Monday, July 25, 2011

Gazpacho, because it's summer

This simple cold soup is the symbol of summer. Its taste depends entirely on the quality of the vegetables. Only at the peak of the summer you can get the super-ripe, sweet, aromatic tomatoes, delicate Persian cucumbers that do not require peeling or seeding - the entire cucumber is delicious, - and juicy, tasty bell peppers.

When I don't have all the ingredients in my garden, I go to the favorite growers at the farmers market, and try to get a taste before I buy. If each vegetable tastes perfect, they will blend into a delicious refreshing bowl of soup.

Serves 4

1 large or 2 small bell peppers, seeded
2 medium ripe tomatoes
3 Persian cucumbers, unpeeled
1 Maui onion
3-4 clove garlic
2 cups tomato juice
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt, pepper, sherry vinegar - to taste
Basil, parsley, or other herbs, to garnish

Chop all vegetables. Combine with tomato juice. Puree in blender, working in batches; I like to leave some chunks for more interesting texture. Season with olive oil, sherry vinegar, salt and pepper. Refrigerate 2-3 hours. Garnish with herbs and serve.

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Grill everything: Fish

Nothing makes as quick, easy, tasty, and healthy summer meal as fish on the grill. You can create any marinade, seasoning, glaze, or sauce to add more character to your fish. I like to use lemon, garlic, and herbs with olive oil to marinate the fish for a Mediterranean flavor, soy sauce, ginger, and brown sugar glaze for an Asian accent, lime-mango salsa for a tropical twist.

However, if the fish is good and fresh, it needs no enhancement beyond some sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to bring out it's natural flavor.

The three problems that hold people from grilling more fish are:

1. It's expensive. I know it is, and it's getting more expensive very day, with all the rules and regulations, overfishing, supermarket profit margins, etc. We have to be flexible to still afford the fish. My solutions:
- buy from the fishermen. The local Pacific king salmon in season is $9/pound from the boat in the marina, $10/pound in the fish market in the marina, $11/pound in the fish market 100 yards from the marina, $25/pound at Whole Foods. Buying a whole fish to split with your friends is a good excuse for a party.

- watch out for sales; my local Safeway got an overstock of Copper River salmon, and they were selling the fillets at $10/pound today, instead of their regular $24/pound. Of course I got one!
- buy what's in season; at peak season for Alaskan sockeye salmon, a whole fresh fish (3-6 pounds, totally manageable for a larger family or an individual with some room in the freezer) was $4.99/pound at Costco.

2. It's easy to overcook and make it dry and unpalatable - just watch your fish, as soon as it flakes and is opaque throughout, it's ready to go. Don't waste a second. Most salt-water fishes are safe to eat raw anyway, so it's better to err on the undercooked side.

3. Turning over and taking off the grill a tender cooked flaky fish can be tricky. It tends to stick to the grill, fall apart, or both.
- Make sure the fish and the grill are well oiled to prevent sticking, and the grill is very hot.
- Don't move the fish until cooked on one side and ready to flip. Flip only once.
- When grilling fillets, place them on a very hot grill flesh side first. After it's seared, slide a wide spatula under the fillet, parallel to the grill ridges, and quickly flip it to the skin side to finish cooking.
- Tie fish steaks into compact round shapes, and use a wide spatula, parallel to the ridges, to turn and remove the steak from grill.

- For a whole fish, leave the scales on - the scales won't stick. Remove the skin with the scales before serving.
Or wrap the fish in grape, banana, or lettuce leaves. The leaves will char and add to the flavor, preventing sticking at the same time.
Or place thin lemon slices, kaffir lime leaves, or rosemary and thyme sprigs between the fish and the grill - same as above.
Or use a fish basket. I found out that even well oiled non-stick baskets stick badly, but it's much easier to free a fish stuck to a basket than one stuck to the hot grill.

My favorite fishes for the grill are:
Whole: all trouts, sardines, mackerel, red snapper, Thai snapper, pompano, stripped bass, sole, turbot.
Steaks: salmon, sturgeon, Chilean sea bass, halibut, dorado (mahi-mahi), tuna, monkfish, marlin.
Fillets: salmon, halibut.

Fishes that don't work for me: tilapia, all kinds of sole fillets, catfish, cod.

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