Eric Akis: A salmon and salad success

Eric Akis

A popular way to create a summer meal is to grill a protein on a barbecue and serve it with a salad. I did that recently, focused on using in-season ingredients, and ended up creating a flavourful, colourful dish perfect for the season.

B.C.-grown zucchini, whether purchased at a farm market or grown in your backyard, is plentiful in the summer and I decided to use that vegetable as the base for my salad. When preparing it, I got a little bit fancy.

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I got out my handheld slicer and sliced the zucchini lengthwise into thin slices. I cut the slices into strips, briefly cooked them until bendable, cooled them, and ended up with zucchini “noodles” to use for my salad.

I mounded the zucchini noodles on plates and to finish my salad, topped them with complementary things, including cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, basil and toasted walnuts.

The protein I choose to serve with the salad was fresh salmon fillets. Because I had fussed quite a bit with my zucchini noodle salad, I decided to keep their preparation simple. I brushed them lightly with olive oil, seasoned them, and grilled them until just cooked through.

As noted in past articles, when determining whether salmon fillets are cooked, remember that when cooked, the fish will feel slightly firm. Too soft means it’s not cooked through, too firm and it’s overcooked. When cooked, the fish will also start to separate slightly into flakes and a white protein may seep out from the flakes.

When my salmon fillets were cooked, I’ll let them sit a few minutes while I finished up plating my salad. I set a salmon fillet right on top of the salad on each plate and an attractive looking summer dinner was ready. The recipe serves two, but you could double or further expand the recipe if needed.

Grilled Salmon on Zucchini “Noodle” Salad

In this recipe, noodle-shaped pieces of zucchini are cooked and cooled, then used as the base for a Mediterranean-style salad that’s topped with nicely spiced, grilled salmon.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: A few minutes

Makes: Two servings

For the zucchini noodles

1 medium to large zucchini (about 9 inches long, 1 3/4 inches wide)

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 medium garlic glove, minced

• pinch red pepper flakes

2 Tbsp water

Trim the ends off the zucchini. Use a handheld slicer or mandolin (both sold at well-stocked kitchenware stores) to cut the zucchini, lengthwise, into long, thin slices. Stack and cut the slices, lengthwise, into 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch wide strips.

Place the oil in a large, wide skillet (mine was 12 inches) and set over medium, medium-high heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds.

Add the zucchini and water and cook and stir until the zucchini softens and becomes bendable, about two to three minutes. (Be careful not to overcook the zucchini during this process, or it will be become mushy and unappealing.)

Spread zucchini noodles out on a wide plate, cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until needed below.

For the salmon and to finish salad

2 (150 gram) salmon fillets, such as sockeye, coho or steelhead

2 tsp extra virgin olive oil, plus some for drizzling and the grill

1/4 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp smoked paprika

• salt and freshly ground black pepper

12 fresh basil leaves, torn into smaller pieces if large

8 cherry tomatoes, each halved

50 grams soft goat cheese, pulled into small nuggets

3 Tbsp walnut pieces, lightly toasted (see Note)

• balsamic vinegar, to taste

Preheat your barbecue or indoor grill to medium-high. Brush each piece of salmon with 1 tsp olive oil. Sprinkle and rub the flesh side of the fish with cumin, smoked paprika, salt and pepper.

Oil the bars of your grill. Set on salmon, skin-side-up. Cook four to five minutes undisturbed. The salmon should easily release itself from the grill when ready to flip. Grill a minute or two on the skin side, or until the fish is just cooked through. Set fish on a plate and tent with foil. Divide and mound some of the zucchini noodles in the centre of each of two dinner plates. Set some fresh basil, cherry tomatoes, goat cheese and walnut pieces on and around the zucchini noodles. Drizzle everything with a little extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper.

Set a piece of salmon on top of the zucchini noodle salad on each plate and serve.

Note: To toast walnuts, place them in a skillet and set over medium heat. Cook a few minutes, swirling pan from time to time.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks, including seven in his Everyone Can Cook series. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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