img_2016After a period of indulgent eating (like on our recent trip to San Francisco), we often like to get ourselves back on track with a week of ‘whole foods.’  We cut out pasta, breads, and processed foods in favor of meats, fish and produce that we prepare ourselves.  It never ceases to amaze me how often we end up enjoying some of the most delicious recipes while we’re supposedly depriving ourselves.

Last Friday, we sat down to just such a dinner.  By coating salmon fillets in a delicious blend of crushed spices and serving it over a salad dressed with a homemade blood orange vinaigrette, we had control over everything that went into our entree.  Served with a puree of white beans, rosemary, and sun-dried tomatoes (the serendipitous result of my grossly overestimating how many beans we would for a chili we made earlier in the week), the salmon made for a satisfying and deeply flavorful dinner.

Recipes and results after the jump.

img_7173One of the best things about our ‘whole foods’ weeks is that they encourage us to think about our menus in advance, but they still allow us some flexibility if our tastes or our circumstances change.  When I soaked three pounds of dried Great Northern beans (instead of the three cups that my chili recipe called for), we knew we would have to get creative to make sure that our bean bonanza didn’t go to waste.

For Friday’s dinner, Elizabeth found a great solution on Epicurious: a white bean puree recipe from the March 2004 issue of Bon Appetit.  She began by boiling a few cups of soaked beans in 4 cups of water along with half of a small onion, and 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary.   Once the water was boiling, she reduced the heat to a simmer and let the beans cook for almost 2 hours.  Draining the beans, she discarded the rosemary sprigs and let beans cool to room temperature.

When the beans were cool, she pureed them in a food processor with all of our remaining oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes (the recipe called for 1 cup, but we only had about six or seven tomatoes), 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped shallots, and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary.  She then added 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper to create a thick, flavorful puree.  Though the original recipe results in a smoother, rust-colored dip, our version with more beans and fewer tomatoes turned out a rich, satisfying dish that was hearty enough to serve as a side dish.

earth-tableFor the main course, we turned to one of our most reliable cookbooks when we’re looking to do ‘whole’ foods:  John Ash’s “From the Earth to the Table.”  We first came across the book while wine tasting in Temecula Valley, and we were taken by the book’s commitment to using fresh ingredients to create dishes that are long on flavor without resorting to excessive amounts of sugar or salt.  We’ve since learned that the recipes tend to favor the California climate (where it was written) in terms of readily accessible fruits and vegetables, but the results speak for themselves.

img_7174For the dressing, we roasted and peeled 1 red bell pepper, which we tossed into a blender with 1 tablespoon chopped shallot, 2/3 cup of blood orange juice (fresh squeezed), 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme, 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar, salt and pepper.  With the blender running, I drizzled in 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil in a VERY slow stream…it took more than a minute to get all of the oil into the mixture.  What came out was an emulsified dressing with a pale orange color and a flavor of sweet red pepper.

We started with 1 1/2 tablespoons fennel seeds, 1/2 teaspoon peppercorns, and 1 teaspoon sea salt.  Since the recipe called for the seeds and peppercorns to be crushed, I decided to save us some time and effort by grinding the spice blend in our small coffee grinder.  It worked – though maybe a bit too well as our spices went a bit beyond ‘crushed’ and moved into the realm of ‘pulverized.’  In any event, they were quite easy to spread over both sides of four six-ounce salmon fillets that I brushed with a small amount of olive oil.  These spice-dusted fillets were quickly seared in a saute pan where we heated two tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat.  After just three minutes on one side, I flipped the fillets and gave them another two or three minutes on the opposite side.  The fish came off nicely browned, with an aroma that hinted at black licorice thanks to the fennel.

img_2015The fillets were supposed to be plated atop a cup of mixed greens dressed with the red pepper-blood orange vinaigrette, but I opted to use baby spinach because I prefer their flavor and texture.

We found ourselves really impressed by the way the vinaigrette complemented the spice crust of the salmon, and the white bean puree definitely stood up to the bolder flavors with its depth.  It was hard to believe that recipes this good could come from only ‘whole foods’ ingredients – we certainly didn’t feel like we were restricted at all. 

It’s nice to know that you can eat well while still eating healthy…provided you seek out the right flavors.