By Freya Bellin
When a recipe transforms winter vegetables into something bright and summery, you know you’ve stumbled upon something special. That’s exactly how this dish is; it has a tropical element despite being composed almost entirely of root vegetables. The vegetable base for the fish is like a hash, especially if you use mostly potato. (I used a combination of sweet potato, carrot, parsnip, and turnip.) A food processor with a grating blade will be tremendously helpful, unless you have a particularly good hand grater (and a fearless disregard for your knuckles).
The seasoning for the dish is simple, which highlights the natural sweetness of the veggies. I used a mild curry powder, but a spicier one could work too. If you stay with the sweet and mild theme, I think there’s even room in this dish for some fruit, like raisins, apple, plantains, or mango. While the vegetable mixture makes a great side dish here, it could easily stand alone without the fish, garnished with red onion and parsley. It would also make a good potluck dish, as it isn’t temperature sensitive.
I chose striped bass for the fish, which held up really nicely to this method of cooking. You could also try halibut or mahi-mahi. If you don’t like the idea of breading or dredging fish, you’ll be happy to know that the fish ends up with just a light coating of the flour and cornmeal mixture. It makes a thin, perfectly crispy layer that is otherwise hard to get without frying in lots of oil. Texturally, the crispy fish makes a great contrast to the soft, grated vegetable hash. Sweet, crunchy, spicy, and quite light: an excellent combination. Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.
Pan-Cooked Vegetables with Crunchy Fish
Makes: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes
Grated potatoes, winter squash, and root vegetables cook in 10 minutes, so even if you don’t have a food processor and must grate by hand you still save time. Here the vegetables are heavily spiced with ginger (and/or garlic) and curry powder and then topped with crunchy fish. The list that follows gives some direction for using different types of seafood in this recipe.
4 tablespoons vegetable oil, or more as needed
1 small red onion or 4 scallions, chopped
About 2 pounds winter squash, sweet potatoes, daikon radishes, turnips, carrots, parsnips, or celery root, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon minced ginger and/or garlic
1 tablespoon curry powder, or to taste
Salt and black pepper
1⁄4 cup cornmeal (fine or medium grind)
1⁄4 cup all-purpose or whole wheat flour
About 12 ounces sturdy white fish fillets, cut into 4 pieces
1⁄4 cup chopped fresh parsley or cilantro
Lemon, lime, or orange wedges, for serving, optional
1. Put 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add half the onion and the vegetables. Add the ginger and/or garlic and the curry powder and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring and adding a little more oil if the mixture is sticking, until the onion has caramelized and the vegetables are lightly browned, about 10 minutes; the vegetables need not be fully tender. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Transfer to a large serving platter (or divide among individual plates).
2. While the vegetables are cooking, combine the cornmeal and flour on a plate along with some salt and pepper. Dredge the fish in the cornmeal mixture, pressing to make some of it stick, then shake to remove the excess.
3. Return the skillet to high heat; don’t bother to wipe it out. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. When it’s hot, add the fish to the pan and cook, turning only once, until nicely browned on both sides and cooked through— a thin-bladed knife will meet little or no resistance when the fish is done. Put the fish on top of the vegetables; garnish with the remaining onion and the herb. Serve with citrus wedges if you like.
Pan-Cooked Grated Vegetables with Sesame Fish. Instead of the cornmeal-flour mixture, use 1⁄2 cup sesame seeds to dredge the fish, pressing to make them stick to the sides. Proceed with the recipe, garnishing with cilantro and lime wedges.