It’s the middle of the Nine Days that culminate in the fast of Tisha B’Av. Discounting Shabbat meals and the fast itself, that’s six days of no meat or chicken. A week of meatless days on the Jewish calendar means lots of fish, like red mullet in chermoulah and grains. More vegetables than usual. More eggs in creative ways, and er, well, more fish.
Yesterday I was shopping in a hurry. The family was going to need dinner in about an hour, but I was in the middle of a project that needed all my attention. I didn’t want to spend lots of time chopping, stirring, and hovering obsessively over the stove as I usually do.
What, oh what would dinner be?
A package of salmon fillets caught my eye as I trundled past with my shopping cart – I snatched it up, thinking, salmon cooks quickly and everyone likes it.
Back home, a damp, chilly package of salmon fillets thawing out on the kitchen counter. Me, suddenly empty of ideas, looking around the kitchen. My cookware said: put it in a clay pot and let the oven do the work.
My pots and pans often provide the answer to What’s For Dinner. There’s more on my theory of Pot/Food-Vision Syndrome on this post. Which happens to be a recipe for spicy brown beans, also appropriate for the Nine Days.
But back to dinner, and the salmon. I couldn’t cook the salmon just bare. There had to be potatoes and onions and herbs and tomatoes, at least. And plenty of lemon. So this is what I did.
Let me say now: it’s important to slice the potatoes as thinly as you can get them. Any other way, and the fish will be done and drying out before the potatoes are cooked through. And another thing: if you don’t have a clay casserole, cook your fish in any ovenproof vessel. But cooking in clay gives food an extra dimension of flavor, and food cooked in clay pots keep improving as the vessels age and soak up cooking aromas.This dish involves a certain amount of work with a knife and chopping block, but then you slide it into the oven and forget about it until the timer goes off. It’s tasty and easy, and the family gobbled it up.
Salmon and Potato Casserole
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 large potatoes, very thinly sliced
2 medium tomatoes, thickly sliced
Juice of 1 lemon or 6 pieces of lemons preserved in salt
3 salmon fillets
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves – may substitute dill or cilantro
3 tablespoons cream – may use coconut cream if available
Salt and black pepper to taste
Melt the butter in the casserole, over low heat. I put a flame dispersing mat under the casserole to prevent cracking.
Raise the heat slightly. Add the onions. Let them cook 5 minutes while you slice the tomatoes and potatoes.
Add the potatoes to the casserole, making a layer. It’s alright if some overlap. Place the sliced tomatoes on top.
Pour half the lemon juice around the vegetables. Place the salmon slices on top and pour the remaining lemon juice over the fillets. If using preserved lemons, place three pieces under, and three pieces on top of the fillets.
Scatter minced garlic over all, pushing some down to join the vegetables. Scatter chopped basil over all. Season with salt.
Dribble olive oil and cream over everything. Grind some black pepper over it.
Cover the casserole loosely – I used a strip of tin foil that left a thin uncovered margin at the edges. Bake at 375 until the potatoes are cooked through – about 1/2 hour.
Serve right away.
And here’s how the assembled casserole looked just before I put it in the oven. True, it’s prettier than the night-time photo above…there was still daylight for a good photo before I cooked. Just for you to get an idea of how it should look.
Toss a leafy salad and place it on the table next to the casserole. Serve fruit for dessert, and enjoy!