Za’atar Salmon, Israeli Couscous Salad & xx

Being the child of a military officer, I have moved many times. Even after graduating college and living on my own, I still have continued to move with the regularity of a new assignment, almost every three years. I’m sure I could really dig into this and find something deeper but on the surface, I like change. I like newness, I enjoy meeting new people and discovering new places. I know I was also on a search for a city that was walkable, vibrant and had the option of a sustainable career for myself and my fiancé. But the moving has increasingly been getting harder. Nothing in the fabric of a move has changed from when I was a five-year-old till now.  You must leave good friends, clean out clutter, leave favorite restaurants, parks or places where you played till long after the sun went down. Memories and must-have’s are all you take with you. I have been very surprised how the last couple of moves left a visible ache for the friends we had to leave behind. I don’t remember that same feeling in previous moves, but time may have numbed it. I have really started to evaluate this drive for change that has required my partner and I to change state residencies four times in the last seven plus years. I don’t have a final theory yet, but a work in progress.

Lets talk about this in terms of food. Think of a classic protein, salmon perhaps. Salmon is delicious in its own right and usually paired with some starch and some vegetable. After a while, it is easy to get stuck in a salmon rut, cooking it the same way, feeling bored with salmon. So how do we surprise our palate and enlighten our senses so we crave or enjoy salmon again? Move across the country? Maybe the salmon is better on the west coast. (Actually, it is when in season, but that is besides the point, at this moment) The salmon itself is never really going to change. I present to you Za’atar Salmon and Israeli Couscous salad. What do you need to do to change the experience of the salmon? Add in something unexpected. Za’atar is a stunning spice blend, bright, tart and savory. It complements and changes this classic fish. Pair it with a starch and a vegetable that is also unexpected from the usual and you have a whole new dish. How do you think fantastic chefs blow our minds and make us crave more? They throw in something unexpected.

I choose xx for the vinyl because keeping a few things the same or a few things recognizable, really helps you appreciate the unexpected changes both in dishes and in life. The XX – xx is a solid album for cooking. It is groove music. You can find a groove while listening to it and slip into that groove while cooking. I think it also pairs incredibly well with the colors in the couscous salad and vibrancy of the XX. Let me know if you agree.

So what is my working theory? I am planning on throwing in more of the unexpected and expecting that this cures my three year itch. Having a job that I love, an extremely walkable city and living close to my brother also helps this newer city’s odds. So does proximity to delicious seafood, fantastic restaurants and incredible light for food photos. Testing out this working theory begins now…

Vinyl: The XX – xx

xxvinyl

Za’atar Salmon and Israeli Coucous Salad

Prep Time – 20 minutes

Cook Time – 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Israeli or pearl couscous
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons of EVOO
  • 2 tablespoons avocado oil
  • 2 (6 ounces) skin on wild salmon filets (1 inch thick will work best)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 teaspoons za’atar spice blend
  • 1 pound Swiss chard
  • 1/4 cup white vermouth
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1/8 cup pitted Kalamata olives, diced
  • 1 teaspoon capers, minced
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta
  • 1/2 lemon

Instructions

  1. Cook couscous according to package directions, toasting with the olive oil prior to boiling. Once cooked, pour into a medium bowl.
  2. While the couscous is simmering away, pour one tablespoon of avocado oil over the two salmon fillets. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Rub 1 teaspoon of za’atar on each side of the salmon (top and skin side).
  3. Meanwhile, remove the chard leaves from the stems. Chop the stems into 1/4 inch pieces and chop the leaves roughly.
  4. Heat a non stick pan with the other tablespoon of avocado oil. When the oil is hot, place the salmon skin side down in the pan. Sear in the pan for 6 minutes until skin appears crispy. Turn fish to cook the other side and sear until the fish is slightly flaky and opaque. Place the fish on a serving dish or plate.
  5. Add the vermouth and the chard stems to the still hot non stick pan. Cook for just under a minute. Season with salt and pepper. Add the chard leaves, stir well and cover with a lid. Cook for two to three minutes until the leaves are wilted and a brighter green.
  6. Add the chard to the couscous, mix in the pomegranate seeds, olives, capers and feta. Squeeze the lemon over the couscous, mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper, if needed.
  7. Serve the salmon over a bed of the couscous salad.

Notes

This can easily be made gluten free using brown rice instead of the Israeli couscous.

I enjoyed this dish with a gin martini. The vermouth used to cook down the swiss chard helped ensure that this paired wonderfully.

Other fish that may be used, arctic char or striped bass.

This recipe was adapted from an Epicurious recipe, January 2015.

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