Once again a Tuesday rolled though and I found myself standing in the kitchen wondering what to do with the stale end of weekend-loaf ciabatta. “Toast it and top it” is the inevitable answer. The result was a smash-up of Mexican and Italian which tastes of fresh and summer. I cooked this dish inside, but the bread and fish would both suit barbecuing. If you’re worried about managing the timing of this dish, I recommend (1) marinade the fish, (2) make the salads (leaving the yogurt on top to be stirred in as you serve), (3) slice the bread and oil it, (4) toast the bread, and (5) cook the fish. If you can manage 4 & 5 together, go for it. However, if you think you might overcook the fish or burn the toast, there is no shame in doing these one at the time. When serving the salads, drain off any juices so you don’t make the toast soggy. This recipe serves two hungry people.
Salsa is basically chopped tomatoes with a few other bits in it. The trick to a good salsa is taking the care to chop everything up fine and evenly – especially the onion. Also, despite the fact it seems wasteful, taking the seeds out of the tomatoes will give you a much better final product. Use your judgement, however, if you are luckely enough to be using a home grown tomato variety like beefsteak as it is more flesh than watery seed. Removing the watery seeds is most easily achieved by quartering the tomato, running a knife between the seeds and the flesh starting at the end which was not attached to the stalk, and snipping off the stalk end of the wedge by turning your knife down to the board when you get there… one simple, elegant motion. Mix the following list of ingredients together, cover and refrigerate for about an hour to let the flavors combine.
- 4 bigish sun-ripened tomatoes, watery seeds removed and diced finely
- large handful of coriander (cilantro for the US based peeps) roughly chopped
- juice to 2 limes (and a little extra lemon juice at the end if the salsa is not sufficiently piquant)
- a couple of chillies finely chopped or a teaspoon of pre-crushed chili …I keep pre-crushed in the fridge because my skin reacts fearcly to touching chilli. If you don’t regularly chop up whole chillies, please take care. Use a fork to hold it down or gloves, and make sure you wash your hands throughly, with lots of soap, afterwards. One of my amusing kitchen memories was of a young chef who, despite being told to wash his hands after cutting up a bowl of chillies, did not adhere to this rule. Screams of agony were heard from the locker room shortly after. Leave the seeds out initially when you add the chili to he salsa. Taste the salsa. If it’s not hot enough, then add the seeds. if you have made it too hot, just add more tomato.
- small red capsicum finely diced (optional and not typically included in a salsa)
- small red onion finely diced
- salt and pepper to tase …dishes served cold often require more salt than those served hot.
Fish is a favorite of mine in the summer – light, fast and tasty. But I tend to get into a rut and find myself always cooking it one of two ways: coated in panko crumbs and shallow fried or warped in foil with flavorings and baked. This marinade is a nice way to get out of a fish rut. You need a firm, white fleshed fish which is suitable for frying. I used filleted, skinless fish, but if you are up to making the skin on the fish crispy then leave the skin on. Wash two fillets, check and remove any remaining bones or scales, and cut into strips. Stir through the marinade described below, cover and set aside in the fridge for 1-2 hrs. When its time to serve, lightly fry (or barbecue) the fish in a little bit oil. Take care because small bits of fish will overcook very fast.
For the marinade: fry cumin seeds (1 tsp) and celery seeds (1/2 tsp optional), coriander seeds (1 tsp optional) in a pan until you can start to smell the cumin (i.e. until aromatic). Poor into a mortar and pestle, cool a little, then add about 1/2 tsp each of the following: cyan pepper, turmeric, milled black pepper, paprika. Grind all spices together until they are a mostly fine powder. Remove from the mortar. Crush a garlic clove with some salt in the mortar (the salt acts as a grinding agent) and add the spices back in along with enough lemon juice to make a lose paste.
Cucumber salad as presented here is not a raita, but follows the concept of a raita – yogurt + cucumber. The key differences is the additional spices and that when making a raita one should always remove the watery, seeded center of the cucumber before grating it, salting it and squeezing any remaining wateryness from it. I used whole, skin on telegraph cucumber (Lebanese cucumbers tend to have a tougher skin) cut into slices on a strong diagonal and then sliced into sticks. To this I added fresh mint leaves which were finely sliced, salt, pepper and a large spoonful of natural greek yogart. If you are making this in advance, do not stir in the yogurt until just prior to serving otherwise you will end up with a watery salad.
Toast is one of those magical transformations where stale, good quality bread can be given a new lease on life. I only toast on side of the ciabatta because toasting both sides often results in a product which would slice the inside of your mouth. Mix olive oil and crushed garlic, generously coat one side of cm thick slices of ciabatta, and grill (or barbecue) slowly until golden. In my oven I don’t use the top rack closet to the grill. This way the garlic has some time to cook before the bread browns.