Ancho Chili-Rubbed Cod with Red Cabbage Slaw & Avocado Crema

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I once joked that my life in New York could be summed up like this: "Work, work, work and avoiding carbs." It wasn't until I moved to the ranch almost five years ago that I slowly began embracing breads, pasta and potatoes again. I became, shall we say, less obsessed with being skinny. There was no pressure because I was living remotely. I went through phases of enjoying everything and then inevitably "reigning it in." For the most part, everything balanced out. As I'm inching up towards a new age bracket, though, I've come to the realization that I have no choice but to be more consistent.

I recall reading about Helen Gurley Brown's radically restrictive diet and how she maintained it her entire life. For starters, she counted her almonds, faithfully ate canned tuna fish for lunch, and considered sugar-free Jell-O a heavenly dessert. According to her, it was just a matter of willpower and discipline. I believe she was 105 pounds up until the age of 97. Although she was extreme, she was definitely onto something. 

I know that I function best with mostly protein with a bit of non-starchy vegetables and broth yet I often get side-tracked. (My weak points include pasta and noodle dishes, chicken tenders, starchy side dishes like mashed potatoes, rice or French fries, and flaky pastries.) Some people do well with vegetarian- or vegan-based diets or having smoothie bowls and juices. I just needed to focus on eating what was right for me. 

A few weeks ago, I went on a diet of just poached chicken breasts and baby zucchini, dipped in a homemade saffron aïoli, while sipping the poaching liquid on the side. Sometimes I switched out chicken for salmon. My stomach started flattening out. It was kind of amazing. I wondered if I could consign myself to this routine for the rest of my life. 

But then it got a little monotonous. 

I was missing a certain vibrancy to my meals. A little spice. A fresh burst of flavor. For some reason, I started craving fish tacos. And it dawned on me that I could make fish tacos–without the tortilla.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not laying claim to this invention. "Fish taco salads" do exist, however, they usually contain a whole slew of ingredients like black beans, cheese, corn, tortilla strips, etc. My version is pared back to a smoky ancho chili-rubbed cod with a snappy slaw of finely shredded red cabbage and a luscious avocado crema. (Obviously, this would be delicious folded into a warm tortilla, if you so desire!) After weeks of plainly poached foods, this meal was a fiesta on my tastebuds!


Serves 2

For the cod:
1/2 lb. to 3/4 lb. cod filet, pin bones removed
1 tablespoon ancho chili powder
1/2 lime
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon canola oil

For the red cabbage slaw:
1/2 small red cabbage
1/2 small red onion
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped scallions
1/2 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt, to taste

For the avocado crema:
1 very ripe avocado
2 tablespoons fat-free Greek yogurt or sour cream
1/2 lime
1 clove of garlic
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
A few slices of jalapeño
Drizzle of Sriracha
Drizzle of honey
Sea salt, to taste

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1. Slice cod into 1-inch thick strips and place in a bowl. Season with ancho chili powder, fresh squeeze of lime juice, kosher salt and canola oil. Rub with hands until evenly seasoned. Let marinate for 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, finely shred the red cabbage and red onion. (Helpful if you have a mandoline. If not, by hand is fine!) Place in a medium-sized bowl and add chopped cilantro and chopped scallions. Dress with distilled white vinegar, olive oil and sea salt. Toss well with a pair of tongs. Set aside. 

3. In a food processor, add all the ingredients for the avocado crema and whiz until well-blended. Taste and adjust seasonings. Place in refrigerator until ready to serve. 

4. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat and cook marinated cod for 1-2 minutes, then flip to the other side. Cook until opaque and flaky. Cooking time may vary according to size of the strips of cod. Make sure it's cooked through.

5. To serve, use tongs to place a heap of the red cabbage slaw in the center of each serving plate and place a few pieces of cod on top. Add a dollop of the avocado crema. Serve.

 

 

A Brunch Burger Story

From the menu at Manuela

A burger on the menu is a fail-safe item for when nothing else interests you–not the braised rabbit; not the lamb skewers with couscous; not the grilled quail with cherry sauce. It's a solid stand-by. You know what you're getting with a burger: a bun and a patty of beef. However, when it's rendered unfamiliar, you can feel as though the rug has been pulled out from under you.

This past weekend, I met my friend Carmen for late brunch/early lunch in DTLA. She had been in her home country of Switzerland for months and we were long overdue for a catch-up. As we hit the streets, she suggested we go around the corner and check out Manuela, the restaurant that recently opened in the same building that houses the art gallery Hauser Wirth & Schimmel.

Originally, she thought we could casually grab a burger at Umami Burger, but discovering something new together sounded far more enticing. The restaurant had been open for less a week and we easily found two seats at the white marble bar. Louise Bourgeois' Spider sculpture loomed behind us in the open courtyard.

After skimming the menu, we engaged in the usual "what are you having" exchange. The dishes on Manuela's menu were distinctly rooted in Tex-Mex cuisine yet infused with a locally-sourced and seasonal spin. Everything was elevated for the sophisticated and in-the-know crowd--the duck breast is cured, the chicken is smoked and the hot sauce is fermented.

"What are you thinking?" I asked Carmen, still undecided.

"I think I might get the burger," she replied, clearly intent on it. "Wait, what do you think they mean by 'deer burger'?" 

"Deer... Like venison. You know, a cute little deer."

"Oh my god, no... I can't do that. I can't eat a deer!" she exclaimed with widened eyes. "Especially not for brunch! Why would they do that?" 

We both envisioned sweet, little Bambi weeping before us with thick wet lashes. Needless to say, our reliable burger option was effectively nixed off the list. Meanwhile, the biscuits and gravy sounded too heavy, the cornmeal pancakes seemed too breakfast-y at that hour, and we weren't quite hungry enough for the BBQ ribs. It was at that moment that I knew what to order. 

"I'm going to get the chilaquiles!" I declared. (As a Texan at heart, I do love chilaquiles.)

"What's that?" she wondered. 

How could I explain this hot mess to a Swiss-Italian person? "It's tortilla chips sautéed in a tomato-chile salsa. Some bits are soft and some are crispy and then they put a fried egg on top."

Sold!

You really can't lose with what is, essentially, breakfast nachos. I was delighted to have seen it on the menu. Manuela's version was top-notch. Every chip was perfectly coated with the tangy, spicy salsa and simultaneously soft and crispy, which is key. The delicious pile of chips was garnished with guacamole, crumbled queso fresca and a drizzle of crema. The egg, which came from one of their 12 rare-breed chickens from the garden out back, was truly the cherry on top.

As we were chowing down, a waitress breezed past us carrying a classic-looking hamburger. You could say that if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck...

"That must be the deer burger," Carmen remarked. "It looks good... But it's still a deer."

Ironic how what she thought was unfamiliar turned out to be more familiar than the seemingly familiar. We continued on with our chilaquiles

 

 

 

Chilaquiles

MANUELA
907 East 3rd Street
323.849.0480


I'm embarrassed to admit that, although I grew up in Texas–the birthplace of Tex-Mex cuisine–chilaquiles was a dish unknown to me until I lived in New York and my friend Hitha told me about it. I rarely see it on brunch menus but, then again, I also rarely go to Tex-Mex restaurants for brunch. I did, however, discover them on the menu at Manuela in DTLA, whose chef has a Texan background. 

Chilaquiles are sort of that fabulous thing you didn't know you wanted until you order it. Then, you're like, "Oh yeah... I totally wanted tortilla chips sautéed in spicy salsa with cheese and a fried egg on top!" It's also a great brunch dish to make at home after a party the night before, when you have plenty of leftover tortilla chips on your hands and a hangover to cure!

Chicharrón and Pickled Okra

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I'll have to admit that I have strange cravings. Sometimes I'm in the mood for something funky and off-beat to nibble on–something other than cheese and crackers... Something like chicharrón (Mexican fried pork rind) and pickled okra! It's Texas on a plate for me, those two flavors. Don't confuse chicharrón with the processed, puffed up pork rinds that you find sold in convenience stores. The Mexican version is more substantial and has a hearty crunch to it. We found a Mexican butcher shop in a nearby town that makes it fresh daily. I can't help but fill up a brown paper bag with the choicest pieces from the glass case every time we go. When we get home, I shake them into a large glass jar and keep it in the pantry, just in case I need a snack with my Corona. When I need a spicy kick, I'll add a few dashes of Cholula on top. Pickled okra's zippy tang is the perfect antidote to this fried snack!

Avocado with Chili Salt

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An avocado halve is Nature's ergonomically-shaped bowl of goodness—portioned just right for a midnight snack and satisfies any hankerings for something creamy and buttery. I sprinkled mine with Tajín, a brand of tangy Mexican chile salt and ate it in little scoops with a tiny silver spoon. The shell was scraped clean!

*If you don't have Tajín, I'm sure a sprinkling of salt, dried red chili flakes, and lime juice will work just fine!