I LOVE MEAT, BUT…
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.
CURRIED CARROT SPREAD
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.
HALIBUT IN GARAM MASALA
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.