Jan 26, 2012

That darned fish was just darn good--Tilapia Papillote.

There is nothing good that comes of Tilapia. As a fish lover, I am convinced of this

Yet, even after you are fully convinced, there happens an event that, does not really alter your conviction, but pauses your thoughts just a a bit. Here is one such incidence and of which was born this recipe.

I was at my local grocery. And I saw Tilapia on sale. Whole Tilapias. Cleaned and ready to go. Each about a pound or more. Each at  a dollar or slightly more. In spite of my apprehensions I picked up a couple. This was way too cheap to avoid. And plus, there is something about whole fishes that attracts me almost instinctively. Of course, once they were in my home and the initial wonderment was over, I had on my kitchen shelves two large 'unloved' fishes staring at me. 
Luckily, I remembered Papillote. Every other mechanism I had tried has failed me as far as these darned fishes were concerned. Somehow I never ended up did a papillote with Tilapia. For those of you who are sneering at my casual use of a foreign word without explaining it (:) :), papillote is an excellent (french) way of baking whole (or filleted) fishes in pouches. A drizzle of oil, a few tomatoes a fresh lovely fish, a tightly sealed pouch and you get a Pappilote. It is one heck of a way to have a wholesome rustic meal without fanfare. Of course the original recipe demands a flavorful  fish that can carry the recipe. 

Tilapias unfortunately cannot be trusted to carry the recipe by itself. It needs a ton of help. I like to enlist garlic, jalapeno and lots of freshly ground peppercorn and black pepper. I have to say even the darned fishes tastes darned good :) 

So here I have today, the recipe to making whole Tilapias the adapted way

Tilapia Papillote:

2 whole fishes. Cleaned. Please ask your fish mongerer to scale it for you.
I mentioned Tilapia. But you can easily go with Trouts or any local equivalent. Fillets are good too. I like Swordfish. But I like whole fishes in papillotes. An amazingly homey way of making a rustic meal.
7-8 cloves of garlic. 3-4 for each. Slivered or sliced. No mincing here, please
2 Jalapeno. One for each. 
Seeded or not, depending on your heat tolerance or acceptance. Sliced at an angle. You want to stuff these in little nooks of the fishes. So take that as a reference. I mean you are lookig at the fish..right? :)
3 tomatoes or 1 lb of cherry tomatoes. For whole tomatoes, cube em'. 1.5 per fish
1 tsp of pepper corn or 1/2 tsp of the ground varaity
1 tsp of black corn or 1/2 tsp of the ground varaity
A handful of cilantro. Optional. Chopped coarsely
3 tbsf olive oil
2 tsp of butter. One for each
Some freshly squeezed lime juice

Clean it, stuff it, wrap it, cook it!

Take Aluminum foil. Large enough to hold the fish, wrap it all over and seal the sides. Make it double layers. You don't want it to break when moving the pouch around. You would need two such to hold the two fishes. Dry the fish thoroughly with paper towels.  Score the fish (carefully cut angular wedges on each surface of the fish, three to four of those. Helps with flavor and moisture penetration into the flesh. Also makes for better and faster cooking). Place the tomatoes around it. With a light hand, smear olive oil on all surfaces and insides. Now ground up the spices and mix with salt. And liberally apply it all over the fish and every little score and insides. Stuff the jalapeno, garlic and cilantro into the fishes and stick some in the inside the scores as well. A slab of butter on top. Carefully, wrap the fish and seal all around. The whole thing should look like a pouch. Do the same thing with the second one. Poke the top surface with fork to allow circulation. Place on oven friendly trays.

Heat the oven to 425 F. Now place the fish and bake for 30 mins. Reduce temperature to 350F and finish baking. Another 20-25 mins. The time of course depends on how big your fish is, if you are using fillets and your oven. For fillets I would say go with 20-20. Now, if you like the fish to be brown on the top (I like it by the way), carefully take out the try and open the pouch. Teh aroma should hit you 'wow'. Anyways, broil the open fishes on hi for 7-10 min. Drizzle some fresh lime juice.

Have immediately. I mean you should be going crazy to have it by now. I would say pair with just the boiled potatoes or garden salad on the side. A Riesling would work wonder with this. But I am a red fanatic. I would go with some Bordeaux. But that is just me :)

Happy eating and healthy living.

Jan 19, 2012

Dill Salmon or Sword Fish with Curry Leaves-- a template for your imagination

The best ideas are those that inspire more ideas...

As in life as in food. Must have been a very wise person--this person, who worded the thought that often times occur to me. Especially when I am near food.
Today's post is about one such recipe. This one is by good friend (and fantastic cook, about whom I have spoken often on this forum)--Maria. She is from Hungary. And going by her ease in great cooking and stories of food from Hungary, I have come to the important conclusion, that Hungary is where good food is the norm. But today's recipe is not Hungarian. At least a combination of herbs and sea-food don't evoke the images of a paprika loving, land-locked nation in eastern Europe. So lets just give it to Maria's imagination.
The recipe calls for nothing more than some Dill, Salmon, milk and cream. And demands nothing short of complete and utter satisfaction. If seafood and herb could be used as comfort food, this recipe is the one to go for. In a minute I will be writing the details of the recipe. BUT before, I do so, I must say that this recipe can be custom made to be anyone's imagination.
Think of your favorite fish (a sturdy one) and your favorite herb. Infuse your fish with your herb. And dress it with a flavored dairy (or non dairy based) sauce. It is your dish. It is your imagination. And even better, it is you who open the door to another million ideas. Truly a recipe that inspires.
So today, the recipe I write is a template. One that you can take and make yours. In fact the recipe I give is of two parallels. One of Maria's and one of mine. Do you have another? :)

Dill Salmon or Sword Fish with Curry Leaves-- a template for your recipe
(Inspired by Maria)

3/4 - 1 lb of fish. Fillet in two pieces. I like Salmon or Sword fish equivalent of those. Tuna should work too. But I really like the first two. 
A handful of herbs. I like Dill with Salmon. I also like Curry leaves (a few strands) with Sword fish.
3/4th cup of milk. Should be enough to smear both surfaces and season the sauce. A word about curry leaves. These are usually found in Indian groceries although some big groceries carry them. I have seem curry leaves in whole foods. Curry leaves are strong in flavor. Very woody. So use sparingly. For this recipe I would recommend no more than a single strand. A strand usually has 12-15 leaves. But start with 5-10 and then work your way up.
1/4th cup of cream. If you are using Sword and Curry leaves, I recommend the same amount of coconut milk
3-4 tbsf light Olive Oil. Again, if you are using Sword and Curry leaves, I reccomend the same amount of mustard oil
1 tbsf whole mustard seeds and two cloves of garlic and one jalapeno (or green chile) sliced up (optional and I recommend for use with curry leaves in this recipe)
Salt and pepper

All you do is spend 15 min with a shallow skillet

In a shallow skillet, heat oil (2-3 tbsf). As the oil heats up, dice up the herbs and thickly coat one surface of the fish. Pat down so that the herb actually sticks. Season with salt and pepper. Now, once the oil is hot, carefully place the fish fillets with the herb surface down. Avoiding burning yourself, carefully place some fresh herbs on the upper surface. Season with salt and pepper. Once the fish is cooked half way (will turn opaque), very carefully turn the fish to cook the other surface. Will take 4-5 min on first surface and 3-4 min on the other. Plate up and let rest

Add the milk, cream and remaining dill. Salt and pepper. Stir and reduce to half the volume. This will take time, 10-12 min. Check for seasoning and pour in a serving bowl. 
Now, if you are using sword and curry leaves, the sauce would be nice if done the following way:
Add a tiny bit of oil in the same skillet. Add the whole mustard, garlic and green chiles. Pop for a few seconds. the milk, coconut milk and remaining curry leaves. Salt and pepper. Stir and reduce to half the volume. This will take time, 10-12 min. Check for seasoning and pour in a serving bowl. 

Serve fish with boiled potatoes. Spoon the sauce over the fish and potatoes. Good with bold reds. Some Riesling should be excellent. But I  tell you, this recipe even works with margaritas or even good cup of tea :)

    Happy eating and healthy living!

Jan 3, 2012

Pasta tossed with roasted eggplant garlic and peppers. An ode to simplicity

A modest beginning is always a safe way to start. 

I was on a trip to India this last month. Well, in November of 2011. The occasion was my sister's wedding. I had casually suggested designing the menu when the wedding was still an year away. Of course, none takes you seriously, when you 'casually suggest designing a wedding menu'. An Indian wedding that too. Granted my sister's was on the smallish side. But hey, we are still talking four hundred people. And in a small town where I grew up, just randomly coming up with a surprizing twist to a wedding menu may not be...lets just say the best idea. I was warned and almost bulldozed when I told my father that wanted a Turkish-Arabic cuisine inspired menu. No way, He said, would such a different design work. 

All I wanted.... was a meeting with the cook and caterer.

The caterer was ecstatic when he heard the recipes. The cook took some getting used to being told by a woman who wore jeans and had no idea about cooking for 10 people (forget 400!). But soon enough the simple charm of the recipes caught on. Later, that evening over some tea, they told me that the recipes where simple, almost modest and yet so different from the ones he served up that they decided to go with my ideas. 

Of course, guests were ecstatic at the fresh new recipes, flavors and all good things that I now forget. The caterer has even suggested making me a business partner. But to me this event underscored one point, which I strive to achieve almost persistently. Modesty works, and nowhere better that with food :) And a small town caterer, a village cook and a fancy blogger got together to make a phenomenal wedding menu.

All this to set you up for a real simple pasta dish. The simplicity of the dish leaves you with a flavorful experience that is tough to find in anything anymore complex than this recipe. All you would need are two roasting dishes, an eggplant and some garlic. Hey wait ...try to get the best pasta. I like fettucine or linguini :)

Pasta tossed with roasted eggplant, onion- garlic and pepper
(Inspired by a recipe posted in the NYTimes)

1 eggplant. Skin off and cubed.
1 big onion. Sliced. 2 medium ones. In any case a cup of this stuff.
6-8 large cloves of garlic. Leave the skin on!
1 Jalapeno pepper. You can also use some bell peppers if you rather not heat up your pasta
6 tbsf good quality olive oil.
3 tbsf vinegar. I like red vine vinegar. But you can use any.
salt and pepper
1/2 lb (that's roughly half the package) of pasta. Try some long ones. I especially love the fettucine or linguine ones.

Lets start the fire !

In this case by preheating the oven to 400F. Toss the eggplants with salt, pepper and 3 tbsf olive oil. Lay on a baking tray and try not to jumble them all up. Spread evenly. In another baking try, mix the garlic (skin is still on), onion, peppers, salt, ground black pepper and the rest of the olive oil. Spread evenly. Bake for 50 mins. Till eggplants are mushy and onions have taken color and turned soft. Alternatively, you can shallow the two sets (cover the one with eggplants, otherwise you may end up needing a phenomenal amount of oil) and cook till both have achieved the above mentioned state of affairs. I am guessing would take ~ 20 mins :).  

Fish out the garlic, take off the skins (should be easy peasy now). Smash it and mix with the Vinegar.

Once these are done and you have taken them out of the oven and allowing them to cool, start the pasta. An important word about Pasta. I thought this was known. But at the wedding I got asked how best to make pasta. So here is the deal. Take a large (very large) pot of water. Cover and bring to a rolling boil. Once that is achieved, remove lid and liberally salt the water. This is your only chance to salt the pasta! bring it back to boil and slowly add the pasta. Take a spatula and stir it. Boil for 8-10 mins. Or go up to 12 min. These are ball park values. But the pasta should be  al dente..meaning there should be bite to it, but would look translucent.It is a good practice to save a cup of the starchy pasta liquid before draining. The pasta when mixing may need some moistening :)

Drain the pasta (don't drain too well) and put in the serving dish. Add the eggplants and onion and the smashed garlic. Toss well. Serve with some full bodied red. I like Cabernet Sauvignion :) An afternoon that got slightly better, hey..even if it is a winter outside :)

Happy eating and healthy living!

Jan 2, 2012

A happy New Year and I welcome myself back..read on..

A New Post!!

Last year  I got my PhD (in Earth Science) and I turned 30. In that order. I defended my PhD the day before I turned 30. And I wanted to turn 30 since I was twenty one and I also wanted to get my PhD before I turned 30.

If that does not explain why I was not around in blogdom, I don't know what cuts it :) But if you thought that I gave up on food and cooking there could be nothing further from truth than that. In fact, I designed my sister's wedding menu. Yes freinds, I did that. I created turkish-Arab inspired menu for my sister and worked with the caterer/chef who prepared the dishes for a good 400 people.

It was a super hit!

May I now be excused? I am back and here to stay. I am glad to see so many new faces. so may new dishes and the blogdom bursting with aroma and flavors. Sure feels great to be back! 

Happy eating and healthy living!