In the salmon’s layer

Two Salmon Lasagna

Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

The common definition these days of a pescetarian seems to be “a vegetarian who eats fish”. That’s not in accord with the Vegetarian Society – the coiners of the term vegetarian back in 1847, who point out quite rightly that fish are not vegetables, they are meat. They may not be red meat, they may not be poultry, but they are, quite simply and graphically, animal flesh. Still, the common definition cited in the first sentence seems to pop up more and more – at my restaurant I constantly get request from “vegetarians” who tell me that fish and shellfish are just fine.

Of course, I also get some who tell me that they’ll eat a bit of bacon, or perhaps a sausage, or even a chicken wing were it to show up on their plate. “Vegetarian” it seems, is simply a moniker many adopt to make a claim to better dietary practice, regardless of reality.

One of my favorite go-to dishes is one that I came up with many years ago for some visiting fish eating friends who also were trying to lighten up their lives and asked me to avoid pasta… and also rice, potatoes and bread. A gut-wrenching experience for someone trained by Jewish bubbes and Italian nonnas.

But I got over it and whipped up this “lasagna”, with slices of white eggplant standing in for the noodles. When you get right down to it, it’s really just more of a hot terrine of sorts, sans any kind of gelling agent to hold it together, and I’m sticking with my lasagna claim. It’s a quick and easy dish to whip up and a crowd pleaser for the pescetarian set. And of course, if you want to throw in a layer or two of noodles, some cheese, or some bechamel sauce, who am I to say no?

Salmon & Eggplant Lasagna

500 gm fresh salmon
2 large eggplants (white ones if you can find them)
1 large bunch of fresh basil
6 plum tomatoes
250 gm black olives, “Greek” style
Approximately 1 cup olive oil
4-5 sprigs of fresh oregano
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
2 cloves garlic
3 anchovies
salt and black pepper

Slice the salmon into 1 cm thick slices. Slice the eggplants into slightly thinner slices. And, slice the tomatoes into thin slices. Pit the olives. Now you’re ready to start cooking.

In a large frying pan, saute the eggplant slices in a little olive oil a few at a time (just enough to cover the bottom of the pan) with a little salt and pepper. Keep the heat fairly high as it will help prevent the eggplant slices from absorbing too much oil. When the slices are lightly golden on both sides, set them aside to drain on some paper towel.

In a blender mix the pitted olives, the leaves from the oregano, capers, garlic and anchovies and blend with just enough of the olive oil to give yourself a smooth paste – a tapenade. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper – you probably won’t need much, if any, salt.

Lightly oil a 20 x 30 cm baking dish and place a single layer of the eggplant, covering the bottom – they can slightly overlap, not a problem – aim to use a third of the slices in this layer. Top that with a layer of the sliced salmon and a layer of basil leaves. Then place a second layer of the eggplant, again using about a third of the slices. Top that with the tomato slices and coat generously with about half of the tapenade (olive puree). Finish off with the last third of the eggplant slices, sprinkle with a little fresh pepper, and then cover the baking dish with foil.

Bake in a hot oven (180°C) for 30 minutes. Then remove the foil and turn the oven up to broil and cook just a few minutes more to lightly brown the top. Remove from the oven and let it sit a few minutes, then cut into portions (this should make roughly six, depending on how hungry you all are) and serve, topped with the remaining tapenade and basil leaves. Accompany it with a nice green salad and some of that fresh bread you made from last weekend’s column, and you’ve got yourself one delicious pescetarian dinner.

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.

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