Tuesday, October 27, 2009



I really love meat, but more and more of our friends are choosing fish and because we love cooking for them (well, Richard does – I like making ‘pretty’), we’re always looking for exciting new fish recipes. Happily, my friend Lise does fish really, really well and the last time I was at her house for a meeting of our ‘girls only’ Book Group (well, it used to be a book group, but after a ‘hundred’ years together, it’s now an “eating, sipping wine, catching up with dear friends” group) she made amazing halibut in garam masala – a dish so Indian you could almost hear a sitar sounding from the sauce. She has a big wonderful kitchen, so we all stood around the stove and watched her put the finishing touches on the dish. Then, after our first bite, we demanded she give us the recipe. Well, I demanded she give Richard the recipe. It’s really that good even though it’s not meat. So…

…when our friends Kathy and Gary came for Saturday supper, Richard decided to make “Lise’s” halibut. Of course, he’s never made this dish AND has never even tasted it, but if I loved it … me the meat eater and someone who has a limited appreciation of Indian food… it had to be good.

Before we sat down at the dining table, we gathered on our deck for appetizers. Again, the night was beautiful and the little lights in the trees twinkled off the surface of the pool and the candles on the table gave off that lovely candle glow that makes us all look softer – even younger.

However, one thing I’ve learned from entertaining often, not everything always goes according to plan. Maybe it rains when you’ve planned an outdoor barbeque. Maybe you burn a dish or run out of wine. But, usually your guests will roll with the punches. Case in point…

Kathy opted to start the evening with a martini. I make fairly good ‘dry’ martinis (Kathy makes great ones!), so I was a little nervous when I gave her a ‘shaken not stirred’ cocktail made with barely a drop of dry vermouth and more than a drop of vodka from Ukraine. Only after I presented the drink, complete with a green olive, did I learn that her martini of choice was made with gin. Oops – faux pas #1. I had totally forgotten that the original martini invented so many years ago was made with gin and that some people still preferred gin even in this “designer vodka” era. I immediately insisted on remaking the drink, but to no avail. She laughed. How could she not have a martini made from vodka that friends had schlepped all the way back from Kiev?

Out on the deck, we dove into the cheese (again with truffle oil) on baguette and the tuna dip I’ve written about before. And keeping with the night’s Indian “theme,” Richard also made a healthful, quite delicious curried carrot spread (recipe below) served with water crackers and crudités. The guys sipped Kenwood Reserve pinot noir and I had Bogle chardonnay, a really nice, moderately priced, buttery wine.

Because we were having such a good time Richard lost track of time by the time he went inside to cook. Timing is everything. To complement the fish, he had planned to make brown rice, but that takes almost an hour to cook (faus pas #2- even he makes mistakes – thank God!). What to do? The appetizer course had just about run its ‘course’… Couscous! It only takes minutes and is “Indian.” Sadly, our pantry was bare of couscous. But we did have quinoa which only takes 15 minutes and would be done by the time he finished the fish. Saved by the quinoa. So as he solved his mini-crisis (unbeknownst to us) and finished preparing the night’s meal, the rest of us finished our drinks and enjoyed the night air.

When he called us to the dinner table I just had to smile – not only did the food look beautiful on the plates, it smelled delicious (recipe below). When we took our first bites, we kvelled (I’m not Jewish, but this Yiddish word describes how we all reacted – with joy).

For dessert Richard departed from India and served a cinnamon pound cake he had made that morning. But Kathy and Gary had also brought as a host/hostess gift a Victor Benes cake from a very popular bakery here in L.A., so Richard decided to serve both and freeze the leftovers. On top of the pound cake, Richard put a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a thick strawberry sauce he had made earlier which sat proudly on one side of the dessert plate facing a slice of the Victor Benes cake with caramelized fruit.

The dessert ‘beverage’ – Vosges Haut-Chocolat, La Parisienne dark hot chocolate with Tahitian vanilla bean. This had been a ‘hit’ at an earlier dinner party, so why not serve it again? It was a delicious way to end the evening. I think our friends agreed.


3 cups slice carrots
¾ cup chopped onion
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons olive oil or cooking oil
1 Tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 15-oz can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
¾ teaspoon salt
Thinly sliced green onion (optional)

In a medium covered saucepan cook carrots in small amount of boiling water – about 15 minutes or until very tender. Drain.

Meanwhile, in small skillet cook onion and garlic in hot oil until tender. Stir in curry powder and cumin. Transfer carrots and onion mixture to food processor; add beans and salt. Cover and process until smooth.

Transfer to serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours (or up to 3 days). Makes 3 cups
Top with chopped green onions and serve with crackers or crudités.


Approx. 6 Tablespoons garam masala spice mix
(recipes for spice mix can be found in the pictured cookbooks)

6-8 Tablespoons Olive oil
Halibut – four 4-5 oz pieces (dinner for 4)
4 Tablespoons of chopped garlic (or fewer)
6 shallots, thinly sliced lengthwise
3 Tablespoons of chopped ginger
1 red pepper, chopped finely
4-5 thin stalks of lemongrass, about 3 inches long
1 can of coconut milk, NOT low fat
1 small can of tomato sauce
juice of one lime
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
1 Tablespoon ground coriander
1 Tablespoon curry powder
1 Tablespoon ground cardamom
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
rice pilaf or couscous or quinoa or brown rice

Rub halibut pieces with garam masala spice mix, let sit
Brown & cook halibut, leaving slightly undercooked in olive oil over medium flame

In another large, deep skillet, heat another 3-4 Tablespoons of olive oil, adding about 3 Tablespoons garam masala spice mix. Slightly cook the spice combination
Add garlic and shallots, sauté.
Add the chopped red pepper, ginger & lemongrass. Continue to sauté.
Add coconut milk and tomato sauce, let cook for 3-4 minutes. Sauce will start to thicken
Add cumin, curry powder, cardamom and ground coriander. Continue cooking.
Add lime juice and salt to taste.
Toss in 2/3 cup of the cilantro, adding back the halibut pieces and any juice.
Let fish warm in the sauce.

Serve over rice pilaf or couscous or quinoa or brown rice. Garnish with cilantro.


Richard said...

Lise, if you're reading this, thanks!! As you can see from Ilona's lovely description, the dish came out wonderfully. Will I make it again? You bet your sweet cardamoms!

Anonymous said...

Lonie, I love reading your dinner posts! Next best thing to being able to clink glasses with you.
Andrea R

Susan said...

I love fish, too. Wonderful post. Thanks for the halibut recipe.

ilona saari said...

Thanx guys -- and I'd love to clink a glass w/ you Andrea

Gary Young said...

As one of the guests at this dinner, I can safely and happily say that it was memorable.

I was impressed at Richard's improvisational ability, no doubt coming from his theatre days. Not a glitch...well, apparently a glitch, but definitely not a hitch (no more rhymes, please). We were so thoroughly enjoying the atmosphere and the amazing appetizers, that nothing seemed the slightest bit off base.

The flavors. Well, I am a fan of Indian food, but it is often very heavy handed, very salty, and leaves me with a leaden feeling. This was the best Indian food I've ever had. Not salty, very light and subtle, and yet in its subtlety there were so many levels of taste. Truly a meal to savor rather than wolf down, which is an eating technique that I learned from my years in Summer Stock. I'm still re-training.

The meal is obviously a bit labor-intensive, so it may not be first on anyone's cooking agenda. But if you follow the recipe completely, you will not be disappointed, even if you are a crazy meat eater.

It's a meal and an experience that we've been telling our friends about.

Should we feel intimidated next time we serve our brisket in beer and cranberries? Ilona says that we shouldn't worry. But what's the value of entertaining if you can't worry a little?

Gary Young

Kathy Young said...

Richard and Ilona,
This dinner was one of the very very best that I have ever eaten. The presentation was so beautiful and the food, from the fabulously, delicious appetizers to the magnificently prepared dinner and dessert, was an experience that neither I nor Gary will ever forget!! We will keep photos of the dinner table and main course permanently on our phones!!! You guys are the best, and we love and appreciate you so much. Your home was like walking into the best of the B&Bs, and, by the way, the vodka martini was one of the best that I have ever had! Having appetizers outside in your magnificently lit backyard, was such a special way to start this wonderful evening. Again, this was a most memorable evening. Thank you so much for putting forth such tremendous effort and making it such a unique and yummy experience!!! With much love and appreciation, Kathy

Steve said...

I'll definitely be making this recipe! Looks great!

Anonymous said...

YUM! Now that your blogs come with photos as well, they are twice as tempting to me...I still can't cook, but I can SO imagine eating! I also really liked the line about Richard being the cook while you 'make pretty'--this blog is great! XOXOX Dan

Anonymous said...

Sounds delectable! I love Indian food.

But, to get even with you for writing in such deliciously descriptive terms about food I'm not tasting, I'm going to start writing about the gourmet dinners I've been cooking for my frequent intimate dinner parties.

You like fiction, don't you?


Anonymous said...

I'll be trying it here in Berlin. Can't get those nice Halibuts here but we can improvise. I heard they were becoming extinct soon. Sidney

ilona saari said...

Thanx for all the kind words - I can't wait to show Richard... and Sid, I imagine any nice white fish would work w/ this recipe. Oh, and Michael - I love reading your fiction ;o)

Anonymous said...

Looks yummy! Will have to try recipe sometime soon. Ellie

ellie said...

The recipe looks yummy, will have to try one day. Great Blog... Ellie

Richard said...

Wouldn't you know it... there was sauce left after the dinner, so two nights later I warmed it and added some shrimp... served it over brown rice (yes, I planned in advance this time!) and voila! A second dinner! An Indian dish reincarnated!

Chimi said...

WHAT? Sss Sss Sah Sah Cilantro? The Halibut in Garam Masala has Cilantro ... and an entire CUP of it at that? OMG! A cup of Kryptonite! LOL

When Richard ran into the Brown Rice conundrum, he should have tossed me an SOS. I would have suggested Ramen Noodles ... 3 minutes. Yes! :-)

I have no idea what Indian food would be. Is it extremely spicey? Or what would be the signature aspect of it?

Is that your table in the 1st Pic. Pretty fancy setup, Ilona.

ilona saari said...

Hey Chim -- Yes all the pictures of the tables on different blogs are pix of our table... The blog heading table was for our gourmet group dinner that I wrote about earlier in my blog re: Provencal food (w/ more pix)... Indian food can be 'spicey' ie: hot - but it's also 'spicey' - flavorful - common Indian spice is curry... also cumin, allspice and ginger... Don't think noodles would be that great w/ this particular dish ;o)

Chimi said...

Yikes! Your Blog Header table setup would be too much for me. I'd be intimidated. I'd probably get a panic attack from all the confusion with all the hardware, glassware and what have you-ware. I'd be like Julia Roberts' Vivian in that scene in Pretty Woman.

Okay Okay, so y'all wouldn't have had to go all Barbarian with Ramen Noodles. You could have still - "Kicked It Up ... Another NOTCH" with Velveeta Shells & Cheese!

I just finished snacking on a Prime Time snack of a Cheese, Pickle & Mayo sandwich.

saucyredhead said...

I love halibut and I love Indian food. Think this is a recipe I'd like to try!

ilona saari said...

LOL -- I just love your comments Chimi -- and I love Velveeta cheese -- it makes THE very best grilled cheese sandwiches and THE best mac & cheese.

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ilona saari said...

You're welcome. Break a leg w/ your college assignment!