Holiday Dinner Sketch

Walnut encrusted salmon with braised tamarind brussels sprouts and dill-jasmine rice

I love tamarind. I mean I LOVE it, and perhaps I would marry it if we didn’t live in a cruel world where we simply can’t go around marrying those things which we love. It never occurred to me that some people have a distaste for the stuff, until recently when a friend gifted me a block of tamarind that she had bought upon my recommendation. The corner was slightly opened, and she smoothed it shut and pet the package lovingly before handing it to me. It was a tactful gesture. It said, “there is nothing wrong with your taste, or the tamarind, it’s just not for me”.

Although tamarind is apparently not for everyone, I am about to share with you a new recipe for a tamarind sauce that, in my opinion, can bestow upon brussels sprouts the addictive quality of potato chips. My cousins would disagree on principle. They have a Pavlovian response to anything that resembles a brussels sprout, and promptly reject them on appearance alone. To be fair, disliking brussels sprouts is a common trait for people who are “super-tasters”, which I suspect many of my cousins are. About 1/4 of the population belong to this class of people with inflated taste buds. They are particularly sensitive to bitter compounds in some vegetables. I resent the name “super-tasters”, mainly because I am not one, and it sounds like something elite. I am merely a “taster”, a category to which 1/2 of the population belongs. I suppose I could be grateful that I am not a “non-taster”, but it’s not in my nature to be grateful for being in the majority population. I imagine that being at either of the extremes would make me somehow special, it would be a lovely dinner conversation piece. “oh, none for me thanks” I would say boastfully, while passing on the collard greens “I am a super-taster“. Or, perhaps, if on the other extreme “Collard greens, why not! I can’t taste a thing anyway, so I might as well fill up on the green stuff!”. Alas, I am only a taster. I suppose my consolation prize is that I get thoroughly enjoy brussels sprouts and collard greens, and probably will have too full of a mouth to contribute to the table conversation anyway!

If you are planning a dinner party this holiday season, and are worried about not presenting a picture perfect dinner, relax. Your friends are already impressed by you, that is why they came to your party in the first place, and your family has already formed their opinion about you and your relative capabilities. That being said, it doesn’t hurt to know your audience, and if you are planning on serving brussel sprouts with tamarind sauce (which Christina and I highly recommend), check it out with your guests first. This meal is risky, but for some palates it is a sure winner.

Walnut encrusted salmon served with dill jasmine rice and brussels sprouts in tamarind sauce:

Dill Jasmine Rice

Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil and 1 tsp salt in a pot and add 1/2 onion. Cook for about 3 min, then add 1 cup pre-rinsed jasmine rice. Toast the rice briefly, then add 2 cups water. Cover and simmer until tender. Fluff when done and leave covered until ready to serve. Before serving, sprinkle with dill.

Braised Brussels Sprouts with Tamarind Sauce

Rinse and cut the stems off of about 3 cups of brussels sprouts (serves about 2-3 people). Slice the brussels sprouts lengthwise into ~1/8 inch slices.

Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a large frying pan and add brussels sprouts and 2 cloves freshly minced garlic.

Pour 1 cup water over 1/4 cup of tamarind paste and mix with a fork until the water begins to thicken with paste (you may need to strain out the fibrous stuff and seeds if your paste is not already de-seeded). Add 1 Tbsp soy sauce and 2 tsp mirin. Pour over the brussels sprouts and cover. Cook until sprouts are bright green, remove the lid and cook the remainder of the liquid out. Add 1 tsp rice vinegar directly before serving.

Walnut Encrusted Salmon

If you are eating for your health, make sure that you buy wild caught salmon. The farm raised fish can be fed protein from soy and corn sources, and are likely to contain less omega 3′s and more omega 6′s. Currently, we have no labeling regulations to distinguish what our farmed fish are eating, and..well.. we are what we eat, what we ate has eaten (I hope that makes sense).

Plan to serve 1/4-1/2 lb fish per person (pictured here is 1/4 lb).

Using a food processor (or a ziplock bag and a hammer) crush walnut pieces to a fine crumble and set aside.

Pat fish dry and douse in flour (any kind of flour will do, you just want a base for the egg to stick to).

Roll the floured fish in beaten egg, or beaten egg white (I add some fresh ground lemon pepper to this, but you could add other spices as well).

Next roll fish in crushed walnuts.

Heat a dry frying pan (one that can safely go in the oven is preferable), add the fish and allow walnuts to toast on both sides. Place pan in 350 degree oven and allow fish to continue cooking for about 7-10 min until desired done-ness. The walnuts will keep the fish from getting too dry, but it is best to not overcook fish so keep an eye on it. To test for done-ness press down on the top of the fish. The fish will be resistant to the touch.

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