I know, by the calendar it’s Friday. But my workweek being what it is, this is technically my Thursday. So it’s still a school night. Confused? So am I. I’ve been out of town on business for a couple of days, so I could roll dice and get about as close to what day of the week it actually is. While away, I ate happily and wonderfully, but I am so craving a dinner of my very own making. Some crisp/tender textures, bright flavors.
My local market sells frozen 4-ounce pieces of Ahi tuna for about $3.00. They aren’t consistently available, so when I find them, I pick up a handful and stash them in the freezer. They’re interestingly-shaped, clearly pieces of trim, but heck, both the price and the portion are perfect for my budget and my appetite.
When I was cleaning the freezer before I left, I happened upon one that I didn’t realize was there. After the long, cold, snowy siege that winter was, it’s finally safe to serve salad for dinner on a night when I desperately long for one. Oh, happy day.
SEARED AHI TUNA SALAD
I assembled the ingredients for the salad quite literally by strolling around the produce department of our brand new Lucky’s Market. I knew I wanted some sort of cabbage for the base, and thought that a tender savoy would be perfect – a nice crunch, but not too much so, given the extremely tender nature of seared ahi. I also knew I wanted both a marinade and a salad dressing that leaned in an Asian direction and when I saw a basket full of beautiful Mexican papayas (they’re a manageable size, as opposed to football-sized Hawaiian papayas), I realized right away that I had the dressing’s base – not too sweet, and with a marvelous, silken texture. Right nearby was a basket of star fruit, which I utterly love.
The fruit of a tree which has long been cultivated throughout Southeast Asia, it’s crisp and tart, and I thought would make a perfect garnish to offset the slightly sweet papaya and tender ahi. And when I saw that limes were a sane price of three for a dollar, I bagged some and headed for the check stand. Everything else I had in mind was waiting for me at home.
MARINADE FOR THE AHI
1 or 2 ahi tuna steaks, about 4 ounces each
2 ounces sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon unseasoned (meaning unsweetened) rice vinegar
Juice of 1/2 lime
2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1/2 teaspoon Sambal Olek (chili paste)
Whisk together all the marinade ingredients and pour them into a shallow, flat-bottomed baking dish. Lay the ahi steaks in the marinade and cover it with plastic.
Let them sit at room temperature while you prepare the salad and dressing. Turn them over now and then.
Makes about 2 cups
1/2 of a Mexican papaya
4 ounces sesame oil
2 ounces unseasoned rice vinegar
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon Sambal Olek
Sea or kosher salt and pepper to taste
Cut the papaya in half and scoop out the seeds.
Use a peeler or a paring knife to remove the skin. Dice the papaya into 1/2″ cubes and place them in the bowl of a food processor or a blender. Add the remaining ingredients, except for salt and pepper. Purée until smooth. Taste, and season with salt and pepper.
Save the other half of the papaya and add it to your morning smoothie.
FOR THE SALAD
Makes enough for 1 or 2 dinners, plus leftovers for luscious lunches
4 ounces thin rice noodles (Maifun)
1/2 head of savoy cabbage
1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt and several grinds of pepper
1/2 red onion
Handful of snow peas
Slices of star fruit – I used 3
Rice noodles make me happy. I can’t fully explain why. Maybe it’s their silky texture, or the way they carry other flavors so beautifully. Hot or cold, they make me happy either way. But most especially in a salad. Open an 8-ounce package and pull off about half of the noodles. Place them in a large bowl and pour boiling water over them to cover. Set a plate over the bowl to retain the heat. Let them sit for about 10 minutes. There. That’s all the cooking they need. When tender, drain them through a colander, rinse them under cold water to cool them, and use scissors to snip them into more user-friendly pieces.
Let them continue to drain while you prepare the cabbage.
Peel away the outer leaves of the cabbage and cut it in half through the stem. Trim out the core.
Cut the half in half, from top to bottom, then slice the halves as thinly as you can, not more than 1/4″ thick. Place the cabbage in a large bowl along with the rice noodles. Add the salt and pepper and the dressing. Use tongs to toss the everything so that the dressing is well distributed. Let sit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. This will tenderize the cabbage some, and allow the rice noodles to absorb wonderful flavors.
Cut the red onion in half and peel it. Cut in half the long way again, then also slice it as thin as you can.
Add it to the cabbage, but don’t mix it in yet.
Slice the snow peas about 1/4″ thick and add them to the salad.
Now you can toss everything together.
Cut a few slices of star fruit. Dice them into 1/4″ pieces.
Leave them on your cutting board until you are ready to serve the salad.
TO SEAR THE AHI
Set a skillet or a ridged grill pan over medium heat. Add enough sesame oil to cover the bottom. If you are using a grill pan, brush it with sesame oil.
Remove the ahi steaks from the marinade and set them on paper towels to drain a bit while the pan warms. Turn them over once.
When the pan is warm, the oil with shimmer, or “ribbon.” At than point, gently add the steaks to the pan. Season the top with salt and pepper. Watch them closely. When you can just begin to see a band of white forming around the bottom, use a metal spatula to carefully turn them over. Season the now top side with salt and pepper. Again watch them, and when you begin to see a while line forming around the bottom, remove the steaks to a plate and let them rest while you serve up the salad.
TO SERVE THE SALAD
Divide the salad between plates. Remove the ahi steaks to a cutting board and carefully slice them into strips 1/4″ thick. Arrange them over the salad. Garnish with the diced star fruit and serve with a wedge of lime.
Alternatively, if you are preparing this for yourself alone, just think how magnificent tomorrow’s lunch is going to be.