Archive for February, 2010

Tossed

Just like that: It’s salad weather again. Oh, we had a few months of hunker-down comfort foods, of roasted root-y things and spontaneous “It’s raining!” chilis.

But here comes the sun, pulsing down on our xeriscaped yards, our bumpy piles of granite and scatters of muted desert green. We’re not to the harsh part yet, the searing, unrelenting heat. Instead, it feels almost nice, in the bright way the sun is supposed to feel when the clouds part. So far, it’s the kind of sun that makes you want to take all your meals outside, then lounge in the lounger after with a lounge-worthy read.

So, even though I know we’ll be trying to innovate salad for what will seem like a forever set of months, salad is indeed on the menu. It just seems right somehow. Right to coat baby spinach in a spoonful of walnut oil and a splash of red wine vinegar, to top the perky greens with a heap of sliced avocado and figs and dripping chunks of tangerine, with more than a suggestion of chèvre.

No, it’s not still “winter.” But the food’s good anyway.

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Stuffed

[Recipe: Tilapia with Bulgur Stuffing & Sardines]

These days I have three goals for dinner:

1. Have it on the table early enough that we can spend a reasonable amount of time en famille eating a more-or-less dignified meal (i.e., not shoving food down throats with five minutes to eat) before Emmie has to run off to soccer practice.

2. Incorporate more superpower protein. I sold my family on the virtues of salmon long ago. Now it’s time for my dear ones to gain an affinity for things like sardines. If you’ve been in the vicinity of any print media lately (New York Times, Sunset magazine, and on and on), you’ll have noticed that sardines are having a so-healthy-you’re-a-darn-fool-not-to-eat-them-moment.

3. Find novel ways of using my worldly ingredients — the ones I bought rightfully, but nevertheless impulsively, that give a well-traveled air to my pantry, but that I don’t always know off-hand what to do with. Like my bottle of pomegranate molasses.

Tonight, it was Ottolenghi that leaped to my cause. The cookbook’s recipe for bulgur-stuffed sardines was made to meet all three of my goals, and allowed me to serve up the kind of bold flavor that always tastes so comforting at the end of a busy day.

I modified the original recipe to use the ingredients I had on hand, but intact are the most necessary ones, like those sardines and pomegranate molasses. And the spirit of the dish remains Ottolenghi all the way.

Tilapia with Bulgur Stuffing and Sardines

adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook

1/2 C medium bulgur
1/4 C golden raisins, chopped
1/4 C toasted pistachios, chopped
zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tbsp dried mint
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
kosher salt and black pepper
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 can boneless, skinless sardines, flaked
4 tilapia filets
lemon wedges, to serve

Put the bulgur in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let sit for 20 to 30 minutes, until soft. Drain bulgur and return it to the bowl. To the bulgur, add the raisins, pistachios, zest, juice and parsley. Stir in the spices, mint, molasses, olive oil and sardines, then season with salt and pepper.

Heat the oven to 475 degrees and cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the tilapia filets on the baking sheet, then spoon the bulgur mixture evenly among the filets, making a pile in the center of each filet. Grab both ends of one of the filets and bring the ends together, securing them to each other with a short wooden skewer. If any of the bulgur spills out the sides, gently press it back into the tilapia roll. Continue with the remaining filets. Place baking sheet in the oven and roast fish for 8 to 10 minutes, until just cooked through.

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Zing

This is one of my favorite times of year in the Southwest. Not only is our little “mountain” turning a rich shade of green not often seen here in the desert, we’re also enjoying a bountiful influx of citrus, so that throughout my house are strategically placed bowls of varying shades and cross-shades of oranges and yellows.

Last night, My husband hefted home from work (where our citrus trees reside) a garbage-bag full – one of those bags that stretches – of outsized lemons, navel oranges and tangelos, and some state-fair-ready ruby red grapefruit. I’ve never seen grapefruit so huge, or tasted grapefruit so rich with juice.

I’ve already prepped some dough for tonight’s lemon-herb focaccia, and I have all sorts of other plans for the lemons that just keep on coming. Lemons are one of my favorite ingredients to work with – they have such a brightening, punchy power.

Here’s what I’ll be up to in the coming weeks:

  • Squeezing the juice for everything from couscous to vinaigrette

  • Zesting like crazy – these lemons are unwaxed, making the perfect zesting specimens

  • Baking Alice Medrich’s lemon bars, a yearly ritual

  • Slicing lemons to place atop broiled fish or to class up a simple glass of water

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