Friday, March 24, 2006

Strong to the finish (cause I eats me spinach!)

The ‘one who does not eat fish’ (or tofu, or spinach, or lots of other good things such as bonita flakes or nori) is not here today. So that kind of sets the tone.

Its always somewhat of a highwire act to balance the various likes and dislikes so that we don’t end up eating the same thing every day. Sometimes it works out for everyone, sometimes the one or the other boycotts some part of the meal. Usually there is enough variety that no one has to directly starve.

I remember sitting for hours – literally hours – in front of a plate of boiled frozen spinach. I refused to eat it. My parents were insistent (not followers of Dr. Spock, I guess). I had been sitting alone for hours, as everyone else had long since capitulated and somehow choked down the green goo. I had poured about a gallon of that bottled lemon juice on it in a failed attempt to kill both the taste, and anything that might possibly be living in it. But to no avail. I guess I can be a little stubborn at times.

I don’t remember how the stand-off ended. Funny how memories retain the happier moments, but somehow blank out the bleaker times, as if they didn’t even really happen. I still remember the green goo, though, and it colored my opinion of spinach for decades. I was pretty sure Popeye ate his raw, not boiled, despite all the cans of it he opened.

So I don’t fight the battle of food preferences. There was a time when I couldn’t stand single malt scotch or wines from France (I was maybe 10 or so), so I’m not too worried.

Now all that good stuff – fish, spinach and tofu – will be on the menu tonight. To be enjoyed without a guilty conscience.

I still don’t like spinach boiled. As a green, it doesn’t have the backbone of kale, or even chard, and lacks the bite of mustard or beet greens. So I leave it out of my southern style braised greens. It seems more delicate, both in structure and flavor. So I usually use it raw, in salads, or maybe wilted, like tonight, as a bed for something. Even in things like ravioli filling, I usually just wilt the spinach lightly and chop.

Because spinach is mild in flavor, and because I use it while it still has significant structure to it, it acts like a supporting backdrop for flavor I want to infuse throughout a dish. Lemon, maybe, or a mustardy essence.

Tonight it will be a red wine reduction based sauce on the spinach. With some pan-fried salmon fillets on top. The dish will be finished I the oven, where the spinach will wilt just a bit. A tomato salad with tarragon dressing, and some steamed rice on the side. As a starter, some miso soup with tofu. This uses the bonita flakes to make a broth, as well as the nori - got to work it all in!

Pan-fried Salmon on Spinach with Red Wine Sauce
(I really don’t know where I got the original recipe anymore, this is my latest version)
4 servings

1 tbsp each of salt, thyme, and dry mustard
½ tsp pepper
2 ½ lb salmon filet cut into 4 pieces
2-3 tbsp honey
4 tbsp olive oil
2 heads spinach, washed
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups red grapes, halved
½ cup red wine
salt, pepper

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

In a small bowl, combine the salt, thyme and mustard well. Rub the salmon filets with the honey, and sprinkle on both sides with the seasoning mixture (reserve a little of the mixture for the sauce). Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a skillet till hot, but not smoking. Sautee the salmon filets over high heat just until they are well browned in each side – but not yet cooked through.

Toss the spinach with 2 tbsp olive oil and the garlic. Place in roasting pan. Place salmon filets on top. Place in oven for about 10 minutes – until spinach is wilted slightly and salmon is cooked through.

In the same skillet used to cook the salmon, sautee the grapes for a few minutes. Add the wine and the remaining seasoning mixture and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the liquid to half. Taste, and season with salt and pepper.

Arrange the spinach and salmon filets on serving plates, and top with the sauce. Serve. Enjoy!

Miso Soup with Katsuobushi dashi
4 servings

5 cups water
½ cup dried bonita flakes (Katsuobushi)
½ lb soft tofu
3 tbsp red miso paste
2 tbsp white miso paste
½ cup chopped green onion
1 sheet nori (dried toasted seaweed), cut into thin strips

Make Dashi soup stock: Put the water in a pan and heat on medium heat. Just before the water boils, add the katsuobushi flakes. When the water boils, remove from the heat and strain the broth.

Put dashi soup stock in a pan and bring to a boil. Cut tofu into small cubes and add them to the soup. Scoop out some soup stock from the pan and dissolve miso paste in it. Turn down the heat – do not boil the miso paste! Return the miso paste / soup mixture to the pan. When just heated through, remove from heat. Ladle into 4 serving bowls. Sprinkle green onions and nori strips on top. Serve. Enjoy!

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