When harpoon-caught swordfish appears at the market, Umami Girl gets back in the game after a seven-year abstinence.
How the time went by is another story altogether, but it’s been seven years since I was the type of fresh-faced girl who thought having children was for old, boring people. They say that’s enough time for cell renewal to have made me a whole new person, inside and out. I think it shows, don’t you? Not coincidentally, it’s also been seven years since I started imagining that swordfish leaves a metallic taste on the tongue and a greenish glow in the eyes.
Before that, I really liked swordfish. Loved it, even. But that’s what happens when you’re neurotic to the core and start to think about becoming a parent. You don’t just heed the warnings about mercury. You live them. (Sure, you acted all blasé in college, but you never really learned to calibrate your fears, did you—only to suppress them. See how we’re talking about you here, by the way?)
Now that the baby is about to turn two, I’ve been yammering a fair amount about reclaiming my “personhood” in all its neurotic glory. As far as I can tell, this means taking on some additional freelance writing work if I ever get around to pitching anything, maybe buying a couple of cute new pairs of pants for the fall, and finally getting my hands on (and my head around) a couple of swordfish steaks again. Yeowww!
So far I’m taking the list in reverse order. Though I also read magazines from back to front, which I’m sure doesn’t bother anyone, in this instance you can blame the Whole Foods fish counter for my disordered habits.
They had a poster. It drew me in. It spoke to me—about harpoon-caught swordfish and hard-won personhood. I know what you’re thinking. It harpooned me. With marketing, no less. I suppose you’re right.
Still, marketing makes a spectacular salad. Among other virtues, it’s hearty enough for a meal that lets you drift pleasantly off to sleep in the cozy aftermath of a warm summer day. And if your irises do happen to glow a little, well, then you’ll have a built-in night light to lead your way to the bathroom after midnight.
If you’d rather sleep in pitch dark, I think two cans of chickpeas would make a fine vegetarian substitution for the swordfish. Whatever your protein of choice, I think this salad will harpoon you right in the dear little heart. Bon appétit!
Grilled Swordfish, Eggplant and Potato Salad
-serves 4 as a main dish-
20 small boiling potatoes
1 Tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for sprinkling
1 medium eggplant
1 pound swordfish steak
6 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for rubbing
3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tablespoons drained capers
2 Tablespoons chopped black olives
2 teaspoons country Dijon or other sharp, grainy mustard
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
10 large basil leaves, chopped
1 bunch scallions, trimmed and sliced
1. Cut the potatoes into bite-sized pieces (halved if small, quartered if a little larger) and place in a pot large enough to hold them with room to spare. Pour in enough cold water to cover the potatoes by an inch. Add 1 Tablespoon salt. Bring to a boil, uncovered, then reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are just tender all the way through, 15 minutes give or take, depending on their size. Drain the potatoes and cover with a kitchen towel to keep warm.
2. Meanwhile, preheat the grill for two-zone direct heat. (I feel like a huge poseur here, because I use a gas grill and only have to turn one of the burners to medium to achieve two-zone bliss. But you know what? I would figure this out if I had to, and you will, too.)
3. Trim the ends from the eggplant and slice it lengthwise into 1/2-inch thick slices. Rub the eggplant and the swordfish steaks with olive oil all over and sprinkle with salt on all sides. Place the swordfish on the hottest part of the grill and the eggplant over the lower direct heat. Grill the swordfish until just cooked through, turning once halfway through, about 5 minutes per side for a thick steak. Grill the eggplant until tender but not falling apart, turning once halfway through, also about 5 minutes per side. Cool the eggplant and swordfish slightly, remove any skin from the swordfish, and cut both into bite-size pieces.*
4. In a very large bowl, combine the six Tablespoons olive oil, vinegar, garlic, capers, olives, mustard, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Whisk to emulsify. Add the drained potatoes, the swordfish and the eggplant to the bowl with the dressing and toss gently but thoroughly. Add the basil and scallions to the bowl and toss gently to incorporate. Serve warm or at room temperature.
* Note: You can also steam the eggplant instead of grilling it if, say, you’re using leftover fish or substituting chickpeas and don’t feel like firing up the grill. In that case, dice the eggplant and steam in a bamboo or metal steamer for 5 to 7 minutes.