My First Food Publication! (umm, five years ago)

About five years ago I had my first piece of food writing published in the magazine PresenTense, put out by the innovative Jewish organization of the same name. The piece was part of an issue that looked at the ways young Jews were exploring issues concerning food in a day and age very different from that of our bubbes’ and zaydes’. My article focuses on the increasing inclusion of Sephardic (or Mediterranean) flavors into the standard American Jewish diet, and it seems especially timely now that the whole world has been swept under the influence of Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s amazing cookbook Jerusalem. I didn’t have a food blog back then, so I couldn’t easily share it with everyone, unlike today.

It was a fun trip back in time to find this piece, and I hope you enjoy reading it, and maybe even eating it. I’m including the full recipe for Moroccan Salmon since the creative photo doesn’t quite capture all the ingredients. We make this recipe with some frequency, since we usually have all the bits and pieces in the house. It’s bright, flavorful, and it makes a stellar dinner party centerpiece if you double the recipe for a side of salmon, cooked whole.

Moroccan Salmon* (adapted from Cooking Light)

This recipe is filled with Mediterranean flavors. It’s easy to prepare if you have a good kitchen knife or a small food processor. This is beautiful for a holiday dinner, but easy enough for a weeknight if you use shortcuts.

1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or cilantro

1 Tablespoon olive oil

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne works well)

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 garlic cloves, minced

4 (6-ounce) wild-caught salmon fillets (about 1-inch thick)

Cooking spray

1 lemon

3 cups thinly sliced red bell pepper (frozen mixed bell peppers will work well)

2 tablespoons water

1 large plum tomato, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (or 1 can diced tomatoes, drained)

*other firm-fleshed fish works well in this recipe—let your taste buds and budget be your guide

Preheat oven to 400°.

Combine first 10 ingredients in 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Do not use an aluminum pan—it will react with the acid in the dish. Add salmon, spreading paste thickly over the fillets. Cover and let stand 15 minutes while you prepare the other ingredients. Remove salmon from dish, reserving paste in a medium bowl (you may need to scrape it gently off the fish). Rinse the 13 x 9-inch dish and coat with cooking spray. Place the salmon, skin side down, in the dish.

Cut lemon in half lengthwise; cut each lemon half crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices. Add the lemon slices, bell pepper slices, 2 tablespoons water, and tomato slices to the spice paste; stir gently to coat. Arrange lemon mixture in an even layer over salmon; cover with foil. Bake at 400° for about 20 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork or until desired degree of doneness.

Top each fillet with about 1/2 cup vegetable mixture, and drizzle each serving with pan juices.

For an easy weeknight pairing, make a quick pot of couscous and toss some toasted pine nuts, almonds and pistachios on top.

A Girl and Her Tacos: Santa Monica

Rajas

A million years ago when I lived my L.A. life I had a favorite meal that was hard to come by: potato and rajas tacos at Border Grill in Santa Monica. As a poor grad student Border Grill was out of my reach except for the most special of occasions, so I bought the cookbook. It was my first brush with celebrity restaurants, and I felt as though I knew the chefs—Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger—from the hours I spent watching their early Food Network show Too Hot Tamales. For the price of two orders of potato and rajas tacos I got my hands on the recipe. Today the tacos are off the menu in Santa Monica, but still available for a mere $3 each from the Border Grill food truck.

When we received our most recent CSA box from Johnson’s Backyard Garden I was flabbergasted by the haul of peppers we brought home. Our mix included a variety of sweet, or at least not hot, peppers, as well as about a dozen serranos. Some were long and red and pointy, others petite and light green with a distinct flavor, a handful dark green and tinged with red, and a few good old typical green baby bells. For nearly a week I regarded the veggie bowl on the counter each time I walked through the kitchen, confounded about how to use the immense variety.

As we wended our way through rush hour traffic to our aerials class in east Austin inspiration struck: rajas. Traditionally rajas are made with fire-roasted poblano peppers, sautéed with onions and finished with a touch of cream and cheese. Sometimes other delights sneak their way into the rajas mixture: potatoes (proven by my old favorite) and corn are popular guest stars. Since we’ve just barely moved back across the globe my old cookbook is still packed away somewhere, and with no cream on hand, I had to improvise. Once made, we layered the rajas mixture with a bit of shredded cheese and some homemade black beans topped off with a dollop of labneh into handmade corn tortillas. It was a simple dinner worthy of the memories from days gone by at Border Grill.

Quick Weeknight Rajas

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
2 large bell peppers or their equivalent in poblanos or other mild peppers, thinly sliced
2 serrano peppers, seeds removed, thinly sliced (adjust to the heat level you prefer)
1 medium white onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 ears corn, kernels removed
Kosher salt

Add the oil to a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the peppers, onion, and garlic and sauté until onions turn translucent. If vegetables stick, add a few tablespoons of water to deglaze the pan and continue to sauté. Add the corn and cook for an additional 3-5 minutes, or until corn kernels are crisp-tender. Remove from heat and season to taste with kosher salt.

Agua Fresca Obsessed

Watermelon obsessed

Sweet agua fresca from Zócalo in Austin, Texas

Real talk: aguas frescas are amazing and I’m admitting to a mild obsession. My love of the agua fresca really took off in Thailand of all places, where you can find tropical fruit “shakes” nearly anywhere for the high price of about 30 baht or $1. When I first saw “shake” on the menu I ordered with trepidation, the image of a creamy watermelon smoothie giving me pause. To my delight the shake that arrived was simply watermelon blended with ice and a bit of simple syrup, and with one sip I was hooked. Watermelon shakes followed, at least one per day for the next two weeks, interspersed with young coconuts because Thailand, people!

Having spent 80% of my life within 3 hours of the border with Mexico, I can’t help but think of a fresh, slightly sweet fruit water as anything other than an agua fresca no matter which continent serves it up. In Mexico we found the most common aguas frescas to be watermelon (sandía), pineapple (piña), hibiscus (jamaica), and a creamy rice-milk sort of beverage called horchata. And no, that’s not just a Vampire Weekend song, friends. These cold beverages with mystical live-giving properties may not be quite as inexpensive in Texas as they are in Thailand, but they are ubiquitous and refreshing in the sweltering 95+ degree heat of May.

So guys, what I’m trying to say is that when you’re drained from 2 hours of roller derby drills and you stop for a breakfast taco or two at El Chilito you also have to get an agua fresca de sandía. And then you have to realize that you can make some at home with all the leftover watermelon in the fridge from your blastalicious July 4th spectacular. Do it.

This recipe is from Whole Foods and it’s close to perfect. I cut the amount of water in half and doubled the lime juice since my delightful pink drink is sticking around in the ‘fridge for a day or two.

Watermelon Agua Fresca

Ingredients:
  • 8 cups watermelon, cut into 2-inch pieces (approximately 6 lbs.)
  • 1 cup cold water, divided
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Ice cubes
  • Lime slices and mint leaves for garnish (optional)
Method:

Cut the watermelon flesh from the rind. In a blender or food processor, process half the watermelon pieces with 1/2 cup of water until smooth. Pour through a strainer into a pitcher. Repeat the process with the remaining melon and water. You should end up with about 8 cups of juice. Stir in the lime juice and honey. Pour into ice-filled glasses and garnish with lime slices and mint.

Someday I’ll work out how to make horchata. Until then, enjoy Vampire Weekend and find a sidewalk to walk on.

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