I take notes when I dine out to inspire my home cooking. These days those “notes” usually involve a camera. A quick scroll through my favorite restaurant photos prompted a trip to the fish market. Inspired by a recent dinner of swordfish with pureed cauliflower at Underbelly in Houston, the dinner menu that follows proves impressive despite simple ingredients and everyday techniques.
I start dinner by transforming cauliflower, oft considered a boring staple, into a light, whipped side dish. Trick is to boil the cauliflower in plenty of salted water to dissipate the strong cabbage aroma. Then a quick puree in the blender with sesame oil and canned chick peas to make a kind of hummus. I save some of the tender florets to brown in oil for a golden garnish.
I plan to serve the hummus underneath the roasted fish to absorb any deliciousness. However, this cauliflower hummus is so good, it’s become a favorite dip to serve with crackers or toasted pita chips.
Most fish taste great sitting atop cauliflower this good. I’m partial to meaty fillets, such as wild-caught swordfish or sea bass. Halibut works too. Here, I’m seasoning the thick fish fillets with sweet spices and herbs. A drizzle of olive oil just before cooking will ensure moist results.
I usually prefer to grill fish rather than cook it indoors. But a superhot broiler drastically reduces the timeline to dinner. Simply turn the broiler to high and let it heat. Then turn on the exhaust fan before you slide the fish 6 inches from the heating element.
A lemon-chili relish, made from grated lemon rind, lemon juice, hot green chili, chopped parsley, garlic and salt, gives the finished fish easy restaurant sophistication. Serve with toasted pita and a romaine lettuce salad.
Lemon, cauliflower and garlic hummus
Makes: about 3 cups, 4 servings
I use light sesame oil here, not the toasty dark oil I like in stir-fries. Light, fruity olive oil makes a good substitute.
1 large head cauliflower, about 2 pounds, cored (or 24 ounces cauliflower florets)
1 can (15 ounces) garbanzo peas (chick peas), drained, rinsed
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
4 tablespoons light sesame oil or olive oil
Finely grated zest and juice of half a lemon
1 teaspoon salt
1. Heat a large pot of salted water to a boil. Separate the cauliflower into small florets. You will have about 8 cups. Cook until nearly fork-tender, about 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to scoop out half of the florets to set aside for garnish. Cook remaining cauliflower until tender, 2-3 minutes more. Drain.
2. Puree the tender cauliflower, beans and garlic in a food processor or blender until smooth. Add 2 tablespoons oil, lemon zest and juice, and salt. Puree again until smooth. Transfer to a serving bowl.
3. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in large skillet over medium-high until hot. Add reserved cauliflower florets (cutting them if necessary into bite-sized pieces). Cook and stir until golden, 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle over puree. Serve warm or at room temperature. (Mixture can be refrigerated covered up to 3 days; let come to room temperature before serving.)
Nutrition information per serving: 231 calories, 16 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 20 g carbohydrates, 6 g protein, 845 mg sodium, 5 g fiber
Roasted fish with lemon-chili relish
Makes: 4 servings
Boneless skinless chicken cutlets (made by sliced boneless chicken breasts horizontally in half) make a fine substitute for the fish. So do scallops; reduce cooking time to a total of 4 minutes.
4 portions of meaty, boneless fish, such as swordfish, sea bass or halibut, each piece 8 to 10 ounces and 1- to 1 1/4-inches thick
1 teaspoon each, dried: oregano, marjoram
1/2 teaspoon each: cinnamon, allspice, salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Lemon chili relish:
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 small serrano chili, stemmed, halved, seeded, very finely chopped
Finely grated zest and juice of half a lemon
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt
Olive oil for drizzling
Lemon cauliflower and garlic hummus, see recipe
Sauteed dandelion greens with crispy shallots, see recipe
1. Rinse fish; pat dry. Mix oregano, marjoram, cinnamon, allspice, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Coat fish on all sides with mixture. Let stand at room temperature, about 30 minutes. (Or refrigerate covered for a couple of hours.)
2. Meanwhile, for lemon-chili relish, mix parsley, chili, lemon zest and juice, garlic and salt in a small bowl.
3. Heat broiler to high. Place fish on broiler pan or wire rack set over a drip pan. Drizzle fish lightly with olive oil. Broil fish, 6 inches from heat source, turning once, until fish nearly flakes, usually about 8 minutes total.
4. Divide cauliflower hummus among 4 serving plates. Make a well in center of hummus. Top each with a portion of fish. Spread with 1/4 of the lemon-chili relish. Garnish with sauteed cauliflower and parsley sprigs. Serve with sauteed dandelion greens.
Nutrition information per serving: 322 calories, 17 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 129 mg cholesterol, 2 g carbohydrates, 39 g protein, 745 mg sodium, 1 g fiber