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Eric Akis: A light lunch of salad and tuna tartare

Raw tuna dish with colourful, tasty spring salad makes a healthy meal after Easter weekend indulgence
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A flavourful bowl of tuna tartare is served as an appetizer with crackers. ERIC AKIS

Three things inspired today’s recipes — my desire to eat a lighter meal after richly feasting during Easter, local produce I acquired, and something I found in my freezer.

The frozen item was a piece of ahi tuna loin that I bought a few weeks ago with the thought I would use it at some point in a raw preparation, such as sushi or poke. In this case, though, I did not do either of those things, I instead thawed and turned the fish into tuna tartare and served it as an appetizer.

According to the New Food Lover’s Companion, tartare is a dish thought to have originated in the Baltic region, where in medieval times people known as the Tartars shredded red meat with a knife and ate it raw.

Over time the dish became much more refined. Tartare now most often sees finely chopped, seasoned, lean beef be formed into a patty, plated and served with items you can mix into the meat before eating it, such as onion, capers and eggs yolk.

According to the food history website tasteatlas.com and other sources, the more modern dish called tuna tartare was invented in 1984 by chef Shigefumi Tachibe at Chaya Brasserie in Los Angeles. The story goes that one day a few customers came in wanting beef tartare, but one of them didn’t eat beef, so Tachibe tried making it with tuna and it was an instant success.

Chefs in other restaurants learned of the dish and it’s now served all over the world. How tuna tartare is flavoured can vary greatly with, for example, some cooks chopping the tuna and seasoning it with Asian-style ingredients, while others, such as me, seasoning it more like one would beef tartare.

In restaurants, tuna tartare it usually moulded and artfully presented on a plate and you can do that at home, too. But, if you don’t want to fuss, you can do what I did and serve it in a bowl, surrounded with crackers, toasted baguette or crisp slices of cucumber to mound the tuna tartare on to before devouring it.

My second recipe is a colourful salad you can serve as a main-course after enjoying the tuna tartare. When recently visiting food stores and farm markets specializing in Vancouver Island produce, I noticed locally grown salad greens, radishes, carrots and other items were available.

To make the salad, I tossed the greens with lemony vinaigrette and plated them. The greens were then topped with the vegetables noted above and others. And, lastly, to give the salad some Italian-style flair, I also set on some shaved pieces of Parmesan cheese and crispy, roasted bits of prosciutto, creating quite a tasty salad.

The tuna tartare and salad recipes serve two, but could be doubled or further expanded if you’re feeding a larger group.

Tuna Tartare

Small cubes of raw tuna highly seasoned with such things as chopped capers, Dijon mustard and lemon. Serve it as an appetizer, spooned and mounded on such things as rice crackers, toasted rounds of baguette or crisp slices of English cucumber.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: two generous servings

2 Tbsp finely chopped red onion

1 Tbsp capers, finely chopped

1 Tbsp + 1 tsp olive oil

1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest

2 tsp fresh lemon juice

1 tsp Dijon mustard

• splash Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 tsp chopped fresh dill or tarragon

1 (about 6 oz/170 gram) frozen ahi or albacore tuna loin, thawed, patted dry and cut into small 1/4- to 1/2-inch cubes (see Note)

Place the onions, capers, oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, mustard, Tabasco, salt, pepper and dill (or tarragon) in a bowl and mix to combine. Mix in the tuna. Cover, refrigerate and let the flavours of the tuna tartare meld together an hour before serving.

Note: Frozen loins of sushi-grade ahi tuna and B.C. albacore tuna are sold at seafood stores, Japanese food stores and at some supermarkets.

Spring Vegetable Salad with Crispy Proscuitto and Parmesan

Colourful, tasty salad using spring vegetables, given Italian-style flair by topping it with shaved Parmesan cheese and crispy, roasted prosciutto.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Makes: two servings

3 thin, about eight-inch long, slices of proscuitto

1 tsp Dijon mustard

2 tsp lemon juice

1/2 tsp honey

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 Tbsp olive oil

5 cups mixed salad greens, plus more, if needed

4 to 6 radishes, washed, trimmed and sliced

6 to 8 asparagus spears, cut, widthwise, into 2-inch pieces and blanched (see Note)

1 green onion, thinly sliced

• shaved parmesan cheese, to taste (see Note)

2 to 3 Tbsp grated carrot

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut each slice of prosciutto, widthwise, into 1 1/2-inch wide pieces. Set the pieces of prosciutto, twirled up slightly and not touching, on the baking sheet. Bake proscuitto 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature; the prosciutto will crisp up as it does.

Place mustard, lemon juice, honey, salt and pepper in a salad bowl and whisk to combine. Now slowly whisk in the oil. Add salad greens and toss to coat. Toss in a few more greens if you find the ones in the bowl too thickly coated with the dressing.

Divide salad greens between two dinner plates. Artfully top with the prosciutto, radishes, asparagus, green onion, Parmesan cheese and carrot, and serve.

Note: To blanch the asparagus, drop it into a small pot of rapidly boiling water and cook one minute. Drain well, cool in ice-cold water, and then drain again. You can use a vegetable peeler to shave thin pieces of Parmesan cheese off a chunk of it for use in this recipe.

eakis@timescolonist.com

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.