wild card wednesday: fish skewers with hawayej and parsley + roasted cauliflower and hazelnut salad

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Happy Wednesday, all!  Today marks the middle of January, my least favorite month.  It’s cold, there are no major celebrations, and it’s dark too early, just to name a few gripes.  Despite all of this, we must soldier on and make the best out of what we have, which brings me to the Wild Card Wednesday ingredient of the month: cauliflower.  Yes, that dreaded white, crunchy vegetable on every crudite plate that is never eaten.  Some of you may know about the transformative properties of roasting vegetables, and cauliflower performs beautifully in this endeavor.  Like January, no one likes cauliflower upon first blush, but since we have to live with it, we might as well enjoy it, right?

Both of these recipes come from the cookbook Jerusalem, written by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.  Both men were born in Israel, but Ottolenghi is Jewish and Tamimi is Muslim.  Together, they own a handful of delis in London and combine many tastes and flavors from all around the Middle East.  I was so excited to open this, along with another one of their cookbooks, Plenty, at Christmas this year.  My cousin Jessy (paying close attention to my Amazon wishlist) made an excellent choice!

The fish skewers have a strong depth of flavor–something that usually doesn’t come across with grilled fish.  It sits in the refrigerator in the hawayej–a Yemeni spice mix that you make from your pantry–and the flavor seeps into the filets very effectively.  The cauliflower salad is a true “party in your mouth” type of side dish; lots of interesting textures come out from the softness of the roasted cauliflower, the fruity pop of the pomegranate seeds, and crunch of the nuts and the celery.

So, here we go: a warm, vibrant, piquant plate for a dreary mid-week day in the doldrums.  Just the pick-me-up you needed!

Fish Skewers with Hawayej and Parsley

1 lb. (2 fillets) cod, halibut, or other firm white fish, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 cup chopped parsley

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 lemon, halved

4 bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 1 hour

Hawayej Spice Mix:

1 tsp. black peppercorns

1 tsp. coriander seeds

1 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds

4 whole cloves

1/2 tsp. ground cardamom

1/2 tsp turmeric

Start with the hawayej mix: place all of the mix ingredients into a spice grinder or use a mortar and pestle to grind the spices into an even mix.  Place the mix into a large mixing bowl.  Place fish, parsley, garlic, red pepper flakes, lemon juice, and 1 tsp. of salt into the bowl with the hawayej mix.  Mix well with your hands, then cover with plastic wrap and let fish sit for at least one hour in the refrigerator.

Place a ridged grill pan over high heat for about five minutes.  While you’re waiting for the grill pan to get hot, thread the fish pieces onto the bamboo skewers, leaving plenty of space between each piece (about four on each skewer).  Drizzle the fish with a small amount of olive oil, then grill for about 2 minutes on each side.  Grill the lemon halves and serve on the plate with the skewers.

Roasted Cauliflower and Hazelnut Salad

1 head cauliflower, broken into smaller florets

4 Tbsp. olive oil

1 large celery stalk, cut on an angle into 1/4-inch slices

5 Tbsp. hazelnuts, with skins

1/3 cup parsley leaves, picked

1/3 cup pomegranate seeds

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp. allspice

1 Tbsp. sherry vinegar

1 1/2 tsp. maple syrup

salt and cracked black pepper

Preheat oven to 425 F.  Mix the cauliflower with 2 Tbsp. olive oil, 1/2 tsp. salt, and some black pepper.  Spread the florets evenly in a roasting pan or on a cookie sheet and roast on the top oven rack for about 30 minutes, until the cauliflower is crisp and parts of it have turned golden brown.  Transfer to a large mixing bowl and set aside to cool down.

Turn the oven temperature down to 325 F.  Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and roast for about 10 minutes.  Allow the nuts to cool slightly, then chop and add to the cauliflower.  Add another Tbsp. of olive oil along with the remaining ingredients.  Serve at room temperature.

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