Cornmeal Crusted Fish with Mint Chimichurri

You know you’re pregnant when you seriously consider going to the grocery store in your underwear.

We’ve had 40+ days of 100+ temps here in Texas and with that heat, combined with my HOLY CRAP hot flashes, I have basically stopped getting dressed and stopped cooking. Usually I’d suck it up and turn on the oven anyway, driven by my incessant need to cook, but the thought of doing it in overpriced-yet-still-made-of-polyester maternity pants in an already hot house while standing on swollen feet has put the brakes on my usual inclinations. Hence the total lack of blog posts lately.

Which all leads me to this recipe — a summer dish if there ever was one. This dish needs no simmering, no reducing, no baking, and unlike many “summer” dishes, no standing over a hot grill outside wondering if you might actually live on the surface of the sun. Summer grilling is for folks up north. We do that stuff in the fall.

Chimichurri sauce is a common condiment in Argentina, usually made with parsley, vinegar, onion, oil, and some source of heat like cayenne. This one uses mint, green onion, serrano pepper, lime juice, honey, and no oil, so is it really a chimichurri? I’m not sure but it sounds good anyway so I’m sticking to it. There’s a (apocryphal?) story that the original is named after an Irishman in Argentina — a hurried mispronunciation of “Jimmy McCurry” turns into “chimichurri” — so I feel a bit of leeway is built into the culture of the thing.

You’ll get to use a whole mess of mint for this sauce, which will please anyone who grows mint in the garden and has been frustrated with the fact that it grows like a weed and yet its most prevalent use is as a single sprig of garnish here and there. On a side note, does anyone else imagine that the little bugs on the mint leaves must all have minty fresh breath?

Additionally, this is a perfect meal for bikini season as it’s quite low in calories. (I suppose if you’re a dude in a Speedo you’ll like that too, but dude, really, ditch the Speedo.) You need very little oil to cook the fish and the sauce is practically calorie-free.

Now, I must again consider…we definitely Keep Austin Weird around here, but can Austin handle a sweaty preggo buying milk in her giant undies? We’ve had a thong-wearing homeless transvestite run for mayor, so why not?

Cornmeal Crusted Fish with Mint Chimichurri
A chopped herb sauce of mint and green onion warmed with serrano pepper, brightened with lime juice, and sweetened with honey makes a light summer condiment for pan-fried fish fillets with a bit of cornmeal crunch. You can use any thin white fish fillets for this dish; I’ve chosen catfish this time around.

Adapted from: Cornmeal Crusted Scallops with Mint Chimichurri, Cooking Light magazine, May 2005

Serves 3

for chimichurri:
1 1/2 cups fresh mint leaves
3/4 cup green onion, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 1/2 Tbs. fresh lime juice (about 1 1/2 limes)
4 tsp. honey
2 tsp. serrano pepper, or to taste
1/4 tsp. salt
black pepper, to taste

for fish:
3 (6 to 8 oz) white fish fillets, such as catfish
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal, for dredging
1 Tbs. canola oil

For chimichurri: In a food processor, combine all of the chimichurri ingredients with 1 Tbs. water.  Process until finely minced, stopping to scrape the sides down with a spatula.  If the herbs aren’t making good contact with the blade (and stop getting more finely minced) add a little bit more water, a teaspoon at a time, to loosen the mixture so that the food processor more easily combines the ingredients. Don’t add too much water or you’ll have a watery chimichurri.

Adjust honey, lime, salt, and pepper. If your mint was bitter you might need more honey.

For fish: Pat fish dry. Season with salt and pepper. Place cornmeal in a shallow container with sides, like a pie plate.  Dredge fish in cornmeal, shaking off any excess.

Heat 1 Tbs. oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Place fish in skillet; if the pan is hot enough you should hear a gentle sizzle. Cook 3 minutes, flip, lower heat to medium, and cook an additional 2 minutes.  Times will vary by thickness of fillets; the fish is done when golden brown and the thickest part of the fillet flakes easily with a fork.

For best color, do not move fish while it’s browning and avoid overcrowding your pan.  If three fillets don’t easily fit (with room to spare) in one skillet, divide them into multiple batches. Use 1 Tbs. oil for each batch and wipe out the skillet with a paper towel between batches.

Approximate nutritional info: 305 calories, 10g fat, 31g protein, 24g carb, 5g fiber.

Do you have a recipe that uses a lot of fresh mint? If so, you should post it in the comments here.

Fresh Corn with Basil and Lime

Many hours of my childhood were spent between the tall rows of Dad’s corn in the garden.I must have been very small because I remember the stalks towering well over my head. He grew so many vegetables back then: peppers, tomatoes, carrots, green beans. We even had rows of strawberries. But the corn was always my favorite. It was so sweet it barely needed cooking at all. The kernels were delicious raw and starchy. I would usually pick an ear and run inside to quickly cook it in the microwave but sometimes I would sit, hiding in the rows, and eat a raw one, convinced that no one could find me there among the leaves.

Grocery store corn is no comparison, at least not around here. It simply isn’t as fresh. It’s fine, but I don’t have the urge to bite into the raw kernels without cooking them. So when summer dinners call for corn, I tend to spruce it up a bit. Compound butters made with fresh herbs are great slathered over grilled cobs. If I’m servings steaks, maybe a sprinkling of smoked paprika and a hit of lime to give the corn color and a bit of acid to counter the richness of the meat.

Cutting the kernels from the cobs creates so many options, since you can sauté veggies and aromatics with the corn and dress it any number of ways that otherwise might not stick to intact cobs. Lots of herbs work well with corn—basil, oregano, thyme, or chives. Acids, such as citrus juice or vinegars, bring out the sweetness rather than mask it. You can serve sautéed corn hot or you can chill the mixture and call it a salad. Delicious both ways.

For this recipe I used what was handy: a red pepper and basil from the garden, a sweet onion and elephant garlic from the farm stand, and a lime.

Cutting kernels from the cob can be messy if you don’t take the right approach. If you cut the cobs on a cutting board, kernels will fly all over your kitchen. Instead, hold each cob upright in a large bowl and slice from the top down, as pictured. The kernels will fall in the bowl, not on your floor.

Be sure to cut the kernels at their base. If you cut halfway through, you are on the road to making creamed corn; the milky sweet starch will be released. Of course, homemade creamed corn is a delight and probably a whole post in itself.

When choosing cobs, pick heavy ears. Heaviness equals higher moisture content, which indicates freshness. Partially pull back the silks (which should not be moldy) and a little of the husk to take a peek at the kernels. They should look plump, not shriveled. Don’t worry about yellow corn versus white corn—the freshness will matter more than the color.

Lastly, if your corn just isn’t all that sweet, add a very light sprinkling of sugar to the pan as it cooks. Not every piece of produce can be perfect.

Fresh Corn with Basil and Lime
Crunchy, sweet fresh corn is cut from the cob and quickly cooked with onion, red bell pepper, and garlic then finished with a generous amount of fresh basil and a squeeze of lime. The acidity of the lime brings out the natural sweetness of the corn.

Serves 4

1 Tbs. olive oil or butter
5 ears of corn, kernels cut from cobs
1/2 small onion, small dice
1/2 red bell pepper, small dice
1 clove garlic, minced
10 leaves of fresh basil, minced
juice of one lime, or to taste
salt and pepper, to taste

Cut kernels from cobs by standing each ear of corn on its end in a large bowl and slicing from the top down.

Melt butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper, and a pinch of salt. Sweat until soft but not brown, 3-4 minutes. Add garlic, cook 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add corn, salt, and pepper. Raise heat to high and cook quickly, stirring, until corn brightens in color and is heated through. (If you prefer softer corn, use lower heat and cook longer.) Taste the corn; if it isn’t sweet, add a pinch of sugar to the pan and stir well. Remove from heat and finish by adding basil and lime to taste. Adjust salt and pepper. Serve hot or cold.


What’s your favorite way to cook corn? Leave a comment!

Roasted Beets with Caraway and Balsamic Vinaigrette

I didn’t get in a fight with a neighbor. I haven’t gotten into butchery. I haven’t killed the squirrels that are stealing my tomatoes.

No, I just ran out of latex gloves when I handled these beauties:

Being beet-stained isn’t a big deal. Wear an apron. Put on some gloves if you care about your manicure. The stains on your skin will wash away easily.

And beets are so delicious, so good for you, so worth it. Is there any other food so simply gorgeous? The warm crimson layers of just-roasted beets seem to glow from within.

Once you roast them, which involves nothing but wrapping them in foil and waiting, beets need very little else. The cooked skins slip off easily, you can quarter them right on the foil to keep from dirtying a cutting board, and they are so delicious right out of the oven that there’s no need for complicated preparations.

My favorite way to dress beets is with this simple balsamic vinaigrette. The toasted caraway seeds add a nice flavor note (and when else do you get to use caraway except in rye bread?) but they aren’t necessary if you don’t have any.

The balsamic vinegar is a knockout with the beets’ inherent sweetness. Serve them as a warm side dish or toss with red leaf lettuce for a quick salad.

If you use foil wisely, you’ll only dirty two dishes for these beets: a skillet for toasting the seeds and the bowl you serve them in.

Roasted Beets with Toasted Caraway and Balsamic Vinaigrette
Naturally sweet beets, still warm from the oven, are tossed with a sharp vinaigrette scented with caraway seeds. These bear no resemblance to insipid canned beets; if you’ve never roasted your own, you will be pleasantly surprised. 

Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Healthy Quick Cook

Serves 4-6

for roasting beets:
2 lbs. beets (8 or 9 small), scrubbed
1 Tbs. olive oil, approximate

for vinaigrette:
2 tsp. caraway seeds, optional
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
kosher salt and black pepper

Preheat oven to 400F. Place a large piece of heavy-duty foil on a baking sheet. Place beets on one end and drizzle with oil. Fold foil over the top and roll/crimp the edges to seal.

Roast for one hour or until the beets yield very easily to a paring knife. (Very small beets may take less time.) Remove from oven, open foil, and allow to cool while you make the vinaigrette.

Heat a dry skillet or saucepan over medium heat. Add caraway seeds and toast, swirling pan, until fragrant, about one minute. Do not burn. You don’t want the seeds to turn dark, only to become warm and fragrant.

In a large serving bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, caraway, salt, and pepper.

Use a paring knife to trim away the stem end of the beets. Use your fingers (or your knife) to lift away the skins. Use the foil as a work surface to avoid staining a cutting board. Cut the beets into quarters or sixths and toss into the vinaigrette.  Adjust salt and pepper.

Serve warm or at room temperature.


Blender Salsa with Guajillo Chilies

People love to ask pregnant women about cravings. I can’t buy pickles without someone making a sarcastic comment. I’m sure it would BLOW THEIR MIND to know I’ve been eating pickles since 1982.

I haven’t had many cravings. No desire to eat dryer lint, soil, or cigarette ashes. Not even chocolate. My husband says there’s no way to know if I want anything weird because I eat weird things all the time. (He’s referring mostly to sardines on toast. Again with the mind blowing!)

But there is one thing this rapidly expanding ass would chase like a greyhound after a fake rabbit—bean burritos.

No, not just delicious homemade bean burritos. Not just hot, fresh tortillas wrapped around lovingly seasoned beans. I’ve resorted to nasty fast-food burritos. The Taco Cabana scourge of every street corner of San Antonio. (Seriously, the Cabana must outnumber Starbucks two to one in S.A.) I can’t explain the appeal. It must be purely hormonal. A need for iron maybe.

Determined not to eat any more of that garbage, I’ve been careful to keep stocked with good tortillas and beans so I can make my own burritos.

So when I read Nick Kindelsperger’s post on Paupered Chef about a friend’s quickly blended salsa with a heavy dose of dried guajillo chilies, I knew I had to make a batch. “Batch” doesn’t quite describe the quantity here—more like an “ass ton” of salsa.  A full quart. With this on hand, I can elevate even a mediocre burrito into something quite tasty.

Nick says this salsa has “insane heat”. I should have taken this claim lightly knowing it was coming from someone living in Chicago. I live in home city of the Nuclear Taco and have enjoyed a truly endorphin-rush-inducing burn. (You don’t know what spicy food is until you’ve gotten high from it.) I’d feed this salsa to a baby; it’s not hot at all. This should have been obvious, since the guajillos are the only source of heat and they’re not very spicy chilies.

Still, this salsa was outstanding. The guajillos give it a deep chile flavor and the pureed texture is perfect for topping tacos and burritos. It’s also quite lovely with fried eggs for breakfast. If I had it in me to make tamales, this salsa would be my sauce. I tweaked it a bit; my recipe doesn’t look exactly like Nick’s, but it’s close.

If you’ve never worked with dried chilies before, you’ll be amazed by the complex flavors.  See the tips below on how to handle them for various uses.

Blended Salsa with Guajillo Chilies
Dried chilies lend their deep red color, berry undertones, and slight heat to this pureed salsa of tomatoes, onion, garlic, and cilantro. Perfect for spooning over tacos, this salsa is dark, thick, and clingy. 

Makes one quart

12 dried guajillo chilies (or substitute New Mexico chilies)
1 (28-oz) can whole peeled tomatoes, with juice
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1/2 onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic
4 limes, juiced
sugar, to taste (I used about 1 Tbs. Will vary.)
kosher salt, to taste

Pour boiling water over chilies. Let soak for 30 minutes. Drain chilies and discard the water. Cut off the stem ends, slice lengthwise, and remove the seeds. Place chilies in a blender with remaining ingredients and puree.  Adjust sugar and salt. Chill.


How to Use Dried Chilies

* Rinse or rub clean before soaking to remove any surface dust or dirt.

* Pour boiling water over chilies and soak for 30 minutes to soften. Chilies may also be toasted (but be careful not to burn) in a dry hot skillet before use to intensify their flavor.  Soaking is not necessary if adding chopped chilies to a very long-cooking soup or stew.

* Remove stems and seeds (before or after soaking or toasting).

* Pureed chilies make a flavorful paste for adding to sauces or stews. To get the blender going, add an appropriate liquid like water or stock. (For beef chili, I puree a combination of smoked and non-smoked dried chilies with a bottle of beer and add it to my chili pot.)

* Dried chilies can be stored for many months but they will eventually lose flavor. Store in the freezer for longer keeping.

* Wear gloves when removing the seeds from hotter varieties.