Hiatuses from cooking have happened before, but with all the chaos and stress of wrapping up my undergraduate career, my inspiration simply drained out. I was remaking the same collection of meals week after week and eating the same dish day after day. Everything food-related suddenly seemed boring and the biggest part of me was starting to die. Worst of all was that I was just standing there like a confused bystander, letting it all happen.
Now I sit at my computer as a college graduate, yet in some ways, nothing has changed. Five years of graduate school still lie ahead of me, with a boatload of life changes to follow suit. As I grow and evolve into scientist over the next few years, I don’t want this creative space to disappear. CookingFever has always been more than a token hobby, it’s an outlet for me to chase a vague dream that I can’t quite materialize in reality. I’m not sure if I will ever be featured in food magazines, publish a cookbook, or be paid to travel the world and eat. That version of me is embedded in a fantasy and trapped behind heavily fortified walls. Not that becoming a scientist is necessarily any bit easier, but for now it’s what seems right. If those walls do fall in the future, I’d be happy to welcome the person who walks out of them.
People have always asked me why I never thought about going down the culinary route and opening up a restaurant. I’ve always said that I’ve wanted to keep professional and personal pursuits separate, but in all realness, I have always been on that culinary route. CookingFever is my virtual restaurant where I’ve been creating a massive menu of special recipes. Last night, I took inspiration from one of Chicago’s most celebrated chefs, Stephanie Izard, and used her brilliant knowledge of flavor profiles to craft a perfectly juicy salmon filet and a deeply savory potato and pea hash. While Stephanie uses lamb in her hash, I decided to keep it vegetarian by using potatoes but still playing with the same flavoring components of soy sauce and miso, a fermented paste of rice and soybeans. Japanese cooks best describe umami as the distinct “savory” taste. Soy sauce is perhaps the best used example, but I have found fish sauce and now miso to be top candidates as well. Many of you have probably had miso soup, where its funky, almost hoppy, beer-like qualities shine through, but a spoon or two of the paste mixed into your favorite recipes will have its bolder qualities melting away and the overall depth of flavor increasing. As such, use any sort of white miso to get this flavor boosting effect and watch how you’ll suddenly be unable to keep your fork away from the plate.
As the hash boasts subtle Japanese flavors, some of my Indian sensibilities come into play in the turmeric-marinated salmon, and I swapped the mint yogurt sauce that Stephanie used in her dish for some leftover raita I had in the fridge. Typically used as a condiment to help tone down some of the spiciness that one finds in Indian meals, the tang of the yogurt works surprisingly well with the fish, cutting through some of that meaty salmon taste and meeting with the potatoes to create a glorious marriage of Asian flavors.
Adapted from Girl in the Kitchen by Stephanie Izard
- 2, 6 oz salmon fillets
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- salt to taste
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 cups green peas
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small red onion, diced
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, optional
- 2 large or 4 medium yellow potatoes, cut into small cubes
- 2 teaspoons white miso paste
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup plain yogurt
- 1-2 tablespoons milk
- 1/2 small red onion cut into a fine dice, optional
- 1 teaspoon dried mint
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Prepare the raita in a bowl by mixing together the yogurt with the 1-2 tablespoons of milk, depending on how thick the yogurt is. Stir in the dried mint, cayenne pepper, salt, pepper, and red onion, if using. Allow the mixture to sit in the fridge while you prepare everything else.
- Rub the turmeric, cayenne pepper, sugar, salt, and olive oil over the salmon fillets, making sure they are evenly coated. Marinate the salmon in the fridge for about 30 minutes to an hour.
- To prepare the hash, start by boiling the peas with some salt until they are just tender. Drain the peas and set aside
- Then in a large pan or skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Once warm, add the onion and saute until translucent. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and saute for a minute more.
- Add the potatoes to the pan along with the miso paste and soy sauce. Mix the ingredients together and cook in the pan over low heat, for about 15-20 minutes, until the potatoes are soft.
- Add the peas and stir for a minute or two more. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Heat some oil in another pan over high heat. Once hot, add the salmon fillets and sear for about 2-3 minutes on each side, till they have reached your desired level of doneness (I like mine slightly pink on the inside). Serve the salmon warm on a bed of hash and top with a dollop of raita.