People tend to think of January as the only time they usually make big resolutions to eat more healthily, lose weight and get slimmer. But as you might imagine, the start of bathing-suit season actually brings a whole new round of resolutions. With summer here, people not only want to look good in less clothing, but they also want to feel the energy that comes from eating lighter foods and not feeling weighed down by heavy meals.
A great resolution any health-conscious food lover can make right now is to grill and eat more seafood. Most fish is lower in fat and calories than other common protein choices for grilling. And even those fish that are higher in fat, such as the ever-popular salmon, are in fact rich in the omega-3 fatty acids that medical researchers have found to benefit cardiovascular health.
Fish is so easy to grill, too. Just start up the fire, lightly slick individual-portioned filets with a little oil, season them with salt and maybe some pepper, and put them on the cooking grid when the grill is hot. In almost no time, the fish develops a wonderfully flavorful, golden-brown, crusty surface and, as long as you keep a watchful eye and don’t cook it too long, stays moist and tender on the inside.
Beforehand, while the grill is heating up, you have plenty of time to prepare some sort of simple, light, vegetable-based sauce to go with the fish. In the recipe I share here, that sauce begins not on the stove but in the blender, with fresh summer tomatoes, a spicy jalapeno chile pepper, fresh cilantro and some garlic. The result is what I call my Chinois Tomato Sauce, named for my Asian fusion restaurant in Santa Monica, Calif., where we use the sauce as a foundation for many simple preparations. (You can even add a little olive oil, salt and pepper, to turn it into a simple salsa to serve alongside any grilled seafood or other dishes.) Here, I combine the sauce with two different colors of fresh cabbage to make a wonderfully rustic, chunky, flavorful base for the grilled fish fillets.
You can use this recipe with any fish you like. I originally developed it for omega 3-rich farmed or wild-caught striped bass, which has a rich but pleasant flavor. But it would also work well with any other firm, flaky, white-fleshed fish — or, for that matter, even with good old salmon.
With its lively Asian flavors, the result seems fresh and unusual, yet somehow also familiar — a new take on serving grilled red meat with that old summertime standby, coleslaw. But you’ll feel so much lighter and livelier for eating this way — and ready for your swimsuit all the sooner!
GRILLED STRIPED BASS ON RED AND WHITE CABBAGE WITH CHINOIS TOMATO SAUCE
4 fillets of striped bass, about 8 ounces each
3 tablespoons Asian-style toasted sesame oil
1 3/4 pounds organic plum tomatoes, cut into chunks
1 jalapeno chile, halved, stemmed, cored and seeded
1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves, plus cilantro sprigs for garnish
1/4 medium organic red bell pepper, cut into chunks
5 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
3 large shallots, minced
4 teaspoons peanut oil
10 ounces each red and white cabbage, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 cups good-quality canned vegetable broth
Preheat an outdoor grill. Brush the fish fillets on both sides with sesame oil, and season lightly on both sides with salt. Set aside.
Meanwhile, put the tomatoes, chile, cilantro, bell pepper and 3 of the garlic cloves in a blender. Blend until pureed. Pour the puree into a wire-meshed strainer set over a bowl. With a rubber spatula, press down on the pureed to extract as much as possible, discarding the solids. Stir in the shallots. Set aside.
In a large skillet or wok, heat the peanut oil over medium-high heat. Add the cabbage and remaining garlic and saute or stir fry, stirring continuously, for about 1 1/2 minutes. Stir in the reserved tomato mixture and the vegetable broth and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is tender but still slightly crispy, 3 to 4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and keep warm.
Grill the fish fillets until nicely browned but still moist in the center, 2 1/2 to 3 minutes per side.
To serve, spoon the cabbage onto heated serving plates. Place the grilled fish fillets on top and spoon some of the tomato sauce from the skillet over the fish. Garnish with cilantro sprigs and serve immediately.