Lent is a time when less can mean more, especially in the kitchen. Going without need not be faced with a frown. Let dietary restrictions spur creativity and boost flavor, however modest the meal.
Fish, for those whose faith traditions permit it, can come to the rescue during Lent. Lucy Waverman, co-author of The Flavour Principle (Harper Collins, $35), soon to be published in the United States, and Susanna Hoffman, co-author of the new Bold: A Cookbook of Big Flavors (Workman, $19.95), have plenty of ideas.
Waverman, Toronto-based author and food columnist for The Globe and Mail newspaper, says the easiest way to cook thicker pieces of fish, like halibut, Alaskan black cod, salmon or wahoo (ono), is to place them on an oiled baking sheet and bake in a 450-degree oven for 10 minutes per inch of thickness.
You can alter the flavor by brushing on various sauces and pastes, from a green Thai curry paste to a basil pesto to a barbecue sauce.
Thinner fish need lower heat for best cooking, she notes, adding that subtler seasoning accents also seem to work better with these types of fish.
One of Hoffmans favorite tricks is combining fish in a dish, such as fresh salmon garnished with smoked salmon and a watercress cream sauce.
As for cheese, Hoffman says she usually does not use it with fish but believes the saltiness of Parmigiano-Reggiano works.
Whatever you do, dont overcook. Waverman says fish should look opaque. A little bit of a shiny center is fine, she adds.
This Thai-inspired recipe is adapted from The Flavour Principle by Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol. Use haddock, whiting, cod or any white firm-flesh fish (shrimp is another option) for these cakes, which may be deep-fried instead of pan-fried, if desired. The authors use this dish as a first course to an all-fish menu, but you could serve it with a watercress salad for a light Lenten meal.
SPICY FISH CAKES WITH ZESTY CITRUS SAUCE
Prep: 30 minutes; chill: 1 hour; cook: 4-6 minutes per batch; makes: 8 cakes, 4 first-course servings
1 pound skinless haddock fillets
1/4 cup chopped green onions
2 tablespoons each, chopped: lemon grass, cilantro
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon each: fish sauce, Thai red curry paste
1 1/2 teaspoon grated lime zest
1 teaspoon lime juice
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 cup thinly sliced long beans or green beans
2 tablespoons oil
Zesty citrus sauce, see recipe
Cut fish into cubes. Place in a food processor or mini-chopper with green onions, lemon grass, cilantro, cornstarch, fish sauce, curry paste, lime zest and juice, sugar and egg. Pulse in short bursts until mixture is a smooth paste. Stir in long beans. Cover; refrigerate, 1 hour.
Roll mixture into 8 balls, a little more than 1/4 cup per ball. Press each ball flat to form a cake.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Fry cakes in batches until brown, 2-3 minutes per side. Add more oil to pan as needed. Drain cakes on paper towels.
Nutrition per serving: 192 calories, 9 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 105 mg cholesterol, 7 g carbohydrates, 20 g protein, 815 mg sodium, 1 g fiber
ZESTY CITRUS SAUCE
Makes: 1/2 cup
Sambal oelek chili paste may be found in Asian markets, specialty stores and some supermarkets.
Combine in a bowl: 1/4 cup water; 2 tablespoons each: chopped fresh mint, lime juice and lemon juice; 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon brown sugar; 1 tablespoon fish sauce; 1 teaspoon each: grated lime zest, grated fresh ginger and sambal oelek chili paste. Let sit for 1 hour before serving.