kitchen firsts: ahi tuna (salad with jicama and avocado)

30 December, 2009 at 12:32 pm 1 comment

I will be the first to admit that my experience with cooking fish is very limited. Like, I’ve probably done it 3 or 4 times, ever, so for the first entry in my “kitchen firsts” series, I decided to adapt a recipe from Gourmet Today (another great cookbook Christmas gift) for Grilled Spice-Crusted Tuna with Jicama and Avocado Salad– I mean, what about that recipe title does not sound good?? Maybe I’ve started saying that too much, but I’ve discovered that if the recipe title alone makes me drool, it’s probably a winner.

Turns out, a couple of parts of the actual recipe did not sound good to me (I’m sorry, I’ve been a bit over-chipotled and over-arugula-ed lately, and I’m also sorry for hating cilantro), but with a couple quick substitutions we were back on the road again, and I’m pleased to report that my first experience with ahi was quite a pleasant one. If you have never used sushi-grade tuna before, don’t be scared– it looks fancy when its done, but if you can convince yourself that it’s ok to leave it rare in the center (you’re supposed to!), it’s no more complicated than rubbing it with some stuff (a nice spicy mix of coriander, cumin, and chili), slapping it on a grill for 8 minutes, letting it rest, and cutting it (which was a delight with my -ahem- new wusthof knife).  Voila! Kitchen first number one is painlessly and deliciously under my belt (literally).

Even ahi aside, this was a great salad (in fact, I suspect that this salad would be just as good if you substituted a little tofu or tempeh for the tuna, with the same spices).  It has a simple, light vinaigrette jazzed up with red onion, lime juice, and some peppers, it makes copious use of the avocado (no complaints there), and the salad part itself is really half greens and half jicama, which makes it seem fancier than just a plain old salad but doesn’t really involve anything complicated. Also, do you eat jicama much? I always forget to and then go on little jicama binges when I remember it’s really really good!

This salad was simultaneously light and filling, and also somehow refreshing, but with a kick. It would serve four easily, especially if you supplement with bread or something, or three if you serve it by itself and are hungry. For us it served 2 generously with a significant leftover portion for the next day’s lunch.

Oh, and a note on the grilling aspect– we have one of those little smokeless, indoor electric grills, so making this in the dead of winter was not a concern, but if you should crave this salad at a time and place where a grill is not available, I see no reason why you can’t just sear it in a pan.  You’ll lose the little grill marks, but you hardly see those anyways once it’s sliced up.  So don’t let the weather turn you off! Try the salad and imagine it’s July.

Grilled Ahi Salad with Jicama and Avocado
Adapted from Gourmet Today
Serves 2-4

2.5 T olive oil, plus more to brush grill and fish
1.5 T lime juice (from one small lime, or 3/4 of a medium lime)
scant 1 T white vinegar
1 T finely chopped red onion
1/4 tsp salt
1 T finely chopped jalapenos (could substitute 1 T minced canned chipotles in adobo)

Fish + Rub:
1/4 t coriander
1/4 t cumin
1/2 t chili powder
black pepper
1/8 t salt
2-3 Sushi-grade tuna steaks (I recommend 1 small steak per serving, but basically just decide how much you want to eat and pay for– it can run about $10 per pound)

1 pound jicama, peeled and cut into matchsticks (but don’t be too precise, it’s just getting mixed in with the greens
3 handfuls baby spinach (or arugula, if you prefer)
1 -2 ripe avocados, depending on how much you want
optional: about a half cup of chopped cilantro

Start by toasting your spices (coriander, cumin, chili powder, 1/8 tsp salt, and pepper) in a dry pan over low heat.  Stir them around a bit and let them go until you smell them. Then remove to a small bowl to cool.  Start preheating your grill to medium hot (hand test of 3-4 seconds, whether you’re electric, gas or coals).

In a salad dressing mixer or small bowl, mix together olive oil, lime juice, vinegar, 1/4 tsp salt, red onion, and jalapenos (whisk or shake to combine).  Let sit until you’re ready.

In a large bowl, combine your spinach and jicama sticks (and cilantro, if using). Slice avocados so you’ll be ready to assemble.

Rub ahi steaks all over with oil and then your spice mixture (you may have extra spice, depending on how much tuna you have).  Brush or spray grill rack with oil, and then get your tuna steaks on the grill. They should need about 4 minutes per side, until they are nicely browned on the sides but still rare in the center. When they’re done to your liking, remove and allow to rest for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, toss your dressing with the spinach and jicama in the bowl.  Arrange avocado slices on top.  When tuna has rested, slice it with a sharp knife and arrange tuna over the salad. Alternatively, you can dish up salad onto individual plates before adding avocado and tuna to each plate. The tuna tastes good warm or cold so enjoy when you’re ready!


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a new year’s resolution, and breakfast for two kitchen firsts: roasted parsnips

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