The sprinklers in our yard go off every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (at 3 am, to be exact), and since that really means that they actually go off every Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday night after we’re fast asleep and the calendar has hopscotched one day ahead, for a few hotter-n-hell weeks here this Summer, I was convinced they were broken.
I cursed at and futzed around with the impossible to decipher 1990′s era control, concerned with the hay-like state of our yard and the crunch of the bone dry grass beneath my feet. After a bit of deep thinking, I realized that the grass would not be wet on Tuesday mornings, but rather early on Wednesday mornings when the sprinklers would have just a few hours prior finished spurting and sputtering and doing their thing.
(Apparently I’m not the most cerebral when it comes to lawn work, but give a city-gal a break for a moment, would ya?)
The next Wednesday, I rushed out to make sure all was right in sprinkler world, and again – bone dry crunchy and cracklin’ grass. This in turn spurred a frantic call to our landlord (I’m killing the yard!), which caused a $100 visit from the overpriced lawn man (my grass is brown! our sprinklers are dead!), and many many sad and guilty glances out over the now tan-ish span of lawn that I was sure I had been accidentally thirsting to death.
After thirty seconds of tinkering and approximately the same amount of pondering, the lawn man informed me that, indeed, the sprinklers were working just fine; the nights were just so darn hot that by day break and dog walk the dirt had already sucked up all the water and the blades were back to their previously parched state.
A lesson learned during my first Summer in hot, dry, Colorado I suppose.
(But hey, at least my hair isn’t frizzy! It’s all about the small victories, people.)
This morning, a Wednesday morning, I walked outside with one sandy-eyed puglet and her BFF Chibi the four pound Maltese (who we are pup-sitting for a week), and for the first time in a long time – I was cold.
The dogs bounded out into the yard to do their morning thang, and the moment their tiny paws dug into the cool WET grass, they both stopped in their tracks and hightailed it back inside. I had to fold my arms up over my tee-shirt and felt a shiver up my spine as I plodded across the still-damp expanse (hallelujah!), and though this afternoon the temp has climbed back up into the 80′s — there are real changes underfoot.
Something’s clicked – and not a lot mind you; something’s shifted just enough that it’s barely palpable, yet definitely there. There is an unfamiliar darkness that has started to hang around longer in the mornings, and it creeps back up into our evenings almost an hour earlier than we’ve become accustomed to. The back to school commercials have begun to pop up in and around evening TV, those god-awful election smear-campaign spots can be heard as I stand in the kitchen rinsing our garden greens, and the girls gracing the covers of the latest glossies (the September issues!) are clad in long pants and light sweaters.
But this post isn’t about weather (me? talk about weather again? that would be boring….); it’s about a salad that is Summery and fresh, but hefty enough to anchor a dinner on it’s own. It’s a salad with a savory piece of almond-crusted and pan-fried tilapia standing firmly as star, but one that is checkered with satisfying and seasonally appropriate bursting bits of brightness, lightness, creaminess, and crunch.
As I chased after the dogs and ushered then begrudgingly back out into the cold-wet-wild to do their business (just wait till January, my darlings!), I thought about how perfect this salad would be on a day like today. It’s a salad that’s best eaten outside with a glass of white wine, and with pleasant temperatures to usher you gently towards nightfall.
This dinner salad is simple, but so, so delicious. The almonds crisp and crunch up, and cling tightly to the tilapia which fries up firm and juicy. The salad, a light combination of baby spinach, sweet berries, snappy tomatoes, crisp jicama, and creamy avocado, has textural interest and a bevy of textures that play well off each other. The vinaigrette that holds it all together is simple and light, with hints of mustard and honey, and a welcomed bite from a dose of sunny champagne vinegar. It is so filling and satisfying, and takes less than a half hour to prepare – giving you plenty of time to extend happy hour to ‘hours,’ and take full advantage of this special time of year.
Almond Crusted Tilapia with a Sweet Summer Salad
last dinner salad seen here.
As I note below, be sure not to crowd your fish in the pan if the pan is not large enough to accommodate all 4 filets; simply cook 2 at a time, and keep the cooked filets warm in a low preheated oven while you finish the rest.
Keep a hawks eye on the almonds to make sure they do not burn; if you find they are darkening too quickly, simply lower the heat and increase the cook time to a bit longer. The fish cooks quickly, and is done when it is no longer translucent when you peek into its middle.ik
4 large filets tilapia (about 1 pound total)
3/4 cup whole unsalted almonds
1/2 cup whole wheat panko
2 Tbsp dijon mustard
kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper
olive oil, for pan frying
5-6 oz baby spinach (I used one clamshell of organic baby spinach)
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved (I used a mix of yellow teardrop and orange cherry)
1 avocado, pitted, peeled, and chopped
1/2 pint strawberries, tops removed and cut into thin slices
1/2 pint blueberries
1/2 a large jicama, peeled and cut into bite sized cubes
kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp whole grain mustard
1 tsp honey
2 1/2 Tbsp champagne vinegar
2 Tbsp olive oil
tools: food processor, large skillet
In a large salad bowl, gently layer the salad ingredients as followed: first the halved cherry tomatoes, then the diced avocado, then the sliced strawberries, then the diced jicama, then the blueberries, and finally the baby spinach. Layering the salad in this manner keeps the tomatoes juice from making any salad leaves mushy, and allows you to place the salad bowl in the fridge while you prep the rest of the meal. Keep the salad refrigerated until you are ready to serve.
Prepare the vinaigrette; in a medium size bowl, whisk together all of the vinaigrette ingredients, and set to the side till you are ready to use it.
If all four filets will not fit into your skillet (without being crowded), preheat your oven to 200F, and line a baking sheet with tin foil – you will use this to keep any cooked filets warm while you finish cooking the remainder.
In the bowl of a food processor (I used a mini size), whiz together the unsalted almonds, the panko, and a bit of fresh cracked pepper and kosher salt. Process until the almonds have ground down into small pieces and the mixture is mostly uniform; you’ll want to see some texture, but you don’t want any large pieces of almonds left. Place the almond crumb mixture into a shallow and wide-mouthed bowl (one that’s large enough to dredge the fish in).
Season each tilapia filet with a bit of salt and fresh pepper. Brush each filet lightly on both sides with the dijon mustard, and gently press into the almond crumbs, pressing firmly to ensure that the crumbs adhere to all spots of the filet. Place the filets carefully on a plate to the side.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat, and drizzle just enough olive oil in the bottom to cover. When the skillet is hot, lower the filets into the oil, and let them cook for 2-3 minutes per side (do this in 2 batches of 2 if your skillet is not large enough to accommodate all 4 without crowding, and keep the cooked filets warm in the preheated oven). Keep a close eye on the almonds to ensure that they do not burn; they will burn quickly over high heat, and if you notice them darkening too much, lower the heat. Gently flip the filets and finish cooking the other side – the fish is finished when it is just opaque all the way through and the almonds are golden brown and crisp.
When your filets are cooked, drizzle the vinaigrette over the top of the salad, and toss gently, making sure that all of the ingredients are lightly covered with the dressing. Divide the salad amongst four dinner plates, and then place an almond crusted tilapia filet on top.