Catfish Stew, plus sides

Today’s music selection.

To pull from Bill Maher’s playbook; New Rule: When I don’t write an entry for more than ten days, I will write one big-assed entry that includes a whole meal.

I was originally going to use this entry to write about my position on pork, since I have, I admit, an odd aversion to this particular meat.  Then I decided that this entry should be about horsemeat and how this issue (I refuse to call it a crisis) is part and parcel of a larger food system and demands a critical look at the way we eat and what food is considered “appropriate” or “taboo”.

Then I made a bunch of stew and decided that I would write about that.  First, however, some thoughts about horsemeat:

  1. After all of the crises that have arisen in the last six years alone (peanut butter recalls, tainted spinach, an array of meat that has made people sick, and these are just a few of the issues that have happened in the United States), presence of horsemeat in ground beef should not actually be that surprising.
  2. This should be the rock-bottom wake-up call that when consumers are  removed from the process of raising, slaughtering, and preparing animals and the process left in the hands of enormous corporate groups, it’s not surprising that strange shit pops up in your meat or, for that matter, a wide array of food products.
  3. Using horses for meat is not a new practice. Yes, finding out that your frozen lasagna has some Black Beauty in it is very unsettling, but the taboo of horsemeat, much like the taboo for dog meat, does not hold up everywhere in the world.  This is also not some throwback to a Paleolithic-era diet; parts of Central and East Asia and Europe have eaten horses for centuries.  If anything, I think this incident should open up more discussions about food taboos in the United States and cause us to look critically at what is considered “good food”.

I apologize if these gloss over finer points of the issue, but these are just my immediate thoughts.  The more information I come across, the better developed my argument (or, more accurately, my frustration) will be in the future.

Anyway, onto a horse-free meal!

Passover is coming up; although I’m by no means the most religious person, I usually try to observe abstaining from leavened bread and other foodstuffs not available to people of Ashkenazi descent during this holiday (rice, corn, bulgur and other grains).  I take Passover in much the same way Catholics I know take Lent; it’s an opportunity to appreciate something that I normally take for granted by intentionally not consuming it for a period of time.  As I’ve gotten older and started cooking for myself, not consuming bread and other grains for a week has become much easier.  Yes, it takes more work, and yes, I have had the luxuries of selection and employment that allows me to bring my own lunch, but it’s not really that difficult, and in fact can be a fun opportunity to get creative.  The quinoa sushi I wrote about in my last entry is Passover-friendly and relatively easy to make.  This fish stew is a hearty addition to a Passover-diet, although I should caution readers that catfish is not actually kosher, so find another fish to substitute.  You will need:

  • 1¼ cup of fish broth (see below)
  • About 1 ½ pound of fish fillets, cut into 1-2 inch pieces (here I used fresh catfish and perch from the stock, but cod, halibut, or other whitefish work well)
  • 2 cans of diced or chopped tomatoes (if you have fresh, feel free to use those instead, maybe 4 or 5)
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 cup of red lentils (not kosher for Passover, but I had a little bit in my cupboard that I wanted to use.  Omit around Passover time)
  • 5-6 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of oregano
  • 1 tablespoon of thyme
  • Salt and pepper, just a little bit to taste

I buy fresh whole perch at the farmer’s market when I can get it, but I always end up throwing away the bones and head.  This past week, I thought I’d make better use of them and make a batch of fish stock.  I’m not particularly adept at filleting fish and taking the bones out, but cooking is a learning process and I’m improving.  The fish stock will be the most time-intensive part of this recipe, but it won’t require constant attention.  For the stock, you will need:

  • About 1 pound of filleted fish carcass, which can come from about 3 pounds of fish (heads, spines, the works; if there’s a little flesh on the bones, that’s alright)
  • 5-6 cups of water (I think I used a little less, but up to 6 cups should be fine)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped (you can add the skins if you like, but I chose not to)
  • Two cloves of garlic, whole
  • 1 tablespoon of white vinegar
  • Any vegetables you want to add, such as carrots or celery (I had none on hand, so I used none)

Add all of your ingredients to a large pot and cover with water, enough so that the contents are covered by about an inch (here’s where you’ll figure out how much water you need).  Cover and bring the mixture to a boil.  Some scum might appear at the top as the soup heats up, but don’t panic, this is normal.  Just skim it off with a wooden spoon and discard.  Once the mixture is boiling, reduce to a low to low-medium heat and simmer for about three to four hours.  Your soup should come to look something like this when it’s ready:

 

 

Strain out the fish and vegetables and discard.  You will have more broth than you need for the stew recipe, but extra soup is a good thing to have around.  If you’re using the broth within a couple of days, it can stay in the fridge.  Otherwise, freeze it.

This is what the boiled down contents looked like:

A word of warning: your kitchen will smell very fishy from the stock, so ventilate as necessary.

Now onto the stew.  Once your vegetables are all prepared, heat the olive oil in a large pot.  Sauté the vegetables for a few minutes until the onions and shallots are softened but not mushy.  Add the lentils and the chopped tomatoes and cook for about ten minutes.  Add the herbs, salt and pepper, and stir them into the mixture.  Add in the fish and the broth and simmer until the fish is thoroughly cooked.  Some of the stew might reduce as you cook, but this is alright.  Feel free to add more seasoning after you add the fish, or to include some different spices like red pepper flakes, cayenne, or coriander.  Also, adding chopped potatoes or turnips with the fish adds some body to the stew.  Serve hot.

The stew came out really well and was very filling, but side dishes are always fun (unless, you know, they bite you or something). Here are two I made to go along with the stew.

Kohlrabi “Fries”

This is kohlrabi, also known as a German turnip, so you know it’s never funny.

Kohlrabi belongs to the cabbage family, and can be served in a variety of ways, including roasting, steaming, and in a gravy or curry sauce.  When eaten raw, it tastes similar to broccoli stem, only slightly sweeter.  Kohlrabi is low in calories and full of fiber and vitamin C.

I used both the kohlrabi that are pictured and several that were larger and more spherical.

The “fries” are healthy alternatives to those made from potatoes, especially the frozen kind.  You will need:

  • Several kohlrabis (I recommend two or three of the large round ones, otherwise you will need a big bunch of the small varieties)
  • Two cloves of garlic, minced or finely shredded
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Salt, pepper, and whatever else you want to use to season

Preheat the oven to 400°. Peel the kohlrabi and slice them into thin rounds, maybe ¼ inch thick, and the rounds into fries.  Mix the garlic, salt, and pepper in a large bowl with the oil, and add the kohlrabi.  Stir to coat well, and add them to a glass or ceramic baking dish.

Before

After

 

Bake for about 15 minutes, then shuffle them with a spatula and continue baking for another 10, or until they are starting to brown lightly.  Remove, let cool to handle, and serve.

 

 

 

Braised Collard Greens

I have a strong affection for collard greens.  See?

This was at a Green “Collard” Jobs rally in Massachusetts years ago. I think I was twenty in this picture. You’ll note the lack-of-a-haircut

To cook up these greens, you will need:

  • 1 large bunch of collard greens, stemmed and chopped (but not diced)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • ½ of a yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil

Heat the oil in a large pan and sauté your garlic and onions for 2-3 minutes, or until the onions start to soften slightly.  Add the greens and the lemon juice, and reduce heat to low-medium.  Cook for about 6 minutes, stirring continually, until your greens are well wilted.  I used two lemons for this recipe, which was a little much; one should be enough.

There it is; a full meal to impress your friends.  Or a full meal that will provide you with a bunch of leftovers, since your friends are probably all chumps, anyway.

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Wait, wait, it’s pronounced…Keen-wah? (Quinoa Sushi)

I dislike when bloggers and vloggers start a post with something akin to “I promise, I’m not dead!” whenever they create an entry after a hiatus, so I won’t begin that way.  As it were, I’m writing from beyond the grave right now, and let me tell you, I have not found a decent bagel place around here yet…

Okay, that joke was sort of lame, but I am back after a break.  I had multiple matters to attend to the last several weeks, but I’m back to posting regularly.

I was feeling particularly unadventurous the last several weeks, and most of my cooking reflected that.  However, I had a bunch of quinoa that I had no idea how to use an needed a creative solution.  Despite its grainy appearance, quinoa is actually a seed from a family of plants that include spinach and beets.  It’s packed with protein, fiber, and calcium, and can be a good substitute for rice.  I’ve seen quinoa used in a number of ways, from cold salad dishes to burrito fillings to morning grits.  Chances are, if you know a vegan, this little seed has probably come up in conversation or made an appearance at a potluck.  However, it comes with a word of precaution.

If you read environmental blogs or magazines that include pieces on agriculture and environmental issues, you might have noticed that quinoa had been in the news lately.  Quinoa has become so popular is countries where it is not grown (the US, parts of Europe, and Japan, among others) farmers in parts of South America where quinoa is grown and harvested (Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador) have faced a hike in quinoa prices that adversely affect local food systems.  Peruvian and Bolivian communities have had trouble affording a product that was once a dietary staple, and have begun to rely more on imported foods and meat.  Some economists predict that the rise in prices has actually helped these countries bring in more money and reduce poverty, while others see this as negative by-products for global palettes changing and demanding more quinoa.  Here is one report that diffuses some of the panic over the global quinoa trade.

My advice? Like meat and fish, enjoy quinoa from time to time, but not every day. Buy in bulk and through fair-trade whenever possible. And if you’re going to brag about something, don’t brag about eating quinoa.

So, after standing in my shower for a few minutes (it’s true, you can do some great thinking in there), I decided to try out making sushi.  I never got really into sushi (something about raw fish bums me out, which is probably why I am still reluctant to try ceviche), but here’s an alternative that’s healthy, relatively easy to make, and won’t break the bank.  The most expensive thing in here is the salmon, and I got that from the farmer’s market from a gentleman who sells at a fair price.  You will need:

1 cup quinoa

1 tbs of white vinegar

1 avocado

2 salmon fillets

3-4 nori sheets

Makes 4 rolls (about 24 individual sushi, depending on how thickly you cut)

Cook the quinoa in 1 ¼ cup of water or vegetable broth, until all the liquid is gone and the quinoa is soft.  Stir in the vinegar, mix well, and then let it cool enough to be handled.  I put it in a bowl in the refrigerator for about 12 minutes.

While the quinoa is going, cook the salmon fillets.  I brushed them with olive oil and put them in the (preheated) oven at 350 degrees for about ten minutes, flipping once halfway through.  Feel free to lightly season them with some black pepper or other spice (hopefully nothing with a very overpowering flavor).  Allow to cool to handling temperatures.  Cut into strips.

Cut the avocado in half, and then cute each half into strips lengthwise.  Remove the skin from the slices.  Get a small bowl of water ready for the folding process.

Take a clean dishtowel and fold it in quarters, about the size of your nori sheet.  I recommend doing this over a cutting board or a very clean surface.  Lay the nori, smooth side down, onto the towel.  Spoon out the quinoa over nori, between half of the sheet an two-thirds up.  Spread the quinoa so it fully covers to the edges and is evenly spread (you shouldn’t pile it on, just a smooth layer).  Put a few pieces of salmon and avocado at the edge of the nori roll atop the quinoa.  Dampen the uncovered section with some water, and get ready to roll.

The important thing is to not roll the sushi loosely, otherwise it will come undone.  My process was to roll the edge with the salmon and avocado very tightly first and make sure you have a good tuck.  This makes rolling the rest of the way easier.  When you are at the edge of the other quinoa side, wrap the remaining nori tightly and dab with some additional water if necessary to make sure it stays in place.  If you haven’t done this before, I recommend going on YouTube to check out a video of someone rolling sushi; the visual aide might help.

      

(I feel like the captions should include a joke about rolling a joint.  Again, trying to keep it family-friendly on this blog.)

Once you’re all rolled up (stop laughing), take a sharp knife and carefully cut the roll into pieces.  The sharper the knife the better; none of the knives I own are particularly sharp, so I ended up piercing the roll with the tip and slowly sawing back and forth downwards.  I ended up losing some of the quinoa out of the ends each time I did this, so either cut very slowly or make sure your blade is sharp.  I would recommend using a katana, but that feels sort of offensive.  Serve your sushi with soy sauce, some wasabi, or some chili sauce.

The end product has a light taste that absorbs the flavor of your condiment of choice.  I liked these because they made for a quick dinner on the go the next day and left me feeling full without feeling overstuffed.  Feel free to experiment with different fillings; try thinly sliced carrots, daikon radish or pickled vegetables, or mix the quinoa with brown rice for a different texture.

Until next time, keep eating….or you know, you’ll starve to death.

Next week: A report on pork, or, “Ham No Fear, Underhog is Here”