March 19, 2015 Beer Battered Fish Tacos

DSC_1911aFresh white fish encased in a crispy batter wrapped in a warm corn tortilla slathered with creamy and spicy tartar sauce and a sprinkling of cabbage and a spritz of lime, what’s not to love?

After all the fish tacos we consumed on our trip to Florida, you might think we would be tired of them about now. But we can’t get our fill of this delicious south of this border treat, so it was time for us to try our hand at them in our own kitchen.

Fish tacos are native to the Baja peninsula of northwestern Mexico, most likely originating in the town of Ensenada. An hour and a half south of the San Diego-Tijuana  border, Ensenada is surrounded by the beautiful Sierra de San Pedro Martir mountains and sits on an inlet of the Pacific Ocean. Fishing is one of the major industries of Ensenada and fishing boats pull up to the dock to unload their abundant fresh catch at the local seafood markets. More than ninety species are commercially fished or farmed in the area. A large portion of the catch is shipped to Asia, but some of it is sold by local vendors.

Though some fish taco recipes call for grilled or blackened fish, the classic fish taco recipe uses fish that is cooked in a tempura like batter. Many believe this is a result of the influence of Japanese immigrants who began settling  in Mexico at the beginning of the twentieth century. A firm fleshed white fish will hold up best for frying. Bass or cod are good choices, but at the suggestion of my fishmonger, I chose triggerfish.  Triggerfish is a delicious fish that takes well to any cooking method. The name refers to  an unusual interlocking dorsal fin that has to be “unlocked” by releasing a trigger shaped spine. They are usually about a foot long and weigh about 2 pounds with strong scales and tough skin.

In addition to the usual pico de gallo or tomato salsa, these tacos are accompanied by a spicy tartar sauce. It is a simple sauce of mayonnaise combined with pickle relish, yellow mustard, lime and pickled jalapenos. I am fortunate enough to have my own stash of pickled jalapenos that I canned several years ago. They are nice and briny with quite a potent kick. A little shredded cabbage and a squeeze of lime are the finishing touches to these tacos.

Corn tortillas are the wrappers of choice here. There are several methods to keep them warm. Put five or less on a microwave plate and cover with a damp paper towel. Microwave in 30 seconds intervals and heat until warm. Wrap a small stack in aluminum foil and warm them in a 300 F oven for 15-20 minutes. You can also heat them one at a time in an ungreased skillet.

Beer Battered Fish Tacos

Serves 4-6

Yields 12-16 tacos

Spicy Tartar Sauce


  • 1c mayonnaise
  • 1/4c minced fresh cilantro
  • 3T minced pickled jalapeno
  • 2T dill pickle relish
  • 1T fresh lime juice
  • 1t yellow American mustard
  • 1/4t kosher salt


  1. Mix all the ingredients in a medium bowl, can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.

Pico de Gallo

Makes about 1 1/2 cups


  • 1/4 c chopped white onion
  • 1/4c coarsely chopped cilantro
  • 3 fresh serrano or jalapeno peppers, cored, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 2 medium ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Put the onion, cilantro and peppers in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.



Fish for the tacos


  • About 2 quarts vegetable oil for frying
  • 1c all purpose flour
  • Kosher salt
  • 1c beer
  • 2 egg whites, beaten to soft peaks
  • 1lb firm fillets of mild white fish, I used triggerfish but bass, cod or haddock can also be used, cut into strips about 41/2 inches long and 3/4 inch wide

Directions for the fish

  1. Fill a large, deep heavy pot with vegetable oil to about 1 1/4 inches deep. Heat the oil to about 350°F. Check the oil temperature with a deep fry thermometer or add a cube of bread to the oil, it should bubble immediately.
  2. Mix the flour and 1 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl and stir in the beer until smooth. Gently fold in the egg whites.
  3. Season the fish with salt. To cook the fish, work in batches of about three or four pieces at a time. Using kitchen tongs, dip each piece in the batter, let any excess drip off, carefully submerge the fish in the hot oil, and fry until golden brown and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with paper towels

To assemble the tacos

  • 12-16 corn tortillas (5-6 inches wide), warmed
  • 1 1/2 cups finely shredded green or purple cabbage
  • 2 limes quartered
  • Pico de Gallo

To serve: Just after the fish comes out of the fryer, arrange on a heated dish on the table. Set out the tartar sauce, hot tortillas, shredded cabbage, lime quarters and pico de gallo for each person to assemble their own tacos.



March 15, 2015 Shredded Romaine Salad with Yogurt Dressing

DSC_1889aI enjoy all aspects of cooking, but if asked what I enjoy making the most, it would be salads. My first choice, of course, would be greens picked fresh from the garden. Right now, while the last of the snow is being washed away by the rain, like everyone else, I depend on the greens available in the supermarket. The selection of packaged greens has improved over the last several years and one local supermarket carries greens grown in nearby greenhouses.

When using clamshell or bagged greens, check the date and first be sure you will be able to use what you purchase well before the expiration date. It is better to buy a smaller container that you will use than end up with something that resembles lettuce soup! I examine the package from all angles before I purchase because the freshest container can have quite a few soggy leaves.

The first step is to wash your greens thoroughly, even the packaged lettuces that are “triple washed”. I find that washing revives packaged greens and allows you to remove any damaged leaves. I fill a very clean sink with cold water, add the greens and swish them around, after a minute or so, the dirt and sediment will sink to the bottom.  For very delicate just-picked micro greens that might wind up in the drain,  I put them in the bowl of the salad spinner filled with cold water. The dirt sinks to the bottom and you can scoop the leaves out with your hands. Transfer the greens to the colander part of the spinner. I give them a shake in the colander portion first over the sink to remove excess water then I will start spinning.  I spin and dump the excess water several times. It is also important not to overfill the salad spinner, or the water has nowhere to go, three-quarters of the way is a good stopping point. If you are not using all the greens you have prepared, store them in a gallon storage bag. I like to put a flat paper towel in the bag first to absorb any excess water. Store in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator, and be sure not to store anything on top of it.

Thinly shredded romaine was a new twist on a green salad for me. In this recipe, again from Ana Sortum in the latest issue of Fine Cooking magazine, romaine lettuce is cut crosswise into quarter inch slices almost giving it a slaw-like quality. The shredded romaine is combined with spicy arugula and a trio of fresh herbs, dill, mint and parsley. Crispy grated cucumber and toasted walnuts are added to the salad.  A creamy yogurt based dressing is the perfect compliment to the greens. A little Aleppo pepper sprinkled on at the end gives a little kick.

Spring starts this week and Joe is more than ready to go out and work the soil.  He started the first crop of salad greens several weeks ago in the Aerogrow and transplanted them yesterday in the greenhouse. So it won’t be long before we will be enjoying our own home grown salads.

Shredded Romaine and Cucumber Salad

Serves 4


For the dressing

  • 2T fresh lemon juice
  • 1T Champagne or Chardonnay vinegar
  • 1 1/2t granulated sugar
  • 1t minced garlic
  • 1/2c plain whole milk or low fat Greek-style yogurt
  • 1/4c  plus 1T extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

For the salad

  • 1 large head of romaine lettuce
  • 1 English cucumber
  • 1c baby arugula
  • 3/4c lightly toasted walnuts, halves or pieces, reserve 2-3T for garnish
  • 2T chopped fresh dill
  • 1T chopped fresh mint
  • 1T chopped fresh flat leaved parsley
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 1/4t Aleppo pepper or a scant 1/4t red pepper flakes



For the dressing

  1. In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice, vinegar, sugar and garlic. Let stand for about 10 minutes to mellow the garlic. Whisk in the yogurt. Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking constantly to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to use. Dressing can be made up to 3 days in advance.

For the salad

  1. Core and separate the romaine leaves, discarding any bruised or damaged outer leaves. Wash and thoroughly dry the romaine, this is important because the dressing won’t cling if the lettuce isn’t dry. Slice the leaves into 1/4 inch crosswise pieces and place into a large bowl.
  2. Peel, halve and grate the cucumber on the large holes of a box grater. Squeeze out the excess water with your hands and add to the lettuce. Add the walnuts to the salad.
  3. Coarsely chop the arugula and add to the bowl along with the herbs. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.
  4. Toss the salad with dressing to coat generously. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with the Aleppo pepper and reserved walnuts and serve.


March 10, 2015 Imam Bayildi Revisited

DSC_1861aImam Bayildi translates “the priest fainted”. Was it because the dish was so delicious or was it a reaction of this frugal priest  to the copious amount of expensive olive oil his bride used to make this dish? This is my second interpretation of this popular Turkish dish, one of a group of vegetarian recipes referred to as zeytinyagli or olive oil foods, served cold.  This recipe cuts down considerably in the amount of olive oil traditionally used in the original dish but definitely not on the flavor.

This is another recipe from Ana Sortum, chef at Oleana restaurant in Cambridge Massachusetts.  This recipe is similar to the first one I made in some of the steps.The eggplants are sprinkled with salt and brushed with olive oil and baked until the flesh is soft.  In the first recipe the flesh is scooped out and mixed in with the other ingredients, in the second the other ingredients are combined and pressed into the cooked eggplant, I liked that method. Onions, garlic, tomatoes, oregano and parsley are found in both recipes. Finely diced cauliflower, star ingredient of the moment, is a unique component for Imam Bayildi and adds a different texture and flavor to this dish that I liked. The second recipe also uses green bell pepper, an ingredient that I am not a big fan of. Green peppers are less expensive but not quite as nutritious as their red, yellow and orange counterparts. As a gardener, I have just considered them to be peppers that someone wasn’t patient enough to let ripen.  I am now coming around to seeing green bell peppers as a unique ingredient. In this dish they add an interesting  slightly bitter edge to the sweetness of the onion and the creaminess of the eggplant.

This is the first time I have ever grated tomatoes for a recipe. Choose ripe firm tomatoes and grate them over a shallow bowl with the largest holes of your box grater. Keep your hand flat and grate until the tomato flesh is scraped away from the skin. Discard the skin and you are left with tomato pulp that can be used in a variety of dishes. I am sure this is a technique I will use again.

Aleppo pepper is one of my favorite ingredient discoveries of the last several years. It is dark red, flaky and somewhat oily in texture. It takes it name from the ancient city of Aleppo in northern Syria, just east of the Turkish/Syrian border.  The flavor profile is rich, sweet and fruity with hints of cumin. The heat profile is moderate, just a bit hotter than paprika. As a result of the conflict in Syria, what now is sold as Aleppo is actually an identical pepper plant, Maras, that is grown in Turkey.


Imam Bayildi

Serves 8 as a side dish or 4 as an entrée


  •  4 small eggplants, about 1/2lb each
  • 10Tolive oil divided,  4T for brushing eggplants, 3T for sautéing, 3T for drizzling over finished dish.
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 1/2lb tomatoes, halved
  • 2c diced sweet onion
  • 1c diced green bell pepper
  • 1/2c finely diced cauliflower
  • 1T finely chopped garlic
  • 1/2c chopped Italian parsley, more for garnishing the finished dish.
  • 1t finely chopped fresh oregano or 1/2t dried
  • Aleppo pepper or crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3/4c crumbled feta, more for garnish


  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375°F.
  2. Halve the eggplants lengthwise and place cut side up on a large rimmed baking sheet. Season the cut sides generously with kosher salt and brush with the first 4T of olive oil. Flip the halves over and bake cut side down until soft, about 30-35 minutes. Set aside until cooled.
  3. While the eggplant bakes, grate the cut sides of the tomato on the large holes of a box grater. It is easiest to put the grater in a bowl. Discard the skins. Drain the pulp in a fine meshed sieve until most of the liquid has drained through, about 20 minutes.
  4. Heat 3T of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the pepper, cauliflower and garlic, cook, stirring occasionally, until all the vegetables have softened somewhat, about 5 minutes. Remove pan from the heat and stir in the tomato pulp, parsley and oregano. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the feta.
  5. Use a spatula to flip over the eggplant halves. With a slotted spoon, divide the filling among the eggplant, using the spoon to gently push the filling into the flesh.
  6. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil and bake until hot, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with more crumbled feta and parsley and serve.




March 4, 2015 Turkish Tarator Sauce


What’s in a name? When it comes to food, it may depend on what country you are in. Tarator is a prime example of this. In the Balkans, it is a cold yogurt based soup made with cucumbers and seasoned with dill and lemon, similar to the ingredients in Greek tzatziki. In many Middle Eastern countries, Tarator is a sauce or a dip based on sesame tahini. The tarator of Turkey is a savory sauce, thickened with nuts and used with a wide variety of foods.

This recipe, a Turkish tarator sauce from Fine Cooking magazine is courtesy of  James Beard award winning chef Ana Sortum. Her travels as a young chef exposed her to the exciting, flavorful home cooking of Turkey. When she returned to Cambridge, Massachusetts, she opened her first restaurant, Oleana combinig the bold flavors of the eastern Mediterranean with farm fresh ingredients.

Tarator is very easy to make. As with many traditional sauces, it was first made with a mortar and pestle, but a blender brings this sauce together in less than five minutes. Nuts are the base of the sauce and provide it’s richness. I have seen everything from walnuts, to hazelnuts to pine nuts used in different versions of this recipe, blanched almonds are the chef’s choice in this recipe. Some recipes also include bread as an additional thickener but I found this unnecessary.  Combine nuts, olive oil, lemon juice, water and garlic in the food processor. Blend until smooth and thick, scrape down the sides several times during this process, it takes about 3 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. When serving, garnish with some toasted almonds.

Use good ingredients, not those nuts that have been sitting in your cabinet for months, fresh lemon juice and a quality extra virgin olive oil. I purchase my best oils from The Tubby Olive. Their oils are sourced from small farm producers and I am able to taste what I buy. Unfortunately not every bottle of olive oil labeled extra virgin, actually is.   If you are interested in some good information regarding the misrepresentation of the origins and quality of some brands of olive oil, check here.

Tarator is traditionally served with a wide variety of dishes, ranging from grilled eggplant, beets and fried seafood. I served it with roasted salmon and lightly blanched sugar snap peas.  It would also be a flavorful dip for crudite or a sauce for fried calamari.

Turkish Tarator Sauce

Makes about a cup


  • 1/2 c blanched whole almonds
  • 2T toasted and chopped almonds for garnish
  • 1/4c extra virgin olive oil
  • 2t fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2t chopped garlic
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper



  1. In a blender, puree the whole almonds, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and 1/2c water until completely smooth and thick, at least 3 minutes.
  2. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sauce keeps covered and refrigerated up to 3 days.