Seared Tuna with Forbidden Rice and Tropical Salsa

This colorful dish proves two points—that eating healthy does not have to be boring or bland, and that you don’t need to be in a restaurant to enjoy a restaurant-quality meal.

When it comes to fresh seafood, I believe in keeping the fish (or shrimp, scallops, crab, whatever) as close to its true state as possible. Trust citrus juice, salt and pepper to bring out the best in seafood and bring in other complementary flavors on the side. That’s what I’ve done with this pretty plate, featuring a fresh-caught ahi tuna steak and a tropical fruit salsa that comes together in about 7 minutes. The most time-consuming part of the dish is waiting for the rice to cook.

If you’ve never seen or cooked with forbidden rice before, here’s a quick list of facts to help you get to know this delicious, somewhat exotic ingredient.

Black rice is sometimes called “forbidden” rice.

Where does black rice come from, and why is it “forbidden?”

Black rice originated across the continent of Asia, and has long been a significant crop in China, Bangladesh, parts of the Philippines, Thailand and Northeast India. The grain is no longer considered “forbidden,” but it was given that distinction in ancient China because of its former scarcity. The cost of this rare food put it out of reach for all but the wealthiest people, and so it was forbidden to everyone else. That has changed, however, as it is now cultivated more widely and available in larger supermarkets or online.

What gives black rice its color?

The rice has a very deep color that looks nearly black in its raw state, but in bright light and after cooking, it’s easier to see that it is actually more of a deep purple. This is because of anthocyanin, a type of plant pigment that also occurs in blueberries, raspberries, purple cauliflower and “blue” corn. Although some websites suggest the anthocyanins have antioxidant properties, scientific studies have so far only shown this to be true in a lab environment—not in the human body by food consumption.

What does black rice taste like?

If you were to close your eyes while tasting black rice, you might think you were enjoying smaller grains of brown rice because of the similar mild, slightly nutty flavor.

What do you make with black rice?

You can use black rice the same way you’d use any rice—in side dishes, pilafs, soups and salads. Also, because of its unusual color, it is commonly used in Asian countries in special dessert dishes, especially rice pudding made with coconut milk.

Ingredients

1 cup cooked black rice

2 portions fresh tuna steak

1 cup fresh pineapple, cut into bite-sized pieces* (see notes)

1 fresh honey mango, cut into chunks*

1/4 red bell pepper, diced (or 1 Tbsp. jarred pimentos, drained)

1/4 cup red onion, diced

1/2 fresh jalapeno, seeded and finely diced (optional to taste)

4 fresh mint leaves, cut into thin strips* (see slides for tips)

1 Tbsp. peach white balsamic vinegar*

1 Tbsp. neutral extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and fresh black pepper

Juice of 1/2 lime

*Notes

Save some time on the pineapple and pick it up pre-cut from your produce department. I don’t recommend canned pineapple for this, but you could probably use frozen (thawed) in a pinch.

There are hundreds of varieties of mango, but usually two at my market—“regular” mango, which is kind of round-oval and darkish green with blushing orange areas, and the one they call “honey” mango, which is usually smaller, deep yellow all over, and (my reason for choosing it) easier to cut up. Use whatever variety is your favorite, or whatever is available. If you’ve never cut a mango, check out the slideshow below for some easy tips.

The peach white balsamic is a specialty product I purchased at a gourmet olive oil and vinegar store. I chose it because it’s soft and fruity, but feel free to substitute any light vinegar you like, especially one that plays well with the fresh tropical flavors in this salsa—think fruity, citrus or mint.

Here’s a visual walk-through of how I put this together, and written instructions appear below.

Instructions

  1. Season tuna steaks with only sea salt and black pepper, and set aside, covered, at room temperature.
  2. Cook black rice according to package instructions. Try not to stir it too much to avoid additional “stickiness.”
  3. While rice is cooking, prepare salsa—combine pineapple and mango pieces, add jalapeno, red onion and red bell pepper. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Use a mini whisk to combine peach balsamic and extra virgin olive oil, stirring briskly until a thick emulsion results. (If your vinegar is not a balsamic, it may be thinner consistency)
  5. Stack mint leaves, then roll them lengthwise into a tube shape and cut across into slices. When unfurled, these will be thin strips.
  6. Pour dressing over fruit salsa blend and toss to coat evenly. Give it a taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Sprinkle mint leaves into blend, gently toss again and set aside.
  7. When rice is ready, sear tuna steak on a medium-hot griddle, grill or skillet, turning to sear other side to desired doneness. Ideally, good quality fresh tuna should be cooked rare, but if you’re squeamish about that, push it to medium-rare.

Plate by spooning about 1/2 cup black rice, then lay tuna steak halfway over the pile. Spoon salsa over the top, squeeze lime over both plates and serve!

It’s light, fresh and pretty!

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No-Fuss Mushroom and Spinach Omelet

I like this style of omelet because it’s quick and simple, and it doesn’t require removing the extras from the pan and then stuffing them back in. Your “fillings” will be cooked into the outside of the omelet, with melty gooey cheese layered inside. This recipe is super flexible, too! You can add or substitute leftover vegetables of any kind if you don’t have spinach and mushrooms on hand—peppers, kale, broccoli, asparagus or whatever is taking up space in the fridge. If they’re already cooked, just chop into smallish pieces and toss them in the pan long enough to warm them and proceed with the recipe from there. As with most my recipes, I rely on formula and technique more than the ingredients. So, let’s talk about that:

How do you make an omelet fluffy?

Whisking cold water (not milk!) into the eggs just before cooking them gives a nice airy lift to the omelet. The scientific upshot is that the tiny water droplets evaporate quickly in the heat of the pan, creating airy pockets inside the egg mixture. If you want even more fluff, separate the eggs before you begin (this works best when they’re cold) and whip the whites into a soft foam (this works best at room temperature). Fold this into the rest of your egg mixture just before pouring into the hot pan.

Which cheese melts best for an omelet?

Good melting cheeses include Monterey jack, cheddar, Colby, Muenster, Havarti, Gouda and gruyere. Hard or crumbly cheeses such as feta, chevre and parmesan will add tons of flavor; just don’t expect gooey goodness from them, as they pretty much hold their shape when warmed. Whenever possible, grate your cheese from a block. The packaged pre-shredded cheeses are coated to prevent sticking in the bag, and this also prevents them from melting well.

Do you need a special pan for an omelet?

Years ago, my mom had one of those hinged, fold-over pans “designed for omelets,” but this is absolutely not necessary. It didn’t produce a fabulous omelet and mostly just made a mess. My go-to pan for omelets is a good non-stick skillet with curved sides. The shape and coating makes it easier to slide your spatula underneath the set egg mixture for folding and serving. If your skillet is not coated, swirl in a little extra oil just before adding the eggs, to guard against sticking.

This recipe is a delicious way to work in an extra serving of vegetables and works especially well as “breakfast for dinner.” Three eggs make just the right size for my husband and me to share, but we are not big eaters at breakfast. Feel free to throw in a fourth egg with no other adjustment needed.

Ingredients

Extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper

1 thick slice of onion, finely chopped (we like sweet onions, but red or yellow ones are fine)

3 to 4 mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (cremini is my go-to, but white button or shiitake would also work)

Big handful of fresh baby spinach, roughly chopped and tough stems removed

3 large eggs, room temperature

About 1/2 tsp. prepared Dijon mustard (or hot sauce for a spicier twist)

Splash of cold water

1/3 cup freshly shredded cheese (or less if using more pungent cheese, such as Parmesan or feta)

Tools

Get Cooking!

Place a 10 inch non-stick skillet over medium heat and add a generous swirl of olive oil.

When you notice the oil beginning to shimmer and flowing easily around the pan, add your chopped onions. Give them a stir and cook until they are just soft but not quite browning, about 2 minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms and toss them around with your wooden utensil to be sure they get lightly sautéed on both sides. Add the chopped baby spinach leaves and stir until wilted and noticeably reduced, but still bright green. Salt and pepper to taste.

While the veggies are doing their thing, crack your eggs into a large measuring cup, add Dijon mustard (or hot sauce) and whisk briskly until lightly foamy. Add a splash of cold water – about 1 Tablespoon – and whisk again until light and foamy. You want lots of bubbles in this mixture, so whip it…whip it good!

Spread out the sautéed veggie mixture evenly in your pan. Slowly pour the eggs around the outer edge of the mixture, encircling your veggie ingredients, then pour gently to “fill in” and cover the entire mixture. Again, salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook about 2 or 3 minutes, or until the egg mixture looks set about one half inch around the edges but still wet and somewhat loose in the center.

Sprinkle shredded cheese over the entire mixture, turn off the burner and place a cover over the pan, allowing trapped heat and steam to finish cooking the eggs and melting the cheese into them. This will take about 3 minutes. Using a wide silicone spatula, fold in half. Or for a slimmer omelet, fold one third toward the center, then fold the other side over the top of that, as if folding a letter. Carefully cut the omelet in half crosswise to share the other half with your other half, and enjoy!

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