Pies, cakes and cookies are basically everywhere this time of year, but Cynthia Nims is here for you if you’re sick of eating sweets. Her new book, “Salty Snacks,” is full of recipes for crackers, chips, pretzels, dips and other savory homemade treats–so you can get your fix of baking without all the sugar (and satisfy your salt cravings while you’re at it).
We spoke to Nims, a cookbook author and food editor based in Seattle, Washington, about her new book, which she says was the result of a lifelong love for salty things:
I’ve always had a preference for sweet over salty, which doesn’t mean I never at a Hershey crunch bar or a cookie or something, but I definitely have a preference for potato chips and cheese and stuff like that to chocolate. There’s a ton of books that come out every year related to making sweet treats and there are huge troves of information about that, but then one day it was like a light bulb went off and I realized “crackers are fun, too; why don’t we make crackers at home the way we make cookies at home?”
But it’s not all about the product; she says that savory baking can be just as fun as the sweet stuff.
Customization and DIY are so popular these days, and one of the benefits of cooking at home–hands down, across the board–is that you can make something just the way you like it, and you can adjust the seasonings. It’s always one of the benefits of cooking at home and it’s no less true for snack foods than it is for our main dishes and more traditional recipes. ou can go so many directions with them and start with kind of a basic cracker recipe and personalize it a lot.
Plus, like with baking, making your own crackers, chips and other savory snacks gives you the flexibility to make something that suits your tastes and nutritional needs. “Whether it’s for flavor or for health, if you want to make crackers that have hardly any salt in them, that’s an option. Or, if you have some fancy salts that you just brought back from a trip to Asia or something and you want a way to use them, it’s a great way to showcase special ingredients.”
Nims professes that she isn’t on a health mission with her book (“I take a pragmatic approach to my own nutrition: I’m of the mind that all things in moderation can contribute to a balanced diet,” she says.) But her book is a great took for anyone who’s worried about their sodium intake, but still wants to enjoy savory treats: “Americans get a little nervous around the salt shaker when we’re cooking, but from the research I’ve done it’s pretty clear that the bulk of the sodium we consume during the day is not salt that we add to anything; it’s salt that comes in prepared food or packaged food that we pick up at the store,” she says.
There’s a lot of hidden salts and I think if people look at the book and think “oh gosh, I’m supposed to stay away from salt,” I think it’s important to look at your overall diet and really think about where the bulk of the salt you’re consuming comes from and if you’re really concerned about sodium, a) you can just use less salt, and b) you should really be looking about some of your other sodium sources, because it might be surprising. What you use in your cooking tends to be a smaller percentage.
And, while not every packaged product is filled with chemicals and preservatives, it is something to bear in mind–and when you’re cooking at home you get to control the overall content of the finished dish:
I think it’s probably a little surprising to folks how quick and easy a cracker recipe is. I have a poppyseed cracker recipe in the book that literally takes about three minutes to throw together in a bowl, then you roll them out and bake them, and you’re done. The nice thing about a recipe like that is that you can use different ingredients or combinations of seeds to really make it your own.
Her book is full of that and other recipes that you can play around with to get your own healthy (and delicious) versions of the salty snacks you crave this time of year. Go check it out!
Photo: Jennifer Martiné/Salty Snacks: Make Your Own Chips, Crisps, Crackers, Pretzels, Dips, and Other Savory Bites by Cynthia Nims, copyright © 2012