Mahi Hemingway

Friends frequently ask my husband and me how it’s possible we aren’t gaining 10 pounds a week, given all the “rich foods” they see on my blog or his Facebook page. It’s a fair question after you’ve seen the Waffled Mac & Cheese or some of the unconventional creations on my Pizza Party page. But we don’t always eat heavy foods, and sometimes our meals just look more decadent than they really are thanks to presentation. That’s important to remember: If a food looks beautiful, it may be more appetizing, but that doesn’t mean it’s decadent. This Mahi Hemingway—a recipe I’ve adapted from a local restaurant—is a good example.

This dish is deceptively easy to make, and its flavor and presentation both rival the restaurant I “borrowed” it from. The restaurant version has a light and elegant white wine, lemon, tomato and caper sauce, served over delicate angel hair pasta and topped with a pan-seared fillet of fresh grouper. I first tasted it more than 15 years ago, and it’s still on the menu for $30. I’m not going to say it isn’t worth it, but I do know you can make it at home (with exactly the same flavors) for a fraction of that price, and it’s easy.

If you have never tasted capers (first of all, where’ve you been?), expect a briny, pickled flavor—kind of like a tangy green olive, but about the size of a green pea. I don’t use much in any recipe because capers pack a lot of flavor. You’ll see capers in Mediterranean cuisine, especially paired with seafood. I also love to chop and add them to condiments for seafood, such as tartar sauce.

The lemon is straightforward citrus, and it’s crucial (as I declare in most of my recipes) that you choose fresh. Bottled lemon juice is full of weird preservatives and has no place in my kitchen, as long as lemon trees are still alive somewhere on the planet.

The remaining ingredients are petite diced tomatoes (fresh is great, but canned works fine), a splash of white wine, about half a medium onion, your favorite long pasta and a couple of pats of butter. I’ll assume you already have extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.

Lots of great flavor, and all perfectly good for you.

The Prep

I love a recipe that comes together quickly, especially on a busy weeknight, and this one takes only about five minutes to prep. First, cut thin slices of onion, and then dice them small. Cut the lemon in half. Measure out a heaping teaspoon of capers (no need to rinse them). Cut up a roma tomato into small diced bits or use a slotted spoon to scoop about 1/3 cup from a can of petite diced (it’s OK if you also get some of the juice). Put on a pot to boil for your pasta, and salt and pepper the fish.

This is a very simple recipe, including these items plus a splash of white wine. You’ve got this!

About the fish

The restaurant version I mentioned is made with grouper, which isn’t always easy to find. I substituted mahi the first time I made it myself and liked it so much I never looked back. Mahi is a firm fish—stronger in flavor than grouper or tilapia, but not as “fishy” as a sea bass or mackerel. Choose any firm-fleshed fish you like. I keep the skin on during cooking because much of the healthy omega-3 fats are very close to the skin. I’ve found that with most fish, the skin is super easy to remove once that side has been cooked, but this is strictly a matter of preference. If you don’t like the skin, ask the fishmonger (I love that word) to remove it for you.

Mahi is an oily fish, with loads of good omega-3 fats. It’s concentrated in that red line down the middle.

Choosing your pasta

For pretty presentation, choose a “long” pasta—something delicate like spaghetti or angel hair works nicely. Whole grain is an excellent choice, and today, I’m using a new thin spaghetti Les picked up for us. It’s durum wheat (ideal for pasta), and made with spinach, zucchini, broccoli, parsley and kale. We are adding a whole serving of vegetable to our dish, but without extra effort. I’m good with that!

This “super greens” pasta is such a dark green, it almost resembles seaweed!

So far, this recipe is ticking all the boxes—healthful, quick, easy. I’m loving it.

Putting it all together

The fish and sauce will cook quickly, so get going with the pasta first. Remember to use plenty of water and salt it generously.

I use the same skillet for the fish and the sauce. Begin over medium heat, sautéing the onion with a little olive oil until it begins to soften. Move the onion to the edges of the pan, and add the mahi fillets, flesh side down. For the best sear, resist the urge to move it around much. After about seven minutes, it will release freely so you can turn the fish and cook the skin side.

Add the tomatoes, capers, lemon juice and white wine to the skillet, give it a gentle shake to mix the ingredients, then cover and allow it to simmer on low heat until the pasta is cooked al dente. Remove from heat. Transfer the fish fillets to a plate and cover to keep them warm. Add a pat of cold butter to the sauce and use a fork to swirl and melt it. This technique creates a silky richness without a lot of extra fat. Immediately drain the pasta and use tongs to give it a quick swish through the sauce to coat it before plating. Spoon some of the sauce over the pasta, then top with the mahi fillet and the remaining sauce. Sprinkle a little fresh, chopped parsley on top and enjoy!

The slides will give you a visual walk-through of how easy this is to make. If you want to save the recipe for later, there’s a button at the end of the post to download and print for your recipe book.


Ingredients

Makes two servings (easy to double; choose a large enough pan)

2 6 oz. fillets fresh mahi or other firm fish

2 servings thin spaghetti or angel hair pasta

1/2 medium sweet or yellow onion, thinly sliced and diced

1/3 cup petite diced tomatoes, strained from can or chopped fresh

1 heaping teaspoon capers

Juice of 1/2 large lemon

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 Tbsp. cold butter

Fresh chopped parsley, for serving

Every bit as good as the high-dollar restaurant.

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Cole Slaw Two Ways

There’s no good reason to depend on bottled cole slaw dressing, made up mostly of ingredients we’d never find in our own pantry cabinets. Not when it’s so quick and easy to make our own dressing from the fresh things we do have in our cabinets or refrigerators.

Whether you like the slightly tangy-sweet creaminess of a mayonnaise-based cole slaw (KFC-style) or an elegant, vinaigrette-type dressing that stands up better to extended time on a picnic table, you can handle it yourself in only a few minutes. The one thing for sure is it’ll taste infinitely better than the soybean oil-xanthan gum concoction you’d otherwise pick up in the dressing aisle.

Begin with a basic combination of 4 to 5 cups shredded or chopped cabbage (red, green or both—you decide) and carrots. Use a food processor to save time or chop by hand for a more rustic texture. Then, choose your style and dress it up!

Creamy Slaw Dressing

The creamy-style dressing is on the sweet side, with a distinctive white pepper flavor that is reminiscent of the “colonel’s” cole slaw.

Ingredients

About 1 Tbsp. finely grated onion* (see notes on this)

1/4 cup mayonnaise (I used canola mayo)

2 Tbsp. whole milk

2 Tbsp. buttermilk*

1 Tbsp. white vinegar or white balsamic vinegar*

1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice*

2 Tbsp. cane sugar*

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

A couple pinches white pepper

*Notes

Grate the onion and use a paper towel to absorb as much excess juice as possible before proceeding with the recipe.

Real cultured buttermilk works best, but you could have similar results with the same amount of plain yogurt or Greek yogurt.

I am a big fan of flavored balsamic vinegars and olive oils, and whenever I have it on hand, I substitute the “Sicilian Lemon” white balsamic for the combined amounts of vinegar and lemon juice in this recipe. If you have access to this product from a specialty store in your area, it’s worth the expense.

Reduce the sugar by half with the white balsamic substitution.

Instructions

Empty the grated onion into a glass measuring cup. Add remaining dressing ingredients and use a mini-whisk or small spoon to blend into a smooth, even mixture.

Use less dressing than you think is correct. Trust me, you won’t mind eating the extra dressing with a spoon!

Pour half of the dressing over the shredded cabbage and carrots and toss to coat, then add more dressing as desired. As the creamy dressing settles in, the cabbage will soften and shrink a good bit. It’s easier to add dressing than to take it away. Cover salad and refrigerate a couple of hours until ready to serve.

Poppy Seed and Lime Vinaigrette Slaw Dressing

The vinaigrette-style dressing is tangy and onion-y, an elegant change of pace for your backyard cookout. The poppy seeds can be left out if you aren’t a fan.

Ingredients

1/2 small onion (sweet, yellow or red—whatever you like)

2 tsp. poppy seeds*

2 Tbsp. sugar

Juice of 1/2 fresh lime

1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar

1/2 tsp. dry mustard powder

3/4 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup canola oil (or other neutral-flavored oil)

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil*

*Notes

Poppy seeds are sold by the bottle in the spice section of most grocery markets. Celery seed would be a good substitute here, or if seeds cause you trouble, you could easily skip them altogether, but you still want to begin the recipe on the stove.

Extra virgin olive oils provide the most health benefits, but some of them have a very “green” or pungent flavor. For this recipe, use the most neutral-flavored olive oil you can find, such as arbequina. Specialty oil and vinegar shops offer free tastings to help you find your favorites.

Instructions

Grate the onion into a bowl, keeping the juice. Combine sugar, lime juice, vinegar, mustard powder, salt and pepper in a glass measuring cup.

Place a small, heavy-bottomed sauce pan over medium heat and add the poppy seeds. Swirl the pan constantly and toast the seeds for 2 to 3 minutes, until lightly fragrant. All at once, add the onion (with juice) and the lime juice mixture and stir until sugar is dissolved and mixture begins to simmer at the edges of the pan. Remove from heat and transfer to the small bowl of a food processor. Turn on processor and slowly stream canola oil into the mixture, then repeat with olive oil.

When mixture is fully emulsified, pour about 1/3 cup of it over cabbage mixture. Toss to coat, add more dressing if desired, and refrigerate slaw until ready to serve. Save leftover dressing for use on other salads–perhaps a spinach salad with fresh strawberries.

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