Welcoming Spring with: Seared Cod and Ratatouille


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Today is the first day of spring, which also happens to be Persian New Year, marking the first day in the Iranian calendar. “Nowruz,” the Persian New Year, begins at the exact moment of the vernal equinox, when the sun crosses the equator and winter ends.

I mention this because my boyfriend is Persian, and it’s an important holiday celebrated by his family. Every year I’m invited to his parents’ home to enjoy a feast of traditional, delicious Persian food, and I must say that I am super excited for dinner tonight.

Beyond all the food, I know little about the new year traditions, so I spent some time online today to read about the holiday. Apparently it’s tradition to do an intensive, complete cleaning of the house in the weeks before the new year, signifying the “rebirth of nature.” I guess Persians used to believe that guardian angels and spirits of the dead would come down to earth to visit their human counter parts, so they cleaned and prepared a welcome feast for their visit. Well…I definitely won’t be expecting a visit from “spirits of the dead.” Since I didn’t get the spring-cleaning memo, my home is in no condition for special visitors.

On the last Tuesday before the new year, bonfires are made and people jump over the flames, believing it will rid them of illnesses and misfortunes in the new year. I wasn’t invited to this important ritual, so now I fear for my health and fortune this year.

It’s also custom to buy at least one set of brand new clothing or shoes for the new year. (Do two new pairs of running shoes count?)

Persians set up an elaborate table setting of seven symbolic items, called Haft Sin, each item corresponding to one of the seven creations and the seven holy immortals protecting them.

sabzeh – wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing in a dish – symbolizing rebirth

samanu – a sweet pudding made from wheat germ – symbolizing affluence

senjed – the dried fruit of the oleaster tree – symbolizing love

sīr – garlic – symbolizing medicine

sīb – apples – symbolizing beauty and health

somaq – sumac berries – symbolizing (the color of) sunrise

serkeh – vinegar – symbolizing age and patience.

But above all else, like any other holiday, it’s about enjoying friends, family and feasting. Now that–I can appreciate.

In honor of Nowruz I get a night off from cooking. But since it’s custom to eat fish for Persian New Year, I thought I’d share a fish recipe. It’s not a Persian dish, but it will feel like spring when you eat it!

Seared Cod over Ratatouille

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Makes 4 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound cod filet

1 large eggplant, cut into small cubes

1 onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 can diced, fire roasted tomatoes

2 medium zucchini, chopped

2 T balsamic vinegar

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half (I used yellow tomatoes)

1 portabella mushroom, chopped (or 1 cup sliced mushrooms)

¼ cup fresh basil, chopped

½ tsp. paprika

1 lemon

1-2 T olive oil

cayenne (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. When the pot is hot, add onions, and sauté until translucent.

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Add eggplant, mushrooms, zucchini and bell pepper and sauté until soft. Turn heat down to medium and add garlic, fire roasted tomatoes, paprika, cayenne. Simmer on low about 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

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While the ratatouille is cooking, salt and pepper the fish. Squirt on juice from half of the lemon. Heat olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Sear the cod for about 3 minutes on each side, just until it has a nice brown crust and flakes easily with a fork.

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Just before serving, salt and pepper the ratatouille to your taste, and stir in chopped basil. You can also add other fresh herbs to this dish, like parsley, oregano, thyme, etc. Serve the cod on top of the ratatouille, squirt the other half of the lemon on top of the cooked fish, and enjoy!

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RECIPE- Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound cod filet

1 large eggplant, cut into small cubes

1 onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 can diced, fire roasted tomatoes

2 medium zucchini, chopped

2 T balsamic vinegar

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 portabella mushroom, chopped (or 1 cup sliced mushrooms)

¼ cup fresh basil, chopped

½ tsp. paprika

1 lemon

1-2 T olive oil

cayenne (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

INSTRUCTIONS:

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. When the pot is hot, add onions, and sauté until translucent. Add eggplant, mushrooms, zucchini and bell pepper and sauté until soft. Turn heat down to medium and add garlic, fire roasted tomatoes, paprika, cayenne. Simmer on low about 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the ratatouille is cooking, salt and pepper the fish. Squirt on juice from half of the lemon. Heat olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Sear the cod for about 3 minutes on each side, just until it has a nice brown crust and flakes easily with a fork.

Just before serving, salt and pepper the ratatouille to your taste, and stir in chopped basil. You can also add other fresh herbs to this dish, like parsley, oregano, thyme, etc.

Serve the cod on top of the ratatouille, squirt the other half of the lemon on top of the cooked fish, and enjoy!

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Salmon Patties and Baked Zucchini Fries


Today’s recipe was made by my boyfriend Novin, who is my first featured “guest chef” of many more to come…

Salmon patties are one of only two ways Novin will eat salmon. Up until a few months ago he refused to even taste one bite of salmon that I promised was delicious, no matter how it was prepared. I think he realized just how darn healthy salmon is and began experimenting with ways to make it “not taste fishy.”

Well, I think he was successful, and I ask him to make these on a regular basis. I think even fish-haters would like these. They’re simple enough to serve on a weeknight, but impressive enough to serve for dinner guests too. Thanks, Novin, for a great dinner!

Ingredients

1 pound coho salmon fillet, shredded

1 egg

1 T buffalo wing sauce (he used a spicy garlic wing sauce from Buffalo Wild Wings)

about ¼ cup whole wheat bread crumbs (seasoned bread crumbs add good flavor)

½ cup cornmeal

dash paprika

dash of dried dill

dash of pepper

dash of garlic salt

dash of cayenne

canola oil for frying

Shred salmon as demonstrated in photo below.

Add egg, seasonings and breadcrumbs. Mix all ingredients together well. (If the mixture is too moist, you can add more breadcrumbs. You want the mixture to be able to hold its shape when formed into a patty but not dry.) Form into patties, and coat each side with cornmeal.

Fry patties in a skillet (cast iron works great) on medium heat in a thin layer of oil, 2-3 minutes on each side, or until done in the middle.

Serve with lemon slices, or top with tartar sauce or this dill aioli:

http://www.grouprecipes.com/32176/mini-crab-cakes-with-lemon-dill-aioli.html

Makes about 2 servings. Enjoy!

Baked Zucchini Fries

Since we still have loads of zucchini coming out of our garden—and of course Novin doesn’t care for zucchini—I have to come up with ways to “hide” the zucchini in dishes or cover up the taste with sauces. I decided to try out baked zucchini fries, which I thought would go well with the salmon patties. If he didn’t like them, well…more fries for me I guess.

Now, Novin is the kind of guy who will at least try anything once. But to my surprise, he didn’t stop at just one fry! He actually seemed to enjoy them! Success! His only comment was, “They need more salt.” Easy fix.

For this recipe I didn’t measure out everything, just estimated. If you want to kick up the flavor of the fries, add cayenne pepper and paprika to the cornmeal/flour mix.

Ingredients

1 medium zucchini

about ¼ cup flour

about ¼ cup cornmeal

about ¼ tsp salt

about ¼ tsp pepper

about ¼ tsp dried basil

1 egg white

marinara sauce for dipping

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. (I used the toaster oven)

Slice zucchini into 1-inch wedges. In a bowl, coat zucchini slices with egg white.

In a ziplock bag, add cornmeal, flour, salt, pepper and basil (and cayenne and paprika if you choose). Put zucchini in the ziplock bag and shake until pieces are completed coated. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with non-stick spray. Arrange zucchini pieces on baking sheet so none are touching. Spray zucchini pieces with cooking spray. Bake for 10 minutes. Flip pieces over and bake for another 10 minutes. For the last 5 minutes or so, turn on broiler and broil until pieces start to lightly brown.

Serve with marinara sauce to dip.

Makes 2-3 servings. These would also make a great appetizer for dinner guests, just double or triple recipe.