garlic and onion over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in all the remaining ingredients.
Bring the sauce to a boil. Reduce heat to very low, cover partly, and simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Uncover, raise heat, and let bubble vigorously until the sauce just starts to thicken and the berries are easy to mash with a potato masher, about 12 minutes, stirring frequently so the sauce doesn't scorch. Remove from the heat.
At this point, I squeezed in a few drops of fresh lemon juice to brighten all the flavors. I also pureed the sauce right in the pot with an immersion blender. Do this very carefully. (Depending on the size of your pot, the sauce level may be too low for you to do this successfully and safely.) Please do not let it splash on you.
Allow the sauce to cool for a good 15 minutes, or longer, before serving. As it cools, it sets up and jells, much like a jam. Then you can enjoy it at warm room temperature. Otherwise, refrigerate, covered, for a few hours to thicken further.