Thursday, June 3, 2010

Greek-Florentine Fusion and the Virtue of Austerity

Before I write again about my own "cooking because I have too much food" experience, I have to share a story from an unemployed food writer in Seattle who has been using his culinary know-how to stretch his food stamp allocation - $200 a month, his sole source of income.

It has occurred to me more than once, including since I started this humble blog, that I could be a little more appreciative of what I have and remember how many of us are one job loss or hospitalization away from having to step from one side of the help counter (as employees, volunteers, etc.) to the other. Certainly, coming up with recipes that maximize the use of our perpetual produce overload makes one more appreciative of the abundance we enjoy daily than does regretfully tossing spoiled ingredients into the compost bin.

That said...I'm not sure if this qualifies as "fusion" or not, there being so much overlap between Greek and Italian cuisine. It occurred to me that, since there's flounder in the freezer and fresh spinach, cucumbers, a big ripe tomato and a small container of plain Greek yogurt all going unloved in the fridge, I could perhaps try my hand at a fish variation on Giada de Laurentiis's Chicken Florentine recipe, substituting a tzatziki-like yogurt sauce for her white wine cream sauce and served with a Greek cucumber and tomato salad (from La cuisine autour de la mediterranee*) and, if it appealed to Steve (which it didn't), a slice of grilled crusty bread drizzled with olive oil. No biggie - if we're hungry enough, we can always fill this one out with rice.

2 6-8 oz. flounder filets, fresh or frozen (thawed if frozen)
1 tbsp plus 1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp Cavender's Greek seasoning

1 tbsp olive oil
1 8-9 oz. bag of fresh spinach, torn
salt and pepper to taste

yogurt sauce:
4 oz Greek plain whole-milk yogurt
1 tsp dried dill (or less if preferred)
2 cloves chopped garlic
2 tbsp lemon juice

Greek cucumber salad:
4-5 small cucumbers, peeled and diced
1 medium-large ripe tomato, diced
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp dried Italian herbs
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil
3-4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees and thaw fish (if frozen) in the microwave. Meanwhile, start chopping the other ingredients and thoroughly rinse the spinach in a colander.

Once fish is thawed, pour off any excess liquid, line a shallow baking pan with aluminum foil and drizzle on the first tbsp of olive oil to prevent sticking. Place fish on aluminum foil, drizzle on another tbsp of olive oil and a tbsp of lemon juice, then sprinkle on Greek seasoning and bake for 15 minutes. (Note: if fresh or thawed ahead of time, add these ingredients and marinate for 2-24 hours.)

Once fish is in the oven, heat first tbsp of olive oil in a wide saucepan over medium heat. Once heated, add torn spinach leaves, slightly reduce heat, add salt and pepper and mix well. Cook until spinach is more than wilted but not turning brown or very dark green, about 10 minutes.

While the spinach is cooking, chop the tomatoes and cucumbers and place in separate bowls in the refrigerator. To make their dressing, combine salt, pepper, Italian herbs and lemon juice in a small bowl. Drizzle on 2 tbsp of olive oil while stirring with a whisk or fork. Set aside.

To make the yogurt sauce for the fish, combine yogurt, dill, garlic and lemon juice. Set aside.

When the fish is ready to come out of the oven, make a shallow bed of spinach on each plate using half the cooked spinach. Carefully lift off the fish with a spatula and place on top of the spinach. Spoon the yogurt sauce along the length of the fish but do not spread (unless you really want to).

On a separate plate, or in the remaining space on the plate with the fish (see photo), spoon out half of the cucumbers and top with half of the tomatoes. (Depending on the size of the tomato, you might have some left over; save for another use.) Give the dressing a quick stir and drizzle over the salad. Top with feta.

As complicated as this may sound, it was actually one of the quicker meals I've made in a while, since the fish took just long enough for me to prepare the rest while the fish was thawing and then baking. Steve seemed pleased with all of it, too. One thing I have to say, though, is that I confirmed with this meal that I'm not a fan of Greek yogurt. I gave it a try because it's in vogue, but for my taste, it's a little too much like cream cheese. I really think the yogurt sauce would have been lighter and more delicate (and would not have needed to be thinned down with lemon juice) had I used regular low-fat yogurt. Personal preference; anyone reading this should try both and see for themselves.

In the end, I didn't miss the bread/starch that I normally make a point of including, since the meal combined animal flesh with two different dairy products, and this is the type of combination that I'm inclined to avoid. If you're looking for a delicious low-carb dinner, give this a try!

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