Friday, July 23, 2010

Beet, Arugula and Cucumber Salad with Yogurt Dressing served with Spicy Sautéed Halibut and Basmati Rice

One of the best experiences you can have as a diner is to eat a meal that so far exceeds your expectations that the surprise itself increases your enjoyment of the food. The experience is even better if you are also the cook.  Tonight's dinner was just that kind meal for me.

On Friday night, my supply of fresh produce is definitely on the wane. Tonight I was down to golden beets, one cucumber, some arugula, a few green beans and some corn. This didn't seem too promising to me. Since I wasn't really in the mood for corn or green beans (I ate a lot of both this week), I was left with the arugula, cucumber and golden beets. In what I consider to be a sort of freakish coincidence, it just so happened that earlier in the week I had seen a salad in one of my new cookbooks (Olives & Oranges by Sara Jenkins & Mindy Fox) that featured these three ingredients. I had noticed it because I am always on the lookout for new things to do with beets and also because these three ingredients did not seem like an obvious combination to me.

Beets and arugula are a natural pairing, but I wasn't sure about the addition of the cucumber. You may recall from a previous post that cucumbers are not something I acquired a taste for until recently. I still don't naturally think of them when combining ingredients. Since I had all the ingredients on hand it seemed like a shame not to try this unusual salad. When I pulled the book out to double check the recipe, I was surprised that there was nothing else to speak of in the salad—it was just these three ingredients tossed together with a yogurt vinaigrette. It could hardly have been simpler. Jenkins suggests serving the salad as a first course or as part of a mezze spread. But I thought I would just serve it as a side dish.

While I was out running errands today I stopped to pick up some halibut. Halibut is in season now. It is a fish that I don't like to eat if it has been frozen. It is so low in fat that it doesn't seem to be able to withstand the loss of moisture inherent in the freezing process. After it has been frozen, it is invariably dry and cottony when cooked. Fortunately, its season is long and I am usually able to get my fill of it from mid spring to late autumn. You can tell by looking if halibut has been frozen. The flesh of fresh halibut has a translucent quality. If it has been frozen, it is generally an opaque white.

As I considered the cool yogurt and cucumber and the sweet roasted beets, I thought of a favorite way of preparing fish I picked up in an article I read about Boulette's Larder in San Francisco. In the article the chefs shared a recipe for sautéed fish seasoned with a spice mixture they called "instant easy effect". The spice mixture they use is equal parts salt, chili powder and turmeric. I like this idea of sprinkling spices on a piece of fish to be seared. The searing process toasts the spices, further releasing their flavorful oils into the fish.

For my 9 ounce piece of (skinless) halibut I used roughly 1/4 t. kosher salt, 1/4 t. turmeric, 1/8 t. Ancho chili powder and 1/8 t. cumin.

Rub the spice into the fish and heat some olive oil and a little butter in a sauté pan set over medium-high heat. After the butter foam subsides, add the fish to the pan. Always put the fish into the pan "service side" (the side that will face the diner) down—this is because the side that goes into the pan first will always look best. In the case of a skinned piece of fish, it will be the side that was against the bones (not the side that had the skin). Cook the fish for 3 to 5 minutes, regulating the heat to maintain an active sizzle, until it is crisp and browned. Carefully turn the fish over and continue to cook until it is done the way you like it.

I think it is best when it is still slightly translucent in the center. The rule of thumb is about 10 minutes total cooking time for every inch of thickness of the fish. If you like, you may finish cooking the fish, after turning it over, in a 350° to 400° oven (make sure you are using and ovenproof sauté pan if you are going to do this).

While the fish was finishing up in the oven, I finished the salad.  The individual ingredients were all very good—particularly the cucumber which was still juicy and crunchy even though it was almost a week old—but I still had my doubts about the combination.

I served the salad and fish with some plain basmati rice from a large platter—"family style" for the two of us. I knew the minute I put it in my mouth that I wanted to write about it. The combination of the lightly spiced halibut with the fragrant basmati rice and the amazingly flavorful and refreshing beet and cucumber salad was very fine—a delightful contrast in textures, temperatures and flavors. As we ate, I drizzled some of the extra yogurt vinaigrette over the fish and kept saying over and over again, "This is so good!" I think you will agree.

Beet, Arugula and Cucumber Salad with Yogurt Dressing
(Recipe adapted from Olives & Oranges by Sara Jenkins & Mindy Fox)

3 medium beets (I used golden beets)
White Balsamic (this is not in the original recipe--I think beets need a little acidity and I particularly like white balsamic, but you could use something else)
1/4 c. plain yogurt
1 T. red wine vinegar
1 clove of garlic, smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
5 T. olive oil
1 bunch of arugula, washed, stems removed if large, and torn
1 cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch half-moons

Heat oven to 400°. Place the beets in a baking dish with a splash of water. Cover tightly with foil and bake until tender—45 minutes to an hour. Remove the beets from the oven, drain and let cool slightly. Trim the beets and rub the skin off with a paper towel. Cut the beets into eighths. Drizzle with white balsamic vinegar to taste. (See basic roasted beet recipe.)

While the beets are cooking, whisk together the yogurt, garlic and vinegar. Season with salt. While whisking constantly, add the oil in a thin stream. If necessary, add 2 or 3 drops of warm water to smooth and emulsify the dressing. Taste and correct the seasoning with salt & pepper.

In a medium-sized bowl, toss the beets with the cucumber and arugula. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle some of the dressing over the salad and toss—adding more dressing as necessary to coat the vegetables and greens. Taste and correct the seasoning and serve.  Serves 4.

1 comment:

Pam said...

Oh my gosh! That is one fantastic looking meal! I love halibut! I'm new here and so glad I found you and will enjoy following to see what you're cooking! Good job!