June 20, 2018

Dear friends,

If you’re one of those people who likes the idea of Hawaiian poke but doesn’t relish eating a bowl of raw fish — or maybe just paying for that much fresh tuna — I have a recipe for you.

In order to make poke less of an occasional treat and more of an everyday meal at my house, I devised a recipe for grilled mahi-mahi poke. I know, the whole point of the popular Hawaiian dish is raw fish, and a way to dress it up that isn’t sushi. But poke has been messed with so much already that searing the fish shouldn’t raise an eyebrow.

Originally, poke (pronounced POH kay) was cubed raw fish (often tuna), green onions, hot pepper flakes and sesame oil. Simple. But as it spread to menus across the country, it picked up more and more ingredients, from cucumbers and jicama to tomatoes and black beans. It’s even made now with tofu and cooked chicken.

My version doesn’t go that far. I merely chopped up a handful of cooling ingredients I’d like to eat in a summer salad — cucumber, avocado, green onions, sweet bell pepper and, for a touch of sweetness and a nod to poke’s origins, fresh pineapple.

I tossed the salad with cubes of grilled mahi-mahi because it was on sale. Any firm fish that can be cooked on a skewer without falling apart (halibut comes to mind) will do. Shellfish — shrimp, scallops — would be a good choice, too.

This grilled poke would be a good choice for an appetizer at a summer dinner with friends because the salad portion can be made well in advance and the fish added at the last minute. Or serve it over rice for a main course, or on spears of lettuce as a cocktail nosh. The sesame vinaigrette may be mixed in big batches and used on all kinds of salads. It’s delicious.

GRILLED MAHI-MAHI POKE

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Sesame vinaigrette (recipe follows)

1 ripe avocado, diced in 1/4-inch pieces

1/2 of a medium cucumber, unpeeled, diced in 1/4-inch pieces

1/4 cup red bell pepper in 1/4-inch dice

1/2 cup sliced green onions

1/2 cup pineapple in 1/4-inch dice

Salt to taste

12 oz. mahi-mahi fillets, cut in 1-inch pieces

2 tsp. toasted sesame seeds

Build a charcoal fire or heat a gas grill to medium-high. Soak 4 long wooden skewers in warm water.

Make vinaigrette. Dice vegetables and pineapple and combine in a medium-large bowl. Add enough of the vinaigrette to gloss the ingredients, tossing gently. Set aside at room temperature.

Thread the fish cubes on the skewers. Brush with the sesame vinaigrette and season on all sides with salt. Grill the skewers over a fairly hot fire, turning once, until the edges begin to brown but the insides are barely cooked through. The fish will continue cooking off the heat.

Scrape fish from skewers into the salad. Drizzle with more vinaigrette and sprinkle with salt to taste. Toss. Sprinkle with sesame seeds to serve. May be spooned directly into bowls, served over steamed rice, or loaded onto spears of leaf lettuce. Makes 4 servings.

SESAME VINAIGRETTE

3 tbsp. vegetable oil

2 tbsp. sesame oil

2 1/2 tbsp. rice vinegar

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. (or more to taste) chili pepper flakes

Combine all ingredients in a lidded jar and shake well.

TIDBITS

Local produce isn’t exactly flooding thmarket yet, but I’m nabbing as much as I can at farmers’ markets. So far I’ve bought wonderful lettuce, crisp radishes, green onions and small but sweet strawberries at the Countryside Farmers’ Markets in Highland Square and Howe Meadow near Peninsula. But the best local produce I had last week — at the lowest prices — came from a different kind of farm market. Tony and I revisited the County Line Produce Auction near Homerville for the first time in about a decade, and I intend to hang out there this summer.

Farmers, including many Amish, bring crate after crate of fruits and vegetables to sell. Most but not all of the produce on the auction side is local, but the items in the smaller lots sold on the retail side are all locally grown or baked. I got two quarts of strawberries for $3 each, a big bag of crisp, sweet leaf lettuce and a loaf of homemade bread. I regretted not snagging a big baggie of peas in their pods before I got in the checkout line. The line was long but moved quickly.

Anyone may bid on the produce on the auction side, which becomes more and more local as the summer progresses. Just be careful — a woman in line with me said she once bid on a watermelon (she thought) but actually bought a pallet of 19. She and a friend had to make two trips to get them all home.

County Line is at 11701 Jeffrey Rd., West Salem. Sales begin at 3 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and continue until everything is gone. The website is countylineproduceauction.com.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Pan-grilled chicken breasts with fresh pineapple sauce, steamed buttered asparagus, baked Japanese sweet potatoes; oven-fried garlic potatoes, stir-fried pork and vegetables with a honey, mustard and pomegranate molasses sauce; grilled rib steaks with horseradish sauce, tossed salad with pomegranate-mustard vinaigrette, parfaits of local strawberries with whipped topping; crab cakes with homemade tartar sauce, tossed salad with vinaigrette, watermelon; grill-smoked prime rib with horseradish sauce, buttered lima beans, garlic potatoes.

What I ate in/from restaurants last week:
Pork and green chile burrito from Emi’s Tacqueria in Medina; Subway spicy Italian sub; Hawaiian pizza from Rizzi’s in Copley; a scrambled egg, piece of bacon and a biscuit at Bob Evans.

THE MAILBAG

From Joy:
You probably received tons of responses to your latest questions (in The Mailbag two weeks ago) but here’s my contribution anyway. Keep in mind I live in the metro Vancouver, B.C., area, though.

  1. Your truffle oil loses its aroma and flavor after few months because there are no truffles in the truffle oil. What you are buying is olive oil mixed with compounds like 2,4 dithiapentane that mimic the taste of truffles. However, a site called “Eataly“ claims it sells truffle oil that actually contains real truffles: https://www.eataly.com/us_en/magazine/culture/truth-truffle-oil-urbani/.
  2. Your cornstarch-thickened pudding thins due to a process called syneresis (weeping).   This happens most often in puddings or pie fillings containing eggs or a high sugar concentration. I’ve seen it far too often myself with my lemon meringue pies and tarts until I finally switched to Clear Jel. Here’s a short article on how cornstarch works: https://www.exploratorium.edu/cooking/jcooks/10-06-03.html.
  3. I buy jumbo or extra large eggs if they are cheaper than large eggs, as I don’t have a problem using them in cooking or making egg dishes for breakfast/brunch as the difference in egg weight isn’t that much. I also use them in baking if volume measurements are the only choice, as volume is never exact anyway. In recipes where eggs are weighed, though, I’ll use any size egg on hand if I’m making a baked item where all ingredients are weighed.
  4. The food blogs I read weekly: Barry at Rock Recipes (from Newfoundland, with a good many Newfoundland recipes you’ve never heard of or believe exist); See Jane Cook; Mennonite Girls Can Cook; Not Quite Nigella; David Lebovitz; Love and Lemons; Grilling Companion; An Oregon Cottage; and more than a dozen more than Jane is too tired to type.
  5. Where’s a good place to eat in the Akron area? Well, I don’t live in the Akron area but Pots and Pans Jamaican Cuisine at 325 S. Main St. in Akron has a lot of positive reviews on Yelp and Trip Advisor.

As for myself, my favorite places to eat lunch when I’m downtown Vancouver would be the Lebanese food truck near the Art Gallery and, a bit farther out from downtown, Peaceful Noodles on Broadway where the pan-fried dumplings and beef roll are awesome.

Dear Joy:
I think years ago, when I first bought truffle oil, it was flavored with real truffles. I haven’t tasted any like that in a long while, yet I keep buying it and hoping I’ll get a good one. Now thanks to you I know where to find the real stuff. Eataly sells 100 milliliters (about 3 ounces) of Urbani white truffle oil for $19.80.

As for my cornstarch pudding returning to its liquid state overnight in the refrigerator, I think the article you referenced tapped into the real problem — stirring the pudding after it reaches 95 degrees and begins to thicken. According to the article, stirring at that point breaks the starch network that sets and traps the liquid, freeing it to return to its liquid state. Geez. Maybe Clear Jell IS the answer.

Speaking of awesome, thanks for all of your research. The next time I am in Vancouver, one of my favorite cities, I will head directly to Peaceful Noodles for some dumplings.

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