Cooking for Kidney Failure – Balsamic Garlic Spread

July 6, 2012

A story: back in November, I met a girl at my friend’s wedding in Minnesota.  We’ll call her V.  Things took off in a big way, there were some back and forth visits, and after finishing school and going on my awesome trip, I left Illinois (thank goodness!) and moved back to Minnesota.  Being in the same city as your SO is always nice, of course, and one of the great perks is that you get to meet your SO’s friends and family.  And cook for them.  Enter Matt.

Matt is both V’s roommate and a thoroughly excellent human being.  Unfortunately, last fall, he was diagnosed with kidney failure, and is waiting for a transplant.  You can read more about his story (and how you can help him!) here.

Of course, losing kidney function necessitates a lot of lifestyle changes; one of the biggest is dietary.  Without kidneys, the body is unable to process sodium (salt), potassium, and phosphorous, so kidney patients have to strictly limit their intake of these nutrients.  But here’s the thing, friends: cooking without salt is tough.  Eating out while avoiding salt is even tougher.

I like a good challenge, and (shocker!) I like to cook, so lately, I’ve been devoting my energies to figuring out ways to cook tasty foods without the use of any salt.  It’s great for my underemployment; I have something to keep me busy on days that I’m not out doing interviews or applications.  It is in this spirit of salt-free, kidney-friendly cooking that I present to you my Balsamic-Poached Garlic Spread.


10 oz balsamic vinegar, olive oil to taste, 1 head of garlic, fresh ground black pepper, to taste


Separate the cloves of garlic, but don’t peel them.  Put them in a 1-quart saucepan, and fill the pan most of the way with water (about 2-1/2 or 3 cups), and bring the water to a rolling boil.  At this point, drain the water, and refill with the balsamic vinegar.  Bring the vinegar, with the garlic, to a rolling boil, just as you did with the water.

Once the vinegar reaches a boil, use a spoon to remove the garlic cloves to a bowl and grind some pepper in to the boiling vinegar.  Lower the heat to a constant but not rolling boil and let the vinegar reduce to about 1/3 or 1/4 of it’s previous volume.  When it’s done, it should be quite thick but not syrupy (if you reduce it too much, it will be practically solid once it cools).  It should just barely be able to coat the back of a spoon.

Here, the balsamic readily coats the back of a spoon. This is a little on the thick side, so I added a bit of water back before continuing.

If you accidentally reduce it too much, add water a little at a time and stir until it loosens up.

While the vinegar reduces, peel the garlic (the skins should slip off readily), drizzle the garlic with olive oil, and mash with a fork to mix.  You want the garlic to be smushed, but not ground into a paste.

The garlic/oil mixture should be lumpy.

The balsamic reduction should be about half the volume of the garlic-oil mixture:

The balsamic has that swirl from mixing a little water in.

Once the balsamic and garlic are ready, combine them, mixing thoroughly, to finish the spread.  Of course, if your kidneys are in working order, a pinch or two of salt here won’t go amiss, but it isn’t necessary.

The finished product.

So there you have it: delicious Italian flavors without the salt.  Hopefully, I’ll be posting more renal diet recipes in the future.  Even more hopefully, I won’t have to.  For more information on kidney disease and renal diet, check out  If you have any great salt-free recipes, let us know about them in the comments.

That’s all for today, thanks for reading!


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