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Frugality, Canned Tomatoes, & Moroccan-Spiced Fish

Posted Aug 25 2008 2:51pm

Staying on my cheap (who, me?) theme, it’s on to one of my quick fish suppers; it’s easy to make yet results in all sorts of interesting flavors and textures.
The inspiration behind its creation is a Moroccan fish tagine I made a while back (tagine is the word for both the cooking vessel and the spiced stew cooked within). While delicious, the tagine required marinating the fish in 3/4 cup of spiced olive oil for 24 hours, roasting for an hour and 45 minutes, and spending about 40 dollars on ingredients—not exactly weeknight fare (at least, not at my house).

Off to the drawing board!

I simplified the steps (e.g., no marinating, and stovetop simmering instead of oven roasting) and ingredients (e.g., canned petite-dice tomatoes instead of fresh, fresh lemon instead of preserved lemon, cinnamon & cumin—also traditional Moroccan spices—instead of saffron); it’s a snap to pull off (you can keep almost all of the items in the freezer or pantry) but the flavors are still captivating.

I know I have a bit of explaining to do here in two regards: first, how can halibut be cheap eats, and two, where are the healthy vegetables (since it’s still my month of vegetables)?

I’ll address the fish first: this recipe still qualifies for the frugality file because I head to the freezer section and buy frozen fish fillets. Beyond the expense of fresh fish, the options in my relatively small, land-locked town are limited—salmon, tilapia and orange roughy are the only sure bets. When I hear a food network host instruct me to “ask my local fishmonger…” the only person who comes to mind is the guy with the fresh catfish truck on Highway 59.

Fresh fish needs little more than salt and pepper, a squeeze of citrus, and perhaps a few fresh herbs. Frozen? It needs some help; minimalism is not its friend. But with a little boost—bright flavors and techniques that pull the flavor in, like simmering and marinating—it can be transformed into noteworthy meals. Further, it’s a fraction of the cost of fresh (frugal me), readily available at the market, and easy to keep on hand for dinner in a flash.

Now, on to the question of vegetables...

This dish does have a winning vegetable component, and that's canned tomatoes.

Canned tomatoes may sound nutritionally benign (if not bereft), but nothing could be further from the truth. Unlike some other canned vegetables, canned tomatoes retain almost all of their nutrients (they actually contain more lycopene than raw tomatoes—here’s a link for more information:

High in vitamins C and A, canned tomatoes are also a cook’s best friend, especially in January when fresh tomatoes rival baseballs in firmness and durability; and they’re inexpensive and handy to boot.

Give the fish a try, especially if you’ve never given the frozen boxes of fillets a second glance. You’re not giving yourself over to the Gorton’s fisherman—just good taste.

Moroccan-Spiced Halibut

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots or onion
2 garlic cloves, minced

3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 15-ounce can petite dice tomatoes

Juice and grated zest of 1 medium lemon
4 6-ounce pieces white fish (e.g., halibut, orange roughy, or hake; frozen is fine!)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup cilantro of flat or leaf parsley leaves (whole or roughly chopped)

Accompaniments: hot cooked couscous or rice

Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat; add the shallots and cook until slightly softened, about 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin and cinnamon cook and stir 1 minute longer.

Stir in tomatoes, lemon juice, zest, salt and pepper; simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 10 minutes.

Pat fish dry and season both sides with salt and pepper; add fish to skillet. Cover and simmer until fish is just cooked through, 7-10 minutes. Serve with hot cooked couscous or rice and sprinkle with cilantro or parsley.

Nutrition per Serving (1 fish fillet, 1/4 of the sauce):

Calories 281; Fat 21.2g (poly 2.1g, mono 13.5g, sat 3.5g); Protein 17.7g; Cholesterol 54.8mg; Carbohydrate 3.2g; Sodium 312.4mg)

(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1 )
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