Spring Menu, Not Quite Ready for Grill Time

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We had a mini-reunion of my husband’s college roommates a few weeks back; it was great fun to reconnect and, of course, none of us has changed a bit.

Naturally, we invited the friends to dinner, and I mulled over what to cook. It was a warm day, but we hadn’t quite made it to grill season. That said, I wasn’t going for a heavy meaty dish; Passover had just ended, and we had all had our fair share of matzah ball soup, roast chicken and brisket.

Fish seemed the mot juste, so I headed to my favorite fishmonger. She counseled me on fluke, and her suggestion was sound, as always.

I wanted something flavorful but not heavy, so I was avoiding buttery creamy sauces in favor of a more Mediterranean flavor palate. Toum, that glorious vegan, pareve, garlicky, creamy sauce that makes everything better, called to me, and I concocted a recipe using toum, pitted oil-cured black olives and fresh dill. It was sublime. I added some roasted asparagus and a green salad, and dinner was set.

As for the toum — it is a bit of an obscure item — I buy it freshly made from Condiment in Reading Terminal Market.

But if that is not in your wheelhouse, jarred toum is available online and also from many Middle Eastern grocers. If you can’t lay your hands on it, use aioli, mix a couple of crushed garlic cloves into some mayo or yogurt, or use your favorite creamy garlic salad dressing. It’s really about coating the fish with something that will infuse flavor, retain moisture and hold the olives and herbs in place.

The great thing about this menu is that both the veggies and fish cook at the same temperature for the same amount of time — which is bliss for the host. Because we were still in Passover week, I did not serve rice, bread, or pasta, but they would certainly round out this meal nicely.

I tossed some baby arugula with balsamic vinegar and olive oil for a simple, spring salad. Because the meal is pareve, you can go in any direction you like with dessert. I served a pistachio soufflé, using matzah meal in place of the flour, but a dish of ice cream, rice pudding or some simple cookies or fruit would complete this dinner just as well.

Here’s what I did:

fish with toum and olives
Mediterranean Baked Fish (Photo by Keri White)

Mediterranean Baked Fish

Serves 4 generously

  • 2 pounds of fish fillet such as fluke, snapper, bass or salmon
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • ½ cup toum, aioli, garlic-infused mayo, or salad dressing
  • ½ cup pitted oil cured black olives
  • ⅓ cup chopped fresh dill

Heat your oven to 375 degrees.

In a large baking dish, pour the olive oil and tilt the pan to coat the bottom. Place the fish fillets in the pan in a single, non-overlapping layer, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Spread the toum on the fish in a thin layer, and then spread the olives and dill on top, pressing gently to ensure that it sticks.

Cover the fish with foil and bake for 20 minutes or until the fish flakes when pricked with a fork and is opaque throughout.

Roasted Asparagus

Serves 4

I love asparagus as one of the first culinary harbingers of spring, but this simple preparation works with any vegetable — green beans, carrots, broccoli, kale, zucchini, etc. For larger, denser veggies like broccoli and carrots, you will need to increase the cooking time (or cut them into small, thin pieces.)

The parchment liner is optional; I find that it virtually eliminates cleanup, which is always a priority in my kitchen. If you don’t have any on hand, or prefer to cook right in the pan, simply skip it and follow the recipe without it.

  • 1 pound asparagus, rinsed, and tough ends broken off
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Generous sprinkle of kosher salt and fresh cracked pepperJuice of ½ lemon

Heat your oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment.

Place asparagus on a baking sheet in a single layer. Drizzle it with olive oil and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Toss with your hands or tongs to ensure even distribution of the oil and seasonings.

Roast the asparagus for 25 minutes until it is beginning to brown. Remove it from the oven, place it in a serving bowl, spritz with lemon and toss.

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