In this quick dish I used a food processor to chop beautifully radiant, shelled pistachios, which share their bed of salmon with chopped cilantro over a thin blanket of Peruvian racoto pepper, which adds a layer of heat without overwhelming the nutty flavor. The texture, color, flavor and heat add a mild complexity to a very simple dish. As the nuts toast in their bed in the oven for thirty minutes, the asparagus is chopped and takes a ten minute bubble bath in boiling water, just a quick blanch before it too is sprinkled over the bed of salmon, adding another texture and another layer of flavor.
As that basically cooks itself, I thought I would make a sweet, natural dessert, keeping with the pistachio theme. Since the food processor was already out, I chopped up some coconut flakes into a delicate dust. Using plump fresh dates, I inserted a whole pistachio in the crevasse left by the removed pit and bathed the dates in a winter wonderland of coconut dust. The effect was as if a party had exploded onto the plate leaving remnants of pistachio dust and coconut snow as a testament to the night.
These dishes are yet another homage to simplicity, using only whole foods, without spices or flourish, unaltered from their natural states, except by chopping. To taste food like this feels like receiving a gift. It reminds you that while getting fancy in the kitchen is a pleasure in and of itself, sometimes we need to remember the joy of simplicity and recognize that the wonders of the earth often come to us unaltered.
- 1 pound salmon
- 1 bunch cilantro
- 2-3 tablespoons racoto sauce (or any mild hot sauce)
- 1/2 cup chopped pistachios
- 1 bunch asparagus
- 8 pitted dates
- 1/4 cup coconut flakes, chopped
- 8 pistachios
Preheat the oven to 350F. Spread the racoto sauce over the salmon. Spread a layer of crushed pistachios over the salmon. Add a layer of cilantro. Bake in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes. Garnish with cilantro and pistachios.
In the meantime boil a medium pot of water. Chop the asparagus into quater inch bits. Insert into the boiling water for ten minutes, until it becomes aromatic. Remove from water. Drizzle over salmon or eat as a side dish.
Stuff each date with a pistachio. Roll dates in coconut flakes, until covered. Garnish with coconut flakes and pistachios.
A Cook’s Tale
Last night, while the salmon was in the oven, the water was boiling for the asparagus I realized that a really great white wine would make this meal complete. Telling my husband–who was doing some late work from home–to make sure the kitchen didn’t blow up, I ran across the street to buy some wine. On my way out I bumped into our Super, Luis.
“Hola, Luis. Que tal?”
“Todo bien. A donde vas tan tarde?” Where are you going so late?
“Oh I’m just making dinner and thought I’d get some wine”
His face falls into a clear grimmace under the yellow lights of the building as he scans me in my gym pants and hair pulled back into a ponytail, looking for signs of distress. “Did you work late tonight?”
In that moment I realized what I must look like, still sweaty from the gym, cooking and eating at 11pm. I forgot that my unusual schedule is alarming to most people and that I had seen him in my work clothes earlier that same morning before 9am. Answering so as to allay his fatherly fears I said, “Not really, a little later than usual tonight, but I’m enjoying myself now making dinner. Asi es la vida.”
Luis had mentioned to me once before how he believes a family that eats together stays together, so I thought he’d be happy with this. He told me this when he came to fix something in our apartment and I tried to tip him as I was stirring a pot. He refused to take my money because I reminded him of his daughter and he believes that if he treats me like a daughter, other people will treat his daughter like that out in California.
Luis: Still worried, “Pues, que Dios te bendiga.” And frowning, “Que disfruten.” May G-d bless you and enjoy your dinner.
Feeling slightly chastised that my late schedule invoked worry in this gentleman, I run, get my wine and return just in time for the salmon and asparagus to be finished. We enjoy this lovely meal at a touch before midnight. I pretend we’re in Spain where dinners are long and late, the company is good and the wine flows like tomorrow won’t come soon. I’m tired, throw the dishes in the dishwasher and worry slightly about the electricity bill as I press start. Then I drift to sleep without remembering getting into bed.
I don’t know why, but it was such a joy to cook this meal, late as it was. It changed my perspective on the day. Maybe it’s because the sink had been unusable for a while and I had gotten timid upon its re-inauguration. Work will always make demands on my time, but today, tonight, I wanted to return to my haven. The act of making this dinner reminded me that life is in the details, not just in our goals or our dreams, fragile and elusive as balloons floating near tree branches.
Yesterday did not work out in the way I had hoped– too much work, not enough sleep, missed out on a good opportunity–but when I thought about Luis out doing his job, the wine store guys still open late and vacuuming up after a hard day of work, the wonderful food on the stove, the company and support of my husband, my strength at the gym and all the ways in which I spent my day, I let go of what I hoped the day would have been and realized that the day as it was– with all of its perceived disappointments and minor slights– still had people, moments and events worth celebrating. That is the transformative power of a good meal.