Search This Blog

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Home-Cured Gravlox with Lemon and Dill


I love smoked salmon, but because smoked meats (yes, even fish) can contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, compounds linked to cancer, I eat gravlax instead.

Some people use the terms smoked salmon, lox and gravlox interchangeably, but they aren't the same thing. Smoked salmon is, obviously, smoked, while gravlox and lox are salt-cured but not smoked at all. Gravlox (also spelled gravlax) is cured with salt and soften sugar but also with seasoning like dill or black pepper.

Curing salmon at home is easy. It's also much more affordable than buying the finished product. I used a frozen wild Silver Coho salmon fillet from Trader Joe's, for which I paid $7.99 per pound. To compare, gravlox with dill at Zabar's costs $49.00 per pound.

Most graxlox recipes use both salt and sugar to cure the fish, but the sugar isn't really necessary. (I've read recipes that use honey instead of sugar but I haven't tried this technique yet myself.) My recipe is sugar-free.

Most recipes also call for wrapping the seasoned salmon with plastic wrap and placing a weight on top, but I skipped these steps too. Dangerous chemicals can leech from plastic wrap into food, especially fatty foods like salmon, so instead I cured my salmon in an airtight glass container. I didn't use a weight and don't believe it's necessary. The salt will draw out the moisture, whether you weight it or not.

I used a small salmon fillet weighing in just over a half pound. If your fillet is bigger, make extra Lemon Dill Salt. Save any leftover salt for another purpose, as long as it hasn't come into contact with the raw fish.

3 tbsp sea salt
Zest from 1 organic lemon
2 tbsp dill fronds, gently pulled from their stems
1 wild salmon fillet, deboned, with or without skin

Using a mortar and pestle, grind together the sea salt, lemon zest and dill until  finely chopped.

Using a clean cloth or paper towel, pay dry the salmon. If your salmon has skin, place it skin-side down in a clean glass container. Spread a generous amount of Lemon Dill Salt over the surface and use clean hands to rub it in thoroughly.

If your salmon does not have skin, sprinkle about a tablespoon of the mixture onto the surface where the skin was removed. Rub it in thoroughly and turn the salmon over. Spread the rest of the salt mixture over the top of the salmon and rub it in thoroughly.

Be sure to coat every bit of flesh, right up to the edges.

Cover the salmon tightly and store it in the fridge for 2 or 3 days.

Once the salmon has cured for at least 48 hours, remove it from the fridge. The flesh will have firmed up and the fish will be sitting in liquid.

Drain away the liquid. Remove the dill and lemon residue, and wipe the surface dry. The more thoroughly you wipe it, the less salty it will taste.

If the gravlox is too salty, you can rinse it, but ONLY just before you serve it. Once it's cured, the salt has killed any surface bacteria, so the gravlox will last a couple of weeks in the fridge. But if you put water on it and put it back in the fridge, bacteria can start to grow again. So never wash gravlox unless you are ready to eat it.

Use a sharp, thin, flexible boning knife or fiiet knife to slice the cured salmon as thinly as possible. (If you live in New York City, sign up for a Knife Skills class at the Natural Gourmet Institute.)

Serve it any way you like:
  • Place small pieces on top of cucumber rounds and add a dollop of whole milk Greek yogurt
  • Arrange thinly sliced gravlox over eggs scrambled with asparagus or mushrooms
  • Make a Nicoise salad by tossing salad greens with a French-style vinaigrette and topping them with sliced hard-boiled egg, steamed green beans, fresh tomato wedges, black olives, and a few slices of gravlox

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Strawberry Rhubarb Mousse


When fresh rhubarb is in season, it's one of my favorite desserts.

The sourness of rhubarb pairs well with the sweetness of strawberries. Because I cooked them down into a sauce, I used frozen strawberries instead of fresh. Either way, be sure to buy them organic because strawberries are the third most contaminated produce item.

The base of this mousse is a strawberry rhubarb compote. With what I had leftover, I later made a parfait, which was also very good.

 To make Strawberry Rhubarb Compote:

4 cups chopped rhubarb, about 7 stalks
12 ounces frozen organic strawberries
Pinch sea salt
Splash water
Pinch cinnamon
3 tbsp honey

Add the chopped rhubarb to a large pan with the strawberries, sea salt, and a splash of water. Cook the mixture over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until a sauce starts to form. Stir in the cinnamon.

Continue cooking until the fruit has completely broken down and the sauce has thickened, about 15 minutes or more.

Stir in the honey and taste for seasoning. Make any necessary adjustments.

Serve this sauce warm, at room temperature or chilled,
alone, with yogurt or a dollop of freshly whipped cream.

Cool and store what you don't eat right away in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer.

To make Strawberry Rhubarb Mousse:

1/2 cup unsweetened organic heavy cream
2 cups strawberry rhubarb compote

If you have time, place a stainless steel bowl and whisk (or whisk attachment if you're using an electric mixer) in the freezer to chill.

Pour the cold cream into the cold bowl and whisk it until the cream holds its shape. Fold the whipped cream into the chilled rhubarb compote: Use a rubber scraper to cut down through the middle, scrape along the bottom and up the side closest to you, then rotate the bowl and repeat the process until the mixture is just combined. Do not over-mix.

Transfer the soft and airy mousse to individual dishes and serve it immediately or chill it to serve later.

To make Strawberry Rhubarb Parfait:

Layer the chilled Strawberry Rhubarb Compote with whole milk plain yogurt.

Or serve a dish of yogurt and top it with the compote.

Or serve a dish of compote and top it with a dollop of yogurt.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tomato Candy and a Summer Salad


These oven-roasted tomatoes are just like candy: sweet,
soft and delicious.

A stretch of cooler days prompted me to put a pint of cherry tomatoes in the oven, and then I ate them all in one sitting.
(I advise making extra.)

Fresh tomatoes are good for us, but roasted tomatoes can be
even better. Compared to fresh ones, roasted ones have higher concentrations of the cancer-fighting antioxidant lycopene.

I picked the fresh herbs from my window garden: basil, oregano, sage and lemon thyme. You can use any herbs you like.

Serve these tomatoes as a side dish or add them to anything,
from scrambled eggs to summer salads.

Tomato Candy

2 pints cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
Extra virgin olive oil, first cold pressing
Sea salt
Ground peppercorn
2 tbsp fresh chopped herbs

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Toss the tomatoes with enough olive oil to coat and add them to a baking dish. Season the tomatoes with sea salt and ground peppercorn. Transfer them to the oven and bake until they start to brown, about 45 minutes to an hour.

While the tomatoes roast, finely chop the fresh herbs and place them in a glass or ceramic bowl.

Once the tomatoes are soft, shrunken and starting to brown, remove them from the oven and add them to the bowl. Stir until they are thoroughly coated with the chopped herbs.

Serve immediately or cool to room temperature and store in the fridge for future use.

A Summer Salad with Oven-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

This salad does require a few preparations, like soaking and cooking the beans and roasting the peppers and tomatoes.
But they can easily be done in advance with little effort.

1 cup dried garbanzo beans, sorted and soaked overnight
2 bay leaves
Sea salt
1 to 2 pints oven-roasted cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup pitted and chopped olives, Kalamata or other
1 cup chopped roasted red pepper (I used 3 large halves)
1 organic lemon
Ground peppercorn
Extra virgin olive oil, first cold pressing
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
Fresh herbs for garnish (optional)

Rinse the soaked beans and transfer them to a pot. Cover the beans with plenty of water and add the bay leaves. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer the beans until tender, about an hour. Once they are cooked, season the water generously with sea salt. Allow the beans to cool in the cooking water.

If you're making the beans ahead, store them in their cooking water in the fridge. (Pint-size Mason jars work well for storage and hold about as much as a can of beans.)

While the beans cook, roast the tomatoes, and broil and cool the bell peppers. Once the peppers are roasted and cooled, remove the skins. Do not rinse them. Chop the roasted peppers and add them to a large bowl, along with the roasted cherry tomatoes. Chop the olives and add them to the bowl as well.

Once the beans have cooled, drain them and discard the bay leaves. Transfer the beans to the bowl with the peppers, tomatoes and olives. Zest half of the lemon over the bowl, then season with ground peppercorn and a bit more sea salt. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil over the top, about a tablespoon. Squeeze some fresh lemon juice, as much as you like. Toss everything together.

Just before serving, gently fold in the feta. Taste the salad and adjust any of the individual components if needed. Garnish with fresh herbs and serve.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Summer Rolls with Smoked Tofu and Almond Butter Dipping Sauce


This dish is everything you want in a quick meal on a warm day. It's light, yet full of protein, and portable.

On a recent trip to Chinatown, I couldn't resist some smoked tofu made just across the East River in Long Island City. (Smoked tofu doesn't contain the cancer-causing compounds that smoked meats do.) Firm and flavorful, it's perfect a filling for summer rolls.

The day I made these rolls, I didn't get too elaborate because my goal was to prepare a quick lunch. I just used smoked tofu, cilantro and scallion, but other colorful veggies would be great additions: strips of bell pepper, cucumber sticks, avocado wedges, grated carrot or beet. Feel free to experiment with your favorite vegetables or use up the ones you find in your fridge.

I love a lot of cilantro in my summer rolls, but if you're not a big fan, or if you don't have any, you can substitute shredded cabbage, lettuce or any other leafy green.

If you don't have smoked tofu, use baked tofu instead, or tempeh strips sautéed in olive oil then drizzled with tamari. Cooked shrimp and leftover roasted, shredded chicken are other good options. 

For the Rolls:
  • 4 sheets round rice paper (spring roll skins)
  • 8 strips smoked tofu (about 4 oz)
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 2 scallions


When making summer rolls, strive for two things: a roll that is full but not over-filled, and one that is tightly rolled. The more fillings you have, the less you should use of each one. And be sure to line them up so that they fit together snugly. Use the leafy greens to fill in the gaps. Like anything, practice will improve your technique. It's always good to have extra sheets of rice paper handy in case of tears.
  1. On the stove top, warm an inch of water in a skillet just big enough to accommodate your spring roll skins. Once small bubbles start to form, turn off the heat.
  2. While the water warms, assemble the other ingredients. Slice the tofu into strips. Roughly chop the cilantro leaves and stems. Cut the scallions in half lengthwise, then into 2 or 3 pieces, similar to the length of the tofu strips.
  3. Once the water is warm and the heat is turned off (you can turn it back on later if it gets cold before you finish), add one sheet of rice paper. Allow it to soak until it softens, about a minute. Carefully transfer it to a dinner plate (it won't stick to the ceramic surface).
  4. Line up the tofu and scallions in the middle then mound a handful of cilantro on top. Take the edge of the rice paper closest to you and fold it away from you, over the mound. Gently pull it back, over the ingredients mounded in the middle, curling them underneath your fingers. While squeezing the center with gentle pressure, fold each side in toward the center, then roll the mound away from you.
  5. Transfer the summer roll to a glass or ceramic serving platter. Repeat with the remaining ingredients to make 3 more rolls.
  6. Serve the summer rolls with Almond Butter Dipping Sauce (recipe follows).

Makes 4 rolls

For the Almond Butter Dipping Sauce:
  • ½ cup almond butter
  • ¼ cup hot water
  • 2 tbsp tamari
  • 4 tbsp unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • Cold-pressed raw sesame oil to taste

  1. Stir together the almond butter and hot water until well combined, then whisk in the tamari, vinegar, ginger, garlic and cayenne. Add a few drops of sesame oil and whisk until the mixture is smooth and consistent. Taste it and add more sesame oil if desired. Adjust the seasoning if necessary.
  2. Cover the sauce and set it aside until you're ready to serve it, up to 2 hours at room temperature or longer inside the fridge.