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

Cod and Cabbage Salad.jpg

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

--

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.

 

 

Taverna Tony

TAVERNA TONY
23410 Civic Center Way
Malibu, CA 90265
T. 310.317.9667


A couple of years ago, after silently lamenting that I lacked a sense of adventure, I decided to drive to Malibu on my own from the ranch. Driving long distances was still new to me at the time and I had no idea that the canyon roads were going to be curvy the entire way. It felt death-defying–you might as well have asked me to go bungee-jumping! My palms were sweaty, my stomach was in knots, and I cursed myself for not driving straight into L.A. like I normally did.

Taking the road less travelled, though, has its perks because that's when I stumbled across Taverna Tony, a romantic, bougainvillea-shaded veranda enclosed by a traditional white stucco wall. With its terracotta tiles and bright cerulean blue touches, it looked as though this entire restaurant had been transplanted from a vibrant coastal town in the Mediterranean. Feeling proud that I had completed my mission safely and soundly, I confidently strode into the bar and ordered myself a glass of crisp white wine.

I can't resist a Greek menu, but the best things here aren't actually on the menu at all. Tony's highly addictive "house dip" is graciously sent out with a basket of a warm loaf of bread once you sit down. Apparently, the dip's main ingredients are avocado, red caviar, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice. The rest is a secret that's kept under lock and key. Every time I've returned since, I keep asking for the recipe, hoping one of the waiters will crack. But this is all in vain, which is wise because, instead of recreating it at home, I have no choice but to come back for more.

Of course, the crisp, bountiful salads and simply grilled seafood dishes are major draws, but my other favorites here include the avgolemono soup (a homemade chicken and orzo soup bolstered with egg yolks and lemon juice), the tender and smoky grilled baby octopus with spring onions, and the psarasoupa (a tomato-based fish and seafood soup). It's so hard not to fall in love with Greek food. If you make a day out of hanging out in Malibu, you must stop here!

Sautéed Clams with Fennel & Cannellini Beans

I got this recipe from Bon Appétit and took the liberty of renaming it as: Sautéed Clams with Fennel & Cannellini Beans. It was originally called "Clams in White Bean Sauce." But the cannellini beans are sautéed with the clams, so it's not really a "sauce," per se. And the presence of fennel is definitely pronounced, which I feel deserves recognition. What can I say, I'm a stickler for accuracy. Anyway, the reason why I'm posting it is because it's one of those easy, elegant dishes that you can easily whip up for a weeknight–or date night–dinner. Definitely worth sharing.

*Half of the fennel is finely chopped and sautéed with the beans; the other half is thinly sliced and made into a salad to garnish the dish. I took the pic before garnishing, hence, no fennel in my pic.


Adapted from Bon Appétit
Serves 4

1 15-ounce can cannellini beans or other medium white beans, rinsed
¼ cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
1 fennel bulb
3 garlic cloves
1 sprig rosemary
1 lemon
Handful of parsley leaves
36 littleneck or Manila clams, scrubbed
4 thick slices country-style bread, toasted

--

1. Toss beans in a medium bowl with a drizzle of oil; season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

2. Halve fennel and remove fronds (don’t toss the fronds!). Thinly slice one half of fennel and transfer to a medium bowl along with fronds. Place a damp paper towel directly on fennel to help prevent browning and set aside. Finely chop remaining half of fennel, then thinly slice garlic.

3. Heat ¼ cup oil in a large heavy pot over medium. Add chopped fennel, garlic, and rosemary sprig and cook, stirring often, until fennel is translucent and tender but still has some bite, about 5 minutes.

4. While that’s happening, remove 2 wide strips of zest from lemon with a vegetable peeler. Halve lemon and pick out seeds. Coarsely chop parsley.

5. Add clams and lemon zest to pot, squeeze in juice from a lemon half, cover pot, and cook until some clams start to open, 5–7 minutes. Toss and stir clams; use a slotted spoon to transfer any open ones to a medium bowl. Cover pot and cook until remaining clams open, checking sporadically and transferring them to bowl as they are done, 7–9 minutes; discard any clams that don’t open. Add reserved seasoned beans to pot and stir to combine; loosen sauce with water if it looks too tight. Return clams to pot, add half of parsley, and toss well.

6. Add remaining parsley to bowl with reserved sliced fennel and squeeze remaining lemon half over. Season fennel-herb salad with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Drizzle with a very small amount of oil and toss again.

7. Serve clams topped with salad and toasted bread for dipping into sauce.

*A @singlegirldin tip: Try sprinkling some aleppo pepper on top!

Grilled Whole Mackerel with Ginger-Scallion Sauce

I like to tag along with my friend Bill when he goes about his Sunday routine, which always includes a trip to the Hollywood Farmers' Market, a wine tasting at Domaine, and a visit to Cape Seafood and Provisions. My favorite part of the day is when we go to Cape Seafood because of the element of surprise that's involved–we never know what we'll come out with or what we'll do with it. As a creature of habit, it's especially fun to go with Bill because he has a knack for coming up with the most spontaneous and creative ideas. In the past, we've made paella, halibut marinara, grilled squid salad, and gambas a la plancha, for example

Last Sunday, we did our brainstorming aloud as we perused the shimmering wild-caught gems behind the glass case, but couldn't agree on the Dover sole or Atlantic cod. What to do, what to do...

"How about mackerel?" Bill suggested.

Mackerel? Mackerel is such a strong-tasting, oily fish. Unlike milder, white-fleshed fish–or tuna and salmon–mackerel was an unlikely choice, to be sure, but I was intrigued. What could we possibly do with it, I wondered. 

"We could grill it..." he said, trailing off with raised eyebrows.

Hmm... Asian cuisine... Japanese! Chinese! It was starting to come to me. We could incorporate stronger flavors that can stand up to the mackerel's pronounced flavor... Like ginger... And garlic!

"Yes!" I said excitedly. "We could make a ginger-scallion sauce! And rice! It's gonna be perfect!"

This dinner took us no time to pull together. In fact, the thing that took the longest to cook was the rice. If rice is the most difficult part of your meal, you know that you're good to go. 


1 whole mackerel, preferably wild-caught, scaled and gutted
1 cup of uncooked jasmine or basmati rice
1 small knob of fresh ginger, approximately 1.5 inches long, peeled
2 stalks of scallions
1 clove of garlic, peeled
Soy sauce, to taste
Sherry or rice vinegar, to taste (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Grapeseed oil or another neutral oil (if you only have olive oil, that's fine)

--

1. Cook rice according to instructions. (Bill adds a pat of butter to his.)

2. Preheat your BBQ grill.

3. Finely mince ginger, scallions, and garlic by hand or in a food processor. Transfer to a bowl. 

4. Start by adding 1/2 teaspoon of salt at a time to the chopped aromatics and incorporate evenly. Stir and taste. It should taste salty. 

5. Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl–except for the oil–starting with 1/2 teaspoon each. Then, slowly pour the oil into the bowl until it just covers the ingredients. Stir to incorporate evenly. Season to taste and set aside.

6. Cut a few deep slits into both sides of the fish. Mackerel is already very oily, but feel free to lightly coat it evenly with oil to prevent it from sticking to the grill. Season lightly with salt and pepper. 

7. Grill the fish for 7 minutes on each side, or until cooked through. The skin should start to char and crisp up. Be careful not to overcook as mackerel has a tendency to dry out.

8. Serve with cooked rice and ginger-scallion sauce on the side. (The ginger-scallion sauce is tasty on both the fish and the rice.)

 

The Sole Incident

The problem with not having a kitchen–or a car, for that matter–is that you have to plan your meals somewhat in advance. For breakfast, I usually keep a stock of Fage Greek yogurt in my mini-fridge, which I'll have with a cup of tea. For lunch, I will venture down to town where I'll pop in somewhere for something quick and easy. For dinner, if I'm not catching up with a friend, I have to decide how to make food appear at The Clubhouse. Getting food delivery, while at-times convenient, is not very cost-effective for one person if you consider the food order minimum, delivery fee and tip for the driver.  Thank goodness for prepared foods counters, where you can point to what you want, decide how much of it you want, and leave the rest of the work to your trusty ol 'microwave.

Speaking of which, I got caught in a weird tailspin at the prepared foods counter at Joan's on Third the other day. One of their daily specials was sole meunière, sautéed sole filets in lemon butter with capers and parsley–one of my favorite dishes in the world. The price card read $9 per 1/2 lb., which was reasonable enough. I thought it'd make a nice dinner if I added a side of asparagus ($6) and mashed potatoes ($3.25). Half-a-pound of sole filets, though it sounded like a lot, would surely mean leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day. Half-a-pound, it is, then. 

When I got to the front of the line, there were two girls standing behind me–maybe a little too close. For whatever reason, this narrow proximity between us triggered a strange sense of anxiety in me. I felt disoriented, scatterbrained and rushed, even if it was all imagined.

"Hi, can I get half a pound of the sole?" I asked, nervously.

Is it odd for me to order "half a pound" of something? Does that sound like too much food?

"Sure, let me weigh that out for you," said the counter person, as she lifted several filets on a paper plate to be weighed. 

I started feeling light-headed and my heart beat faster as I watched her check the food scale.

"OK, that'll be murmurmur five murmurmur..."

Wait, did I hear that right? That doesn't make any sense. The sign clearly says $9 per 1/2 lb. Am I crazy? It's so noisy in here. Did she say "twenty-five dollars"? Or did I completely mishear and she meant that 1/2 lb. is five pieces? Mental hyperventilation taking place now.

"Oh, in that case, I'll just take one piece."

"Are you sure? That's just half of a filet. Do you want two?"

Oh, gosh. Why did I say one piece? That's not going to be enough for dinner. But everyone in L.A. is skinny. I need to go on a diet. Cannot compute. Do not understand. Confusion. Confusion. CONFUSION.

"No, no, one is fine," I said, feeling out of breath, "And a side of mashed potatoes and asparagus, please."

I wanted to get out of there. The room was spinning. I felt an enormous pressure from the girls waiting in line. What's taking so long??? Help!

I still cannot comprehend what unfolded internally, but I walked out with half of a sole fillet and a small side of mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus. It was exactly the right amount of food. There were no leftovers. (I did, however, wish I took her up on that second piece of sole. That way, I could have avoided eating the entire container of mashed potatoes.)


*My friend Bill read this post after I'd already told him over the phone what had happened. "I still don't understand what happened. But don't try to explain to me again because it'll only make things more confusing," he said. Oh, good, I was able to, in this post, accurately convey the same level of confusion that I had experienced!