I had decided to take a teeny break from working on the blog this past couple of weeks, just a brief moment to clear my head a little. I truly looked forward to a bit of a refresher, one in which I could find some shiny new inspiration and strengthened longing for the work that I do here on my site—this wee-small corner of the vast, world-wide web. My desire was to return to working on the blog after not thinking about culinary combinations, food styling and food imagery for at least a short while, with the effervescent gusto reminiscent of two old friends reuniting and embracing heartily after some time apart. But alas, the best laid plans, right? My hope for a small period of time free of food/cooking-related thoughts was just that: a hope. To my surprise, once I gave myself the permission to unplug for a bit, I found that I thought about food and possible recipes even more. And I thought about them not because I had to, but because I wanted to. As various images of new ways to prepare salmon to go with the healthy accoutrement of quinoa fluttered through my head, I had the eye-opening realization that food and all that it entails seems to be the thing that I keep on thinking about and coming back to, even when I promise myself a moment to step away. Sounds a bit like a torrid affair, really.
There’s something quite magical for me in the sound of my gas stove being turned on: click-click-click-click-whoosh. The blue flames dance and flicker beneath the pan or pot that has been glossed up with a smidge of oil and set over top to heat and perhaps even smoke just a little; food is added and the show begins. What a thing. My hope, of course, is always for a delicious end result; but sometimes, I’m lucky to get a mediocre one. That’s how it goes. Cooking always keeps me guessing and interested. It mercifully shows me that I have very real boundaries, yet the possibilities are limitless, simultaneously. And I find that fascinating. God’s provided me with a puzzle game in food and cooking in which the “pieces” have a seemingly unlimited number of possible correct matches and fits, and it requires my absolute participation and engagement in order to discover those fits. There’s never a chance for boredom, nor is there any shortage of opportunity to nurture, feed and comfort another. Food is my friend, but on so many more levels than on the purely physical one of feeding an immediate hunger. Food feeds the hunger of the creative soul, one that is satisfied with simple, gorgeous combinations that surprise, and it feeds the deepest part of the human spirit that longs to give of itself and share with others in order to make what is received for one’s self come full circle. What a love I have found in food, indeed. What an inspiring teacher God has provided me with.
I feel like I’m at a real turning point in my life. Authenticity is what I seek, both in and out of the kitchen. I desire to be true to what has been given to me and to be a good steward of it, but it first requires an understanding of what has been given in the first place. That’s the work that each day holds for every one of us, isn’t it? During what I hoped to be a short hiatus from food/cooking-related “work”, I discovered that I indeed have a love affair with food that I can’t deny. It’s the very thing that connects me with other human beings, and is not something that can be turned off like a light switch. Food has provided me with an opportunity to encourage, to share and to give to someone else something that may be of value. It both challenges me and comforts me at once, and allows me to share my unique point of view. A prepared meal is the tangible manifestation of the desire I hold just beneath the surface, a desire to fill and to be filled.
Taste what’s good and pass it on.
Grilled Salmon Skewers with Cucumber-Dill Sauce and Quinoa-Pine Nut Pilaf
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8 wooden skewers (or 4 metal skewers)
4 skinless, boneless salmon fillets (thicker cut)
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus some drizzles for grill pan
2 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
¼ teaspoon sea salt, plus a pinch, divided use
¼ teaspoon black pepper, plus a pinch, divided use
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
½ red onion, peeled and cut into quarters and sliced
4 campari tomatoes, halved
¼ cup feta cheese
1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
• Quinoa-Pine Nut Pilaf (recipe below)
• Creamy Cucumber-Dill Sauce (recipe below)
-Begin by placing the wooden skewers into water to soak (to prevent burning while grilling) while you prepare the salmon and rest of the dish.
-Prepare the salmon by cutting each fillet into 4 large, even chunks; place the salmon pieces into a medium sized bowl, and add the olive oil, the garlic, the ¼ teaspoon sea salt and black pepper, the smoked paprika and the ground cumin, and toss gently to coat the pieces; marinate the salmon pieces for about 20-25 minutes. (*While the salmon marinates, prepare the Quinoa-Pine Nut Pilaf and the Creamy Cucumber-Dill Sauce, recipes below.)
-To prepare the skewers, remove them from the water, and tap any excess water off (you will use 2 skewers instead of only one in order to give more support while the salmon is grilled); take a piece of salmon and thread two skewers gently through the piece; next, take a small piece of the red onion, and thread that onto the skewer next to the salmon; repeat the process until each set of skewers contains a total of 4 salmon pieces and 4 red onion pieces, and repeat until you have a total of four portions of salmon skewers (one fillet per person).
-To grill, heat a grill pan over high heat, and once very hot, add a couple of drizzles of olive oil, and add the salmon skewers (work in batches if necessary); grill the salmon skewers, turning every now and then for even grilling, for about roughly 5-6 minutes, or until golden and cooked through; remove the salmon skewers onto a clean plate, squeeze a touch of lemon over top and keep warm; next, sprinkle a pinch of salt/black pepper over the halved campari tomatoes, and add them to the grill pan; allow them to grill for 30 seconds-1 minutes until warmed and slightly grilled/charred, and set them onto the plate next to the salmon skewers.
-To serve, add equal portions of the Quinoa-Pine Nut Pilaf to each plate, and top with a Grilled Salmon Skewer; add a couple of tablespoons of the Creamy Cucumber-Dill Sauce onto each plate next to the Skewers, along with two, grilled campari tomato halves; garnish by sprinkling a couple tablespoons of the feta cheese over the top of everything, as well as some of the fresh chopped dill.
Quinoa-Pine Nut Pilaf ingredients:
1 ½ cup quinoa, rinsed in cool water
3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup toasted pine nuts
• Drizzle of olive oil
• Pinch black pepper
-Combine the rinsed quinoa and the water in a medium-sized pot set over high heat; add the salt, and cover with a lid; once it comes to the boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and allow the quinoa to simmer for about 20 minutes, or until water is absorbed and the quinoa is cooked; remove from heat, and allow to stand, lid askew, for about 5 minutes; next, fluff gently with fork as you would rice, and add in the toasted pine nuts, the drizzle of olive oil and the pinch of black pepper, and use your fork to toss to combine; keep warm until ready to serve.
Creamy Cucumber-Dill Sauce ingredients:
1 cup Greek yogurt (fat free or regular)
2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped finely
1 clove garlic, pressed through garlic press
½ teaspoon lemon zest
¼ teaspoon sea salt, plus a pinch
• Pinch of black pepper
½ Persian cucumber finely shredded and squeezed to remove excess juice (about 1 heaping tablespoon worth of cucumber)
-Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk together until well blended and thick; check the salt level and add a pinch more if necessary; keep cold until ready to serve.