It all begins with a perfect summer day, warm and lightly breezy. The sun is low in the sky, reflecting off your sunglasses as you pull up to the bar for a cheap, watery beer that could not taste better passing over lips still salty from the ocean. The bartender promises great fish tacos and they sound like the perfect filler for a growling stomach, hungry from an afternoon of bodysurfing.
They come out, and with a squeeze of fresh lime you take your first bite.
Eh…the cabbage is dry and flavorless, the lime is too bright and the fish is greasy. On a good day it’s rubbery, on a bad day it’s mush. The mayonnaise mixed with hot sauce and large stems of cilantro do little to add either depth or subtlety. Fortunately, the bar has more beer, enough to drown your dismay.
With the first warm days of spring coming hope renews. This year, fulfill every expectation of spring love. Flavorful cabbage, softened but still crisp, lightly fried fish, flakey and light, bright, citrusy tomatillo salsa and tart, rich avocado crema. This, my friends, is the perfect fresh bite on a warm afternoon.
Grab your sunglasses and ice down the beer. I’ll grab some tortillas and be right over.
Tacos de Pescado
This looks like a lot of steps and ingredients. Let me break it down: you’re marinating fish for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, you throw together a quick salad dressing for the cabbage and mix avocado and lime zest together with Mexican sour cream. If you are making the tomatillo salsa from scratch (trick question, the answer is always “yes”) then you throw those 5 ingredients in a food processor for 30 seconds. Et voilà (that’s Spanish for…oh, never mind) you are ready to fry the fish and eat the best fish tacos you’ve ever tasted!
- 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
- 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/2 jalapeño, minced
- 2 tbs olive oil or hot chili oil
- 2 tilapia filets, about 1 pound
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/2 tsp coriander
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/4 cup Sherry vinegar*
- 1/4 tsp dijon mustard
- 1/2 cup good quality olive oil
- 6 cups shredded napa cabbage
*We love using Sapore’s Serrano Chile Honey Vinegar with this vinaigrette
Avocado Lime Crema:
- 1/4 cup avocado
- 1/2 cup Mexican crema or crème fraîche (You can make this. Here’s the recipe. Plan one day ahead)
- 1/4 tsp lime zest
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup flour
- Cayenne or chile powder
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- Corn tortillas
- Tomatillo salsa (Make it from scratch. Here’s the recipe.)Directions:
- Make the marinade for the fish: Whisk together lime juice, 1/4 cup cilantro, cumin and jalapeño. Whisk in oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Coat tilapia with marinade, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Make the vinaigrette for the cabbage. Chop garlic and sprinkle with a pinch of coarse sea salt. Mash into a paste with the flat side of your knife or tines of a fork.
- Whisk together garlic paste, coriander, cumin, Sherry or Serrano Honey Vinegar and mustard with a pinch of salt and pepper.
- Whisk in oil to form a thick emulsion and dress cabbage heavily. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.
- Make the avocado, lime crema: Mash avocado with a pinch of salt. Stir in crema and lime zest. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper.
- Prepare fish for frying: Whisk egg in a medium bowl. In another medium bowl, whisk together flour and cayenne, with a pinch of salt and pepper.
- Warm tortillas in a 250 degree oven.
- Remove fish from marinade, brush off herbs and cut into 1” pieces.
- Dip fish in egg, then flour. Shake off extra flour and place on a platter.
- Heat 2 tbs olive oil in a 12” skillet over medium heat. Fry in a single layer, without crowding,turning once. About 5 minutes total per batch. You can cut a piece in half to see if it’s ready. The thin side of the filet will cook faster than the thicker chunks. Remove these from the heat first. Set fried fish on paper towels to drain.
- Layer each tortilla with cabbage, tomatillo salsa, avocado crema and top with fish. Love your life.
Some of the world’s best recipes were born of necessity. Like Beef Wellington. I mean, what else do you do when there’s nothing in the fridge but puff pastry, mousse de foie gras and a a whole beef tenderloin?
This dish is just like that. Deep into the sometimes challenging fall produce season, I was staring at a collection of cippolini onions, broccoli and a new Cranberry Port wine jam from Sapore Oil and Vinegar, that was just calling out for a bacon vinaigrette. A request for recommendations on my Facebook page produced a comment from ginger-haired Steve Carpinelli, and Carpinelli’s Cippolinis were born, dressed in a red cranberry port vinaigrette.
The dish balances mildly sharp cippolinis, sweet jam, and salty/fatty bacon, all grounded by earthy broccoli. It’s colorful and fun, and offers a nice break to otherwise hearty-rich fall meals.
Carpinelli’s Cippolini Cranberry Salad
- 2 cups cipolini onions
- 2 cups broccoli florets
- 1/2 cup fresh cranberries, chopped
- 1/4 cup dried cranberries
- 1 thick slice bacon, diced
- 2 tbs Arbequina Olive Oil*
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 1/4 cup Cranberry Port Jam*
- 1/4 cup Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry vinegar*
*Arbequina is a mild, grassy, Spanish olive oil. Sherry vinegar is a slightly more acidic substitute for Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry. Red currant jam can be found in most grocery stores and used in place of the Cranberry Port.
- In a large pot of salted boiling water, blanch onions for 30-45 seconds. Shock in an ice bath, drain and peel.
- Blanch broccoli florets in the same water until bright green and crisp tender, about 90 seconds. Chill in ice bath, drain and dry.
- Fry bacon in skillet over medium heat. When cooked through, remove bacon, leaving fat in the pan.
- Add Arbequina olive oil as needed to make 1/4 cup fat.. Add shallots and sauté until softened, 3-5 min.
- Add Cranberry Port Jam and whisk until it “melts” into the fat.
- Turn heat to medium-high, add sherry, cippolinis and cranberries. Cook 2 minutes while dressing reduces.
- Season broccoli florets with salt and a splash of Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry Vinegar. Top with cippolinis and dressing and sprinkle with dried cranberries.
*Make it vegetarian. Leave out the bacon and start the dressing by sautéing the shallot in olive oil.
Photography by Sam Armocido
I recently asked the question, “should I use bacon fat?” It was largely rhetorical.
My husband Jason, our friend Sam and I were in the test kitchen working on a recipe for a Brussels sprout slaw. Inspiration had come in the form of Sapore Oil and Vinegar‘s new Harvest Apple vinegar. Expecting apple pie in a bottle, my nose was greeted with something closer to Worcestershire sauce. Though not as savory, the vinegar sang a siren song of Brussels sprouts, sharp, grainy mustard and bacon. It was a song we had heard before.
Around this time last year we answered a similar call. Blanched, shaved sprouts were dressed in a bacon fat, mustard, sherry vinaigrette. This time the results were different. Maybe it was the lower acidity of the Harvest Apple vinegar, or maybe it was the rich, sweet and sour sweet potatoes we had just eaten, but tasted side-by-side, we preferred a light, grassy olive oil over rich, salty bacon fat.
Are we retiring last fall’s bacon fat version? No, with a crisp loaf of bread or a savory celery root soup, the bacon fat version is still our choice. However, sitting amidst a table loaded with stuffing, potatoes, turkey and gravy, the light, bright, more acidic version is a welcome island amidst the starch.
Brussels Sprout Apple-Mustard Slaw
- 4 cups Brussels sprouts, bottoms trimmed and halved
- 1/2 cup diced Pancetta
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1/3 cup Autumn Apple Vinegar*
- 2 tbs sharp, grainy mustard
- 1/2 cup Frantoio Olive Oil*
*It’s the holidays – treat yourself, and order a couple bottles online at Sapore Oil and Vinegar. If you need a substitute for the Autumn Apple Vinegar, combine 4 tbs Sherry vinegar with 2 tbs cider or apple juice. Frantoio is a light, grassy olive oil. you can sub any good quality oil.
- Blanch Brussels sprouts in salted, boiling water for 1 minute. Remove to ice bath. When cool, drain and pat dry.
- Sauté pancetta in 1 tbs olive oil over medium heat until crispy. Remove to drain on paper towels. Reserve fat to fry just about anything.
- Whisk together shallot, Autumn Apple Vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper to taste.
- Thinly slice Brussels sprouts and place in a bowl with some extra room.
- Whisk Frantoio oil into vinegar mixture. Season to taste.
- Dress brussels sprouts with 1/2 dressing and Pancetta. Let rest 5-10 minutes and season to taste with additional dressing if needed.
My birthday is not complete without a lemon cake. My Mom made them for me when I was young. Cliff Hunter baked his lemon pound cake for my birthday in 2005, and my husband Jason bakes them each year now, often with homemade lemon curd.
Each of us has strict rules of flavor for Thanksgiving’s stuffing and mashed potatoes, green bean casseroles and Acorn squash based on the dishes that came from our mothers’, grandmothers’, and aunts’ kitchens.
For some of us it’s not summer until we bite into the first ripe tomato or ear of fresh corn. Others can’t imagine New Years without braised greens and black-eyed peas. Christmas would not be complete for me without Polish pierogi filled with cabbage, potato and cheese, or prunes.
All food tastes better with emotion. Think beyond fear, pain and stress. That’s just Twinkies and pizza good. It’s joy, peace, love and hope that elevate fine foods, however simple, from delicious to memorable. And it is those foods that we enshrine in tradition.
Golden Honeycrisp Salad
- 2 Honeycrisp apples, cut in matchsticks
- 1 golden beet, cut into slivers
- 1 shallot
- 3 tbs goat cheese
- 1/4 cup Serrano Chile Honey vinegar*
- 1/4 tsp cumin
- 1/2 cup Arbequina olive oil*
- 2 tsp honey
- 1 tsp mint, chopped
*Serrano Chile Honey Vinegar is a new favorite from Sapore Oil and Vinegar near Eastern Market in DC. The vinegar is actually fermented honey. You can substitute Sherry or Cider vinegar. Arbequina is a grassy, Spanish olive oil. Substitute any good quality olive oil.
- Make dressing: whisk together shallot, cheese, vinegar and cumin, a pinch of salt and pepper.
- Whisk in olive oil in a thin stream and season to taste with honey and mint.
- Toss together apples and beets. Toss with dressing.
- This salad is definitely better dressed lightly.
My Dad did his PhD thesis on corn. At night my Mom typed out page after page, over 100, on a typewriter. Corn expertise was highly regarded in our home. Dad taught us that all vegetables have sugars which, once harvested, convert to starch. This happens faster in some vegetables than others. Corn is one of the fastest.
As a kid, when corn was on the dinner menu, Dad and I would stop by Sapowsky’s on the way home and wait in their dirt driveway, outside the farm stand, for the next cartload of corn to come in from the fields. We would grab a dozen and head home, where Mom already had water boiling. As soon as we pulled into the driveway I would get out, shuck the corn, Mom would boil it for a couple of minutes and we would eat it, hot and fresh, usually without any butter or salt.
Today’s cultivars of corn have more stable sugars, but corn is still best picked during the cool hours of the morning, quickly refrigerated and eaten as soon as possible. These salads celebrate the light, sugary sweetness of raw corn and should be made with the freshest corn you can find.
Southwest and Herbed Goat Cheese Raw Corn Salads
This Southwest salad is just dying to be served over carnitas tacos! The Herbed Goat Cheese version is a perfect, light summer picnic salad. Serve it alongside herb and wine poached chicken and a perfect loaf of crusty country bread slathered in farm-fresh butter. Just a thought.
- 2 ears fresh corn, husked
- 1/2 red onion, diced
Slice the kernels from the corn, mix with the red onion and toss with one of the following dressings.
For Southwest dressing:
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 tbs goat cheese
- 1 tbs finely chopped basil
- 1/2 lime, juiced – about 2-3 tbs
- 1/4 tsp cumin
- 1/3 cup Red Merken Chili Oil*
*Red Merken is a spicy chili oil with nice depth. Substitute another chili oil or order online from Sapore.
- Mash garlic into a paste with coarse salt.
- Stir together cheese, garlic paste, basil, lime juice and cumin.
- Whisk in Red Merken Chili Oil.
- Lightly dress corn and onions.
For Herbed Goat Cheese dressing:
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 tbs goat cheese
- 1 tbs finely chopped tarragon
- 1 tbs lemon juice.
- 1/4 cup Champagne Mimosa Vinegar*
- 1/2 cup Mission Olive Oil*
*The Champagne Mimosa Vinegar is light with a hint of fruit. Substitute any light white wine vinegar. Mission olive oil is light and grassy. They can both be ordered online from Sapore.
- Slice kernels from the corn. Toss with onion in a medium bowl.
- Mash garlic into a paste with coarse salt.
- Stir together cheese, garlic paste, tarragon, lemon juice and Champagne Mimosa Vinegar.
- Whisk in Mission Olive Oil.
- Lightly dress corn and onions.
With the exception of Jesus, no one ever seems to encounter the problem of having too little bread. Just look at the myriad recipes created expressly to use up leftovers: crostini and croutons, bread pudding and bread crumbs. With all due deference to good bread and skilled bakers, are we simply making our loaves of bread too big?
The simple answer, is no. Leftover bread is a gift, and its value is no more apparent than in Panzanella, and Italian salad of stale bread and tomatoes. The salad is dressed with sharp vinegar and olive oil to soften the bread. Paired with garden fresh tomatoes, the large croutons make the salad light, not heavy.
You don’t even have to wait for the bread to get stale. Grab a fresh, toothy, crusty, country loaf, cut it into large 2″ cubes and fry it up in a little olive oil. You may never encounter leftover bread again.
Make sure the bread has toasted through so it holds up to the dressing.
- 6 cups country bread cut in 1” pieces
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 large, perfect tomatoes, cut into 1″ pieces. My favorites are the heirlooms Brandywine and Black Cherokee.
- 1 Candy Sweet red onion
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced basil
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/3 cup Late Harvest Zinfandel Vinegar*
- 2/3 cups Tuscan Blend Olive Oil*
*More wonderful products from DC’s Sapore Oil and Vinegar. A good, strongly acidic red wine vinegar and a rich, buttery olive oil will fit the bill nicely here. Or you can order them right from Sapore online.
- Toss bread in 1/4 cup olive oil, salt and pepper. Toast bread in a 375 degree oven or a sauté pan over medium heat until golden brown and crisp.
- Toss together tomatoes, onion and basil.
- Make dressing: pound garlic and a pinch of course sea salt into a paste. Whisk in vinegar and black pepper.
- Whisk in oil in a thin stream.
- Check the dressing with a piece of tomato. Season to taste with additional, salt oil or vinegar.
- Add bread to the tomatoes and toss through with the dressing.
Raw kale is a current darling of the food scene, and kale salads have appeared on hip restaurant menus across the country. Why? Well, it’s good for you. It’s also fairly inexpensive and counter-intuitive. Hey, who doesn’t love a counter-intuitive vegetable?
Here’s the problem. It’s still kale. No matter how freshly-picked those leaves are, they are still tough and still a little bitter. One solution the food hipsters have identified is to massage your kale. Now, while I love my veggies, that’s a lot of affection just to get a salad on the table.
Here’s my solution: make a fresh, bright vinaigrette with just a pinch of sugar to offset the bitterness. Chop the kale thin – chiffonade – and let it rest for 5 minutes after you dress it to wilt the greens slightly. That’s a salad you can love.
*As some of my demo audience noted last Saturday, this vinaigrette was closely inspired by a recent tropical cucumber salad. The good news? That bottle of tropical spice vinegar can do double duty!
Kale With Tropical Cucumber Vinaigrette
This vinaigrette would also be great over a piece of grilled fish like tilapia or over mesclun greens.
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/3 cup Tropical Spice Vinegar*
- 1/2 cup seeded, minced cucumber
- 1 tbs cilantro, finely chopped
- 1 tbs mint, finely chopped
- 2/3 cup Lime Oil*
- 1/2 pound kale, ribbed and thinly sliced
*No lime oil tropical spice vinegar? You can order them online from DC’s Sapore or sub a good quality white vinegar and olive oil with 1/4 tsp lime zest and a splash of tabasco for heat.
- Mash garlic into a paste with 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt using the back of your knife or a mortar and pestle.
- Whisk together garlic paste, vinegar, cucumber and herbs. Let dressing rest for at least 5 minutes for cucumbers to soften and flavors to blend.
- Whisk in olive oil. Season to taste with sugar, salt and pepper. Correct vinegar and oil balance with kale.
- Dress kale and let rest for 5 minutes to soften.