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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Blackened Wild Salmon


This dish isn't charred. Instead, it's "blackened" with spices.

It's a healthy alternative to charring meats, which creates cancer-causing compounds like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs.

I grind whole spices as I need them whenever I can to ensure the freshest flavors and the most medicinal benefits. Here I combined peppercorns, dried thyme leaves, cumin seeds, dried lime zest, and coarse sea salt with ground paprika.

I used smoked paprika and smoked sea salt to give this dish a grilled flavor, even though I made it on the stove top. (Smoking chili peppers and sea salt doesn't create the same carcinogens as smoking meat and fish.)

This recipe is incredibly versatile. I used lime because I had some dried zest on hand and because it goes so well with fish. You can use fresh organic lime zest instead of dried lime zest, or substitute citrus sea salt for the lime zest and smoked sea salt.

If you don't have dried thyme, use dried oregano or rosemary. If you don't have dried chipotle, use any other dried chili pepper or substitute red pepper flakes.

1 dried chipotle chili pepper, cut into pieces with a kitchen shears
1 dried Thai bird chili pepper (or substitute 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes)
1 tbsp mixed peppercorns
1 tbsp dried thyme leaves
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp smoked sea salt or other sea salt
1 tsp cumin seeds (or substitute 1 teaspoon ground cumin)
Wild salmon fillet(s) cut into 4- to 6-ounce portions
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, first cold pressing
Fresh lemon or lime wedges for serving

Add the chipotle, peppercorns, thyme, paprika, sea salt, cumin seeds, and lime zest to an electric grinder. Grind until smooth. Alternatively, you can use a mortar and pestle.

Place a tablespoon or two of the mixture on a large plate and gently swirl it around to evenly distribute the seasoning. Place the fish fillets on the plate (skin side up) to pick up the spices, then transfer them to a plate (seasoned side up) and rub the mixture into the fish to coat one surface thoroughly. Set the fish aside to absorb the seasoning and come to room temperature before cooking.

You can do this step several hours ahead but transfer the fish to the fridge if it will be more than an hour before you cook them. Remember to take them out of the fridge in advance to come to room temperature when you do cook them.

When you're ready to cook the salmon, warm the olive oil in a cast iron skillet or stainless steel over medium heat. Once hot, add the salmon, seasoned side down. (If the skillet isn't hot when you add the salmon, it will stick.) Cook until the fish is crispy and lifts away easily from the skillet, about 4 to 5 minutes.

Flip the salmon, cover the pan, and turn off the heat. Finish cooking the fish with residual heat, about 5 to 7 minutes more, depending on the thickness of the fish. This allows the fish to be thoroughly cooked without becoming over-cooked and dry.

Toss a salad while you wait for the salmon to finish cooking, then serve it immediately with fresh lemon or lime wedges. If you want, top it with a dollop of whole milk Greek yogurt.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Salt-Cured Chili Peppers


Make this season's chili peppers last for months by curing them with sea salt. Salt-curing foods is an ancient method of food preservation and it's still useful today.

4 Serrano chili peppers, or other chili peppers, any color, thinly sliced
3 to 4 tbsp sea salt

Toss the chilis with the sea salt until the mixture is well combined and sea salt covers every slice.

Transfer the salted chilis to a covered glass container. 

Scatter a thin layer of salt on top.

Set it aside at room temperature for 48 hours and stir it twice each day. The salt will prevent the growth of microbes. A liquid will collect at the bottom as salt draws water out of the chili peppers.

After 48 hours, transfer it to the fridge for long-term storage.  

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Marinated Mozzarella


These soft pillows of fragrant mozzarella are a simple summer starter. Toss them with fresh cherry tomatoes or serve them as part of an arranged appetizer platter with whatever your wish: olives, artichoke hearts, prosciutto, cornichons, crudité (raw vegetables), etc.

For the marinade, I picked some fresh herbs from my window garden - basil, oregano, thyme, and rosemary - but you can use any herbs you like.

If you don't have fresh herbs, substitute 2 teaspoons of dried herbs instead. (Herbes de Provence would be an excellent choice.) Crushed red pepper flakes give the mozzarella balls a kick, but you can omit them if you prefer.

2 tbsp fresh finely chopped herbs
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
Zest of 1 organic lemon
5 tbsp cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt (optional)
1 pound fresh cillengini  (bite-sized mozzarella balls), strained

In a large mixing bowl, combine the chopped herbs, crushed red pepper, lemon zest, and olive oil. If you are using unsalted mozzarella, add a pinch of sea salt. Allow it to sit for a few minutes to allow the flavors to marry.

Add the mozzarella balls and toss to coat them thoroughly. Transfer them to an air-tight container and allow them to marinate overnight before serving.

Eat them as is, serve them with an appetizer platter, or add them to salads. I like to toss them with tomatoes for a simple summer salad.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Purple Pesto


I couldn't resist the purple basil I found at the farmer's market this morning, even though I grow my own green basil.

I turned it into a purple pesto, which is a perfect summer sauce. I served it with wild salmon, but you can eat it with almost anything. Slather it on slices of fresh tomatoes. Swirl a spoonful into a bowl of cool gazpacho, warm scrambled eggs, or freshly sautéed finely chopped cauliflower. Whisk in some vinegar to make it a vinaigrette. Or serve it with whatever you have on the grill: vegetables, chicken, lamb, fish, or tofu triangles.

"Pesto" is really just a paste and it can be made of many different things. Often it includes fresh herbs, garlic, some sort of nut, and something salty - like grated Parmesan cheese, olives, or anchovies.

If you don't have purple basil, feel free to use the green variety, or even a mixture of fresh herbs. Pine nuts are a popular choice but I used walnuts instead to make my pesto an exceptionally good source of healthy omega-3 fats. If you prefer a dairy-free pesto, opt for olives or anchovies instead of Parmesan.

1 bunch fresh purple basil, about 3 cups packed leaves
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2/3 cup raw walnuts
2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, first cold pressing
1/4 tsp sea salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Add all of the ingredients to a food processor and purée until smooth. Taste for seasoning and make any necessary adjustments.

Serve the pesto within 2 hours or transfer it to an airtight container in the fridge until you're ready to eat it.