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This holiday season, give the gift of seasoned salt

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT
(AP photo)
Popcorn salt combinations, from top clockwise, Sichuan pepper, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice and smoked paprika are shown.

It seemed like a tall order. I wanted an edible gift that was fast and easy to make, inexpensive, wouldn’t spoil or need to be refrigerated, and that kids could be involved in.

With so many caveats, the field is pretty narrow. The solution I came up with – seasoned salts. The concept is simple. Blend salt with various seasonings, then package them nicely. The kids can even get in on decorating the jars.

There are just a few things to remember as you do this. Most important is that seasoned salts are intended as finishing salts. That means they should be used to season finished dishes, not during cooking. Most of the nuanced flavor of a seasoned salt would be lost if used for cooking.

For gift purposes, I suggest planning for two kinds of salt – powdered salt, which is intended for use on popcorn, and flaked salt, which is for sprinkling over finished savory foods.

First, the powdered salt. The powdered part of this is key, so it adheres to the corn kernels far better than even fine grain salt does.

Making powdered salt is simple. Use inexpensive kosher salt (usually about $1.50 for a 3-pound box), then run it through either a food processor or blender (you also can use a mortar and pestle for smaller batches) until it reaches the consistency of powdered sugar. Seasonings can be mixed in by hand after the salt is ground, or simply added to the processor or blender at the same time.

When selecting seasonings for popcorn salt, don’t hesitate to get creative, even mixing sweet and savory flavors. But always aim to use seasonings with a similar texture as the powdered salt.

For flake salts intended to use on savory foods, you’ll need to start with pricier flaked sea salt. You usually can find bargains on this variety at places such as Trader Joe’s and similar retailers. With these salts, you simply mix them with the seasonings you want, then bottle them. Even easier than powdered salts.

You also have more choice when it comes to seasonings. No need to worry about matching the texture of the salt, which in this case tends to be large and coarse. Finely ground seasonings or more robust dried herbs, or a blend of the two, all work well.

Be sure to label your salts and include hints on what to use them on.

Popcorn Salt Combinations

Each makes enough for 4 to 6 gifts, depending on jar size)

• 1 pound kosher salt, six 3-inch cinnamon sticks, 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper. Grind everything together.

• 1 pound kosher salt, 2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice blend. Mix the spice blend into the salt after it is ground.

• 1 pound kosher salt, 4 teaspoons garlic powder, 4 teaspoons smoked paprika. Mix the spice blend into the salt after it is ground.

• 1 pound kosher salt, 2 1/2 tablespoons Sichuan pepper. Grind everything together.

Savory Salt Combinations

Each makes 1 to 2 gifts, depending on jar size

• 1/2 cup flaked salt, 2 teaspoons dried oregano, 2 teaspoons dried basil, 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

• 1/2 cup flaked salt, 1 1/2 tablespoons fennel seed, 2 teaspoons cumin seed, 2 teaspoons mustard powder

• 1/2 cup flakes salt, 2 teasoons curry powder

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