Let me start with some honesty: my wife’s eating habits are by far more nutritious and healthy than my own. If I lived alone, I would be a very unhealthy man. I would make very poor choices. I would not clean my room. This becomes strikingly and (sometimes) sickeningly obvious when she’s traveling and I’m at home.
Take her recent trip to Switzerland, for example. While she hiked the alps, drinking in the beauty of the landscape and dining on fresh vegetables and grains, I was at home, trying to think of new and different ways to cook organ meats. And though I spent some time working on a peasant’s version of foie gras (basically, smooth chicken liver pate cooked down with shallot and–because I did not have any cognac–you guessed it, bourbon), I was completely contented with a very large plate of fried chicken livers dipped in sweet ketchup and washed down with some cheap, very cold beer.
But because Raquelle is not always traveling, we find ourselves bumping heads over what we should cook, or buy at the grocery, or eat out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some kind of infantile weirdo who refuses to eat anything that is not either fried or called a “Chick’n Tend’r.” I eat my greens. I have a garden. I do yoga. I know what spirulina is.
What I’m trying to say is that dinners at our house are about compromise. If I can’t convince my wife that we haven’t had burgers in a long time (and so it wouldn’t be that bad to indulge ‘just this once’), we have to find a way to come up with a meal whose healthfulness doesn’t detract from it’s deliciousness. In other words, a vegetable stir-fry is great, so long as I’m allowed to use soy sauce for seasoning and toasted sesame oil for some ‘oomph.’
Recently, she made a very simple soup from coconut milk, broccoli, onion, and finely chopped hot pepper. She had picked up the recipe from 101 cookbooks, a very beautiful and extensive food blog with lots of good ideas on how to cook grains and greens. I must say that I watched in doubt as the soup cooked on the stove, a stockless broth, comprised of nearly 4 cups of tasteless tap water. I expected it to be thin, lacking in complexity, in dire need of salt, oil, anything…but I was wrong.
The coconut broccoli soup was simultaneously rich and light at the same time, like an elevated and complex version of a broccoli cheese soup, sans le fromage, bien sur. While it was certainly a welcome surprise, it stood in my mind as a kind of first course food. Served in a small ornately beautiful bowl at the beginning of the meal, it would be a sort of prelude to a culinary suite.
But then again, I considered how I could fortify the soup, what I could do to turn it into something more substantially delicious. The coconut milk, of course, was reminiscent of Thai and Vietnamese cooking. Which meant that it could be paired with lemongrass and cilantro and lime. And as for protein, I had seafood in mind: a couple enormous and spicy prawns or soft and sweet seared scallops (how’s that for unintentional alliteration?!). In the end, I went with a beautiful piece of atlantic salmon, seasoned well with salt and pink peppercorn and seared aggressively on both sides.
As for the baby carrots you see below, well, they don’t have anything to do with this dish. They were just beautiful and happened to be posing quite well on the day I was working on this very post. If you can’t stop thinking about carrots now, here’s a thought: roast them in the oven with olive oil, cumin, salt and pepper, and then finish them with good local honey and a generous squeeze of grapefruit or orange.
Here’s how you make this:
Coconut-Broccoli Soup with Seared Salmon (adapted from 101 cookbooks)
1 14-ounce can of full fat coconut milk
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 small serrano chile, chopped
2 stalks lemongrass, stubs removed, split lengthwise
2 teaspoons salt
4 1/2 cups water
3 large heads of broccol, cut into small florets
2 wild-caught salmon filets, about 6-ounces each
1 bunch green onions
Put a large pot on med-high heat and into it add a dallop of the thick cream from the top of the can of coconut milk. Once warm, stir in the garlic, onions, lemongrass, chile and salt. Let the veg sauté for a couple minutes until they begin to soften. Now add the remaining coconut milk and the water. For a richer soup, you can decrease the amount of water to 3 1/2 cups. Bring the soup to a boil, then add in the small broccoli florets. Let the broccoli cook just long enough for it to be tender, about 4 minutes. Remove the soup from the heat and let sit.
Meanwhile, heat a good glug of safflower oil in a pan on medium-high. Season the salmon liberally with salt and pepper on both sides. Just before the oil reaches the smoke point, carefully place the salmon into the pan, skin side down. Give it a gentle nudge to be sure the skin doesn’t stick. Let it cook for 4 minutes. After, 4 minutes, turn the salmon and let it cook 4 minutes more. The high heat and the quick cook time will yield a mélange of textures, from salt-crispy outer skin, to soft and tender inner flesh. Once out of the pan, spoon out a ladle-full of soup into the bowl and place the salmon on top. Season it generously with chopped green onion, fresh lime, and spicy red chili oil.