I got up in the morning and was very excited to hear the birds on the trees right by my apartment. I opened the window and for the first time this year I smelled the freshness in the air and in the melting snow. I felt restless and excited, so I put my rain boots on (lots of puddles on the sidewalks), my coat and my red polka dot scarf and I went on a search for fresh spring ingredients.
Minnesota is no Italy or even NYC, so my local farmers market does not offer much local fresh foods in the winter (aaah, yes and the winter here lasts on average until May). So I went to my co-op. I wanted to cook some lake fish with greens (after all we are the land of 10,000 lakes), but to my disappointment I found that the only local fish I can find is not fresh but smoked and pretty much all the greens and veggies were a produced in Mexico or California.
So, I could either go home defeated or grab some Mexican produce and make a Mexican inspired dish. I did the second.
I am obsessed with cucumbers and yogurt, the Bulgarian speaking in me, so I grabbed those plus some avocados, cilantro, lime, mahi mahi fish and fingerling potatoes and I headed home. I wanted to make a cold cucumber and avocado soup to go with the fish, but as it often happens, I ended up with something else.
I have made cold soups before with much less ingredients and they tasted so good and fresh, but this one kept coming bland and tasteless. I changed the proportions over and over again and I kept making it over and over again – still bland. So I went back to the store and grabbed some green apples, fresh mint and tomatillos (for all of you who haven’t tasted tomatillos – they are green tomatoes that taste like apple and lime, but they have the texture of tomatoes; they are used in Mexican cuisine). Back in the kitchen, I added all of the new ingredients back to the soup, and sure enough, the soup became more flavorful and complex. I was happy with the result but as I kept tasting it, I realized that the texture was resembling more of a blended juice than a soup. Cream soups are velvety and smooth and that is because they either have milk or butter. Those two were out of the question in my soup because the milk would curdle from all the acid ingredients and the butter would not melt in the cold soup. I could add some more yogurt, but I didn’t want the soup to thicken or become more tangy. So I decided to add just a bit of coconut milk – sure enough that fixed it and I was one happy bird.
As a reward for all of that hard work, I poured myself a bowl of soup and when I finished half of it, I thought that it might work better if it was served as a sauce to the fish, rather than as a soup.
I pan seared the fish for a couple of minutes. Fish is so delicate and perfect in nature. When overcooked it tastes rubbery and dry, so about 3 minutes on a non-stick skillet is enough.
I added some cumin seeds to the fingerling potatoes since cumin is widely used in Mexican cuisine, and I baked them together. The toasted cumin added a magical flavor to the perfectly baked potatoes, and it was a match made in heaven to the avocado-cucumber sauce.
And don’t forget to tell me how it turned out for you.
Mahi mahi with avocado cucumber sauce
Avocado cucumber sauce
• 1 1/2 ripened avocados
• 1/2 English cucumber, peeled and chopped
• 2 tomatillos, chopped
• 1/2 green apple, peeled, cored and chopped
• 1 shallot, minced
• 1/2 cup plain yogurt
• 1/2 cup coconut milk
• 1 cup cilantro leaves
• 2 limes, juiced
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
• Sea salt
Mahi-mahi and potatoes
• 1 1/2 lbs mahi-mahi fish
• 1 lb fingerling potatoes
• 1 teaspoon raw cumin seeds
• Sea salt
• Olive oil
Place all the ingredients for the avocado cucumber sauce in a blender and blend until smooth (about 2 minutes). Set aside if using right away, or refrigerate if using in several hours. You can make the sauce up to 2 days ahead.
Meanwhile place the mahi-mahi on a plate to become to a room temperature. If the fillets are large cut them into pieces that are about 4x3”.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. While the oven is heating, place a baking dish/sheet to heat. Place the potatoes and cumin in a mixing bowl, add a liberal amount of olive oil (3-4 tablespoons), salt and pepper, and toss together until the potatoes are nicely coated. Remove the hot baking sheet from the oven (careful, it will be hot!), add the potatoes and spread them around with a spoon. Lower the heat to 425 F and bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on your oven. The potatoes are ready when they are tender on the inside.
When the potatoes are ready, heat a large non-stick pan over medium-high heat (do not add oil). The pan needs to be very hot. Season the fish on both sides, first with a generous amount of olive oil, then with coarse salt and pepper. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the hot pan and add the fish. Do not move or constantly flip the fillets, otherwise they will form a crust*. Sear the fish on one side, so that each fillet is cooked 2/3 of the way (watch the thick side of the fish, it will start to change from light pink (or opaque) color to white; this is how you can monitor how cooked the fish is). This will take 2-3 minutes. Then flip the fillets and cook for an additional minute.
Place each fillet on a plate, add a generous amount of the avocado-cucumber sauce and the warm fingerling potatoes. If desired, add a spoonful of plain Greek yogurt.
* Three things happen when a crust is formed through searing. First, the high heat and the crust lock all the juices inside the fillet and prevent it from drying out and becoming overcooked and rubbery. Second, the fillets are easier to flip. Third, the crust adds extra an flavor and texture to the fish.