At 15, my Mom and I visited Boston’s Quincy market for a holiday shopping trip. While walking and exploring the many different shops, I spotted a book in the window display of the Crate and Barrel— a burgundy cover, with a festive smorgasbord display and two happy-looking women. As I skimmed The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook, I enjoyed the little illustrations throughout and the many lists and sidebars teeming with ideas for menus, wine suggestions, table arrangements, cheese varieties and their suggested pairings, and more. I was mesmerized by its details and comprehensiveness, the wonderfully diverse recipes that were both creative and ethnic. But more than anything else, I fell in love with the reference section in the back which listed items to stock in your kitchen, from basic to gourmet.
When I started living on my own after college, this book served as my touchstone as I collected my kitchen and baking supplies and familiarized myself with spices specific to ethnic regional cuisines. I loved buying various seeds and grinding them fresh in my coffee mill. During my earliest spice discovery years, there was one spice with which I fell madly in love. Some people become reliant on onions, garlic, pepper, or (as my mother did) on fresh dill. My hand reaches towards my jar of continually replenished, freshly ground coriander. I always consider using it because of my frequent success with it across a wide variety of dishes.
Coriander has the enticing aroma of warm lemons. It is pleasantly astringent and still retains a warmth that marries well with many Mediterranean, Asian, Latin and even traditional American dishes (like a warm potato salad). The seed, or the fruit, which comes from the same plant as cilantro leaves (or Chinese parsley) has a different taste from the leaves and their uses are not interchangeable, but both are used in a variety of regional cuisines. And if you have an aversion to cilantro, which by the way, turns out to be genetically determined (you can’t teach your tastebuds to love cilantro), fortunately this does not necessarily mean that you will not like ground coriander.
A few weeks ago, as I was getting excited to be eating more fish (a spring and summer preference for me), I was oggling this salmon dish from Leite’s Culinaria and was inspired to use my go-to coriander as a more prominent component.
I’m a huge fan of fish. It doesn’t take much to convince me to eat fish plainly or steak as is (actually, I can eat pretty much anything sans sauce or garnish), but this salmon was so beautifully presented, I couldn’t help myself from adapting it to my own tastes. And, just so you don’t panic, should you require fish or your veggies with sauce, the tahini sauce is a natural complement.
Olive pitched in with the tahini sauce (which his grandmother refers to as “thutta-thoola”). It is wonderful on halibut and many other fishes, and goes well with the quinoa salad, too. The portion in this recipe makes enough for this fish dish plus leftovers for adding to rice or salad or veggie dishes you might have for your other meals.
I served the salmon with a warm black quinoa heirloom tomato salad, but if you would prefer a hot side, sauteed bok choy or any other hearty vegetable like zuchinni or escarole cooked lightly in oil and garlic would serve well here, too.
coriander crusted salmon
2/3 cup black quinoa
2 cups baby heirloom tomates
1 1/2 tbsp champagne vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp walnut oil
2 pinches salt, or to taste
Cook the quinoa in cold water and drain when done. Cut the heirloom tomates in half directly into the quinoa so the juice of the tomatoes falls directly into the warm quinoa. Add the vinegar, oil, and salt and set aside while you work on the fish.
2 4 oz. salmon steaks*
1-2 tbsp olive or grapeseed oil
coriander crust coating
2 tsp sesame seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp kosher salt
In a small bowl, combine all the coating ingredients. Skim wash the salmon steaks in cold water and pat dry completely. Heat your pan and then add oil to warm it up. I’ve given a range on how much oil to add. In general for cooking fish, you want a tad more oil than if you were to simply to saute and much less than if you were to fry something. So use a measure that makes sense with the size of your non-stick pan. Coat the salmon steaks, sides, skin and flesh side with the coriander crust. Once the oil has warmed up, put both steaks into the pan without crowding them, flesh side down first and cook for 3-4 minutes depending on the thickness of your steak. Flip them over gently and cook for another 1-2 minutes. You can drizzle the fish with lemon or make the following tahini sauce.
makes 1/2 cup of dressing
3 medium garlic cloves
7 oz. lemon juice
4 oz. tahini paste
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp “tahini water” (the liquid from the top of the tahini paste)
In a food processor, blend all the ingredients until a smooth paste forms. Keeps covered in the refrigerator for a week+.
*If you have access to wild salmon and don’t mind the added expense, I suggest you buy this variety. Besides being healthier for you, I find the wild salmon cooks up better and doesn’t flake as much as the farm raised salmon when you flip it.
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