This dish looked amazing in the photograph. Perfectly seared white fish ever so delicately topped with a colorful mixture of baked vegetables. I had had a few successes so far with my yogurt recipes, and this one yearned to be the next one I conquered. I think my book laughed at me silently as I made my shopping list and quietly chuckled, “We’ll see about that. We’ll just see.”
Off to Sprouts I went. Garlic and Ginger, check. Lemon and Coriander, check check. Fresh Sole? Not due till Saturday. I made a mental note that I could check my other usual grocery spot, Homeland. Just in case I threw in a frozen bag of Tilapia. It could be used as a substitute or stashed in the freezer for a rainy day. Next wrench in the monkey kitchen: no canned green lentils.
Homeland did not have either of those necessary items, either. My mom suggested I just get bagged lentils since they are quick to make. No rinsing and slow cooking over night. Sure enough, the bag read they only take about 15 minutes to cook. Crisis averted. The only really bad thing that happened at the grocery stores today was my bad joke to the fish counter personnel after I asked about the sole. “But do YOU have SOUL?” I got a courtesy half smile. I’ll take it.
Next hurdle: cooking with a newborn after having a full day. She humored me while I boiled the lentils and chopped the spinach and coriander, but then demanded to be fed. At a stopping point, I drained the lentils and left the tilapia to defrost in the sink. Sitting down was actually a welcome pleasure since I had been going since 7:30am. I’ve got quite the smart and considerate little newborn.
Back in the kitchen, I chopped away, reading and re-reading the instructions, always worried that I would misread a direction. Which of course happened. Many of the fresh ingredients would be added in together, the spinach, lentils, garlic, cumin and lemon juice. So I was just chopping away and putting them in a big bowl together until their sautéing time came. As is my habit, I re-read the directions and realized I had in fact gone wrong: “reheat pan and sauté onions until glassy.” STOP THE AUDIO BOOK so as to concentrate fully. Jim Gaffigan, you are very funny but obviously distracting me from my cooking.*
Sauté the onions. By themselves.
I sadly glanced at my bowl of chopped veg, where the onions were happily sitting on top of the spinach, under the coriander that was dusted with the cumin. Did I mention the onions were finely chopped? Ugh.
I carefully picked out what I could, collected my determination and excitement, and resumed cooking. Sautéed the onions, mixed in the veg, added the lemon from the fridge skipping the fresh squeezed, and topped the fish. Which was when Ty walked in the door from work and I realized I had again decided to take a detour from the recipe: mix in yogurt, and THEN top fish and bake.
Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh!
Teetering on losing total control of my emotional (STARVING) facilities, I scooped what I could off of the delicate fish back into the bowl, mixed in the yogurt, re-topped the tilapia, and finally put the pan in the oven to bake. At this point I also skipped adding fresh lemon zest to the top of the fish. The fish would have to dazzle us with flavor without the crutch of lemon zestiness.
Fifteen minutes later, out it came and to the table it made its way, looking like a sad rendition of the picture. As my mom had said the night before about a new recipe she had made, I announced to Ty, “It may not LOOK good, but it’s good FOR you!”** And we tucked in.
And it was delicious. Moral of this cooking story, wrenches may be thrown in your kitchen, but with a little quick thinking and perseverance, it can still come out a winner. The only thing we threw out was the wine, which was a bottle that had been sitting in our fridge for over two months with a broken seal (accidentally opened by us, not from the store). Not the tastiest with faint hints of vinegar, it just made the bottle of beer we split taste oh so much better.
A RECAP of the finished dish: pan seared tilapia smothered with a topping of lentils, spinach, coriander laced with garlic, ginger and cumin mixed with yogurt, this dish is a protein punch. Great for breastfeeding mammas and any kind of folks getting fit, I’d make it again. Next time I’ll try it with the suggested sole, top it with lemon zest to get the full flavor, and I’ll take the time to put on some soul music. Because I’ve got soul.
*I was listening to Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan. I highly suggest it-especially if you have any newborns in the house, or kids at all.
**This is a common saying in my parents’ house right before anything that is a new recipe is served. It is always delicious, as was my mom’s dinner that night: carrot and apple soup with grown up grilled cheese sandwiches.