If you’re a diet-avoider like me, spring usually marks the time for getting creative about cutting down on foods high in fat and shedding excess pounds and inches gained over winter months and the holiday season.
Though it’s still too cold and likely illegal to fish right now, keep in mind that as residents of the Land of 10,000 Lakes we have access to a variety of fresh fish known to be high in protein and to contain a good source of magnesium and potassium, vitamin B12, phosphorus and selenium — nutrients that promote heart health and digestion. So, this year, think about getting that fishing pole out of the garage or basement and putting it to use!
Of course, buying fish from your local market is always an option, and there are many varieties to choose from — whiting, perch, tilapia, salmon, walleye and cod to name a few. It’s really your choice.
Now, I realize that as African American people we like to fry our proteins. Next to chicken, fish is probably one of our favorite fried foods, but the point is to get creative here, remember? So, to think creatively, let us consider ways to substitute seasoned salt and other processed powders with fresh herbs and natural flavors such as cilantro, saffron, lemon, honey and hot peppers to add flavor and bring that soulfulness we’re known for to our foods.
Whoever said fish had to be deep fried in order to taste good? I’m here to tell you that there are plenty of ways to work around the fishiness of fish and to make it pleasing to the palate and soul, as well as useful and nourishing to the body.
Some time ago, my neighbor, who is Hmong, began the yearly tradition of sharing his freshly caught fish with my family. He now brings at least two large freshly caught varieties to my door each year.
In the beginning, when this yearly tradition started, I didn’t know what to do with the fish, so I would just sling it in the freezer and tell myself that I’d fry it someday or give it away. In most instances, I did neither, and the fish would be overcome with freezer burn.
Since I could not stand the idea of throwing away food or demeaning the great gift my kind neighbor was sharing with me, I decided to learn how to scale and fillet the fish myself — no small feat for someone like me who can’t stand chopping off heads and all — and learn how to prepare these large delicacies in new and creative ways without tossing them into the deep fryer — though I was tempted.
What I learned through the experience of having to prepare freshly caught fish is that it goes well with sautéed spinach and tastes fabulous when it’s seasoned with fresh lemon, honey and hot peppers. When spinach is lightly sautéed, the deep rich flavor is enhanced, and when honey is added, the natural bitterness of spinach disappears.Yum!
One cup of spinach has nearly 20 percent of the recommended daily allowance of dietary fiber, which aids in digestion, prevents constipation, maintains low blood sugar, and curbs overeating. When eaten fresh or lightly cooked, spinach is nutrition powerhouse!
Hot peppers like jalapenos or Serrano peppers are known to boost metabolism, and honey is good for healthy lung functioning and allergy relief. You can’t go wrong with these ingredients! At least I don’t think so, but don’t quote me on that.
This spring, in addition to your usual housecleaning ritual, make it a point to reinvent new ways of preparing old recipes by replacing those processed salts and powders in your cupboards with fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables to accompany and add flavor to your foods.
The following recipe is one I created a few years ago when I decided to break free from the mold, be adventurous, and try something new with fresh fish. I hope you enjoy!
2 pounds of flaky white fish fillets of your choice
2 finely chopped hot peppers (jalapeno or
A pinch of ground saffron (optional)
4 cups of fresh spinach
A few sprigs of fresh cilantro
Liberally season the fillets with honey, saffron, and a pinch of table salt. Set aside and let marinate for at least one hour.
Wash spinach, ensuring that all sand and grit has been removed, and refrigerate.
Heat a medium-sized frying pan with a small amount of salted butter (just enough to prevent burning or sticking) and add the hot peppers until they become soft. Then add the spinach and sauté until the leaves are reduced to a dark green color. Drizzle honey and freshly squeezed lemon over the spinach and stir on low heat.
In a separate medium-sized frying pan, heat about one tablespoon of vegetable oil and one tablespoon of salted butter or margarine. When the oil is about 175 degrees, lay the fillet in the pan and sear for about four minutes per side.
Place the cooked spinach on a plate decoratively with the fish on top and spoon some of the excess honey sauce from the fish over the top. Garnish with a small bit of chopped cilantro. Serve hot and enjoy!
Michelle Lawrence, MA, MPH, specializes in cooking African-based dishes and relationship-enhancing dining experiences for families and couples. She can be reached at 612-251-9516.