Spinach Salad with Mahimahi, Grapefruit, and Avocado

I’ll be honest. This is a rather polarizing salad. At least in my house it is. I contend that the flavors of tart grapefruit, mild mahimahi, creamy avocado, and a lime-honey vinaigrette all mixed up together make for an explosion of deliciously contrasting flavors and textures. The rest of my family, on the other hand, is not so keen.

Grapefruit isn’t just an acquired taste. Apparently our taste perception of it and several other bitter foods depends on our genetics. (So I can give my husband and kids a pass.) But if you’re one of those fortunate people who can enjoy grapefruit, now is the time to do so–at least in Arizona, where we live.

This grapefruity recipe comes from Real Simple, a magazine that generally lives up to its name. But to take a simple recipe and make it even easier for weeknight dinnertime, I swapped out grilled fresh mahimahi for Trader Joe’s frozen mahimahi burgers. They may not be quite as pretty as grilled fillets, but these burgers, diced, turned assembly of this salad into a total breeze. Plus, they’re a WHOLE lot less expensive than what my regular grocery store charges for mahimahi.

I enjoyed this flavor combo so much on Thursday evening that I recreated it for my Lenten Fish Friday. If you observe Lent or just need a light, refreshing, easy lunch or dinner, you can’t go wrong with this healthy salad…

…unless you’re genetically predisposed to hate grapefruit.


Print Recipe
Spinach Salad with Mahimahi, Grapefruit, and Avocado
An explosion of varying tastes and textures, this salad is a light, healthy meal!
Course Main Dish, seafood
Prep Time 20 minutes
Servings
as a main dish
Course Main Dish, seafood
Prep Time 20 minutes
Servings
as a main dish
Instructions
  1. Prepare mahimahi burgers according to instructions on box. Meanwhile, spread spinach on a large platter. Top with grapefruit segments and diced avocado. When mahimahi burgers are done cooking, slice them into pieces and spread over salad.
  2. Make the dressing: in a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together all ingredients. Toss salad with dressing or serve on the side.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Real Simple.

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Jerk Salmon Bowl with Avocado-Mango Salsa

Is it just me, or does it feel like it’s really trendy to eat things in bowls right now? Poke bowls, burrito bowls, Buddha bowls (what even IS a Buddha bowl?) Taco Bell has “Power Menu Bowl,” while KFC offers a mashed potato-chicken bowl, which has the dubious honor of making Time Magazine’s 10 Worst Fast Food Meals). Burrrrn.

The take-home message of the Bowl Movement (don’t think too hard about that phrase) seems to be that you can throw a wide variety of foods together in a bowl and watch them play nice as a one-dish meal. I don’t really care about being trendy, but I can definitely get behind the idea of protein, starch, fruits, and/or veggies all mixed up in one tasty package. Kinda like some other recipes I like.

This bowl I’m featuring today combines jerk-seasoned salmon, black beans, rice, and a zesty mango salsa for a refreshing, healthy catch-all dinner or lunch. The pan-frying method of cooking the salmon in this recipe gives it a restaurant-quality, almost-but-not-quite crispy on the outside texture that complements the cool sweetness and tender texture of the avocado-mango salsa. Sturdy staples of black beans and rice round out the equation. When serving, separate it into sections (as pictured), or stir it all together. There’s no wrong way to eat a bowl.

Especially if you’re observing Lent, this is a great one for meat-free days, or any time you’re looking for a light meal packed with nutrition.


Print Recipe
Jerk Salmon Bowl with Mango Salsa
This one-dish meal of salmon, beans, rice and mango salsa is packed with nutrition!
Course Main Dish, seafood
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
Course Main Dish, seafood
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
Instructions
Make the salsa:
  1. In a medium bowl, stir together avocado, mango, red onion, and cilantro. Squeeze juice of 1/2 lime onto mixture and stir again. Season with salt to taste. Set aside.
Cook the salmon:
  1. In a small bowl, combine spices (curry powder through cumin). Rub over both sides of salmon. Heat olive oil over medium-high in a large non-stick skillet. Add salmon and cook 3-5 minutes per side. Break salmon into chunks and continue to cook until no longer translucent. Remove from heat.
Assemble the bowls:
  1. Divide rice, beans, salmon, and salsa between four bowls. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Pinch of Yum.

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Stetson Chopped Salad

If you follow A Love Letter to Food on Facebook, you may have seen this picture before. (And if you haven’t liked my Facebook page yet, I’d be most honored if you would!) A few days ago was my birthday, and as an avid–or obsessive, depending on how you look at it–home cook, I typically would rather make something truly spectacular at home for my birthday dinner than go out. This Stetson Chopped Salad was THE ONE dinner I knew would be birthday-worthy this year.

What is a Stetson Chopped Salad? (And who in their right mind chooses a salad for their birthday dinner?) Well, in the Phoenix area, the Stetson is a local food celebrity. It’s pretty impressive for any salad to attain celebrity status, but somehow, sometimes, it happens. After all, you’ve heard of Cobb, Waldorf, and Wedge. These famous salads are like the old Hollywood starlets of healthy American cuisine. Classic, standard, glam. The Stetson Chopped Salad, on the other hand, is like the up-and-coming Western girl hitting the big time. Its humble origin lies with Cowboy Ciao, a restaurant located, appropriately, on Stetson Drive in Scottsdale.

A few years ago, some friends had us over for dinner and served a homemade version of the Stetson. It was an edible work of art, with a taste no less extraordinary than the presentation. But we definitely found ourselves in “why-do-these-flavors-go-together-this-makes-no-sense” territory. Who the heck thought of putting sweet (dried currants) with savory (corn and tomatoes) with smoked salmon and a creamy basil dressing?

IT MAKES NO LOGICAL SENSE.

But trust me, there’s a reason this salad is famous. You just have to go with it. And when you do, you’re gonna be like…

Even when my husband and I eventually ate at Cowboy Ciao and of course ordered the “real” restaurant version, it didn’t quite compare to the one our friend had made. (She is a trained chef, so that probably helped.) With this memory in mind, I made my own birthday version, and it was indeed an awesome mix of flavors, textures, and visual appeal. Definitely a salad worth choosing for a special occasion.

Oh, and the other reason I chose salad for my birthday? Cause I knew this was coming afterward!

Raspberry Almond Layer Cake for dessert definitely rounded out the birthday meal experience. 🙂


Print Recipe
Stetson Chopped Salad
You'll be amazed at how this unusual combination of flavors makes for a totally crave-worthy salad!
Instructions
Assemble the salad:
  1. Spread arugula leaves evenly on a large, flat platter. Cover with layered rows of couscous, salmon, pepitas, sweet corn, cranberries, and tomatoes.
Make the dressing:
  1. Combine all dressing ingredients in a measuring cup and mix with an immersion blender until smooth.
  2. Mix salad tableside, if desired, and serve with dressing on the side.
Recipe Notes

Based on this recipe from Key Ingredient.

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Spaghetti with Tuna, Basil, and Lemon

Quick nutrition question: what do you know about omega-3 fatty acids? My guess is there are a few bits of info that probably come to mind when you think of omega-3s:

  • they’re found in fish, walnuts, certain oils, and other foods
  • alternatively, you can take them in pills that are pretty pricey and can tend to give you fishy burps
  • they’re somehow supposed to be good for you, despite how unappealing the term “fatty acid” may sound

But have you ever wondered what exactly they are and why they’re good for you?

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat. They are referred to as “unsaturated” because of their chemistry: the carbon in the fat is not “saturated” with hydrogen molecules surrounding it (as in, it contains less than the maximum number of bonds possible–when the maximum number of bonds are attached, it becomes “saturated”). Also, fun fact: like other unsaturated fats, omega-3 is liquid at room temperature, so if you could buy it in pure form at the store, you’d find it alongside the oils. Fill the carbons up with those hydrogen bonds, though, and you’ll get solid-at-room-temperature saturated fat, as in butter.

The reason these particular fats have the name “omega-3” is also chemistry-related. There is a double bond between carbon and hydrogen on the carbon molecule third from the end (called the “omega”–you know, like “the Alpha and the Omega,” i.e. “the beginning and the end”) of the chemical chain. So, if it helps you, think of omega-3s as the “third from the end” fats. I do!

So, what are these fatty acids supposed to do for us, and why should we care? Evidence-based research shows that omega-3s help reduce inflammation in the body–always good for protecting our hearts from heart attacks and our brains from strokes, among other benefits–and may also lower blood pressure and triglycerides. Some studies have also shown them to have a cumulative positive effect on cognition.

For my part, I’d rather get my omega-3s through tasty foods than through pills (though there’s certainly nothing wrong with taking them in pill form). The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 recommend eating 8 oz. of fatty fish each week, which breaks down to about two servings. And I’ve got a recipe for one for you right here.

This Mediterranean-inspired Spaghetti with Tuna, Basil, and Lemon is a delicious source of those all-important 3s, as it’s packed not only with tuna, but a good dose of olive oil. And, like any other meal, this one is a sum of multiple nutrition parts, which includes whole grains in the spaghetti, immunity-boosting raw garlic, and a respectable chunk of calcium in the form of Parmesan cheese. Not only that, but it’s a super easy, flavorful dinner that can be thrown together in 30 minutes or less with inexpensive ingredients.

I’d say that’s a good deal for your heart, your brain, your stomach, and your wallet!


Print Recipe
Spaghetti with Tuna, Basil, and Lemon
An easy Mediterranean-inspired pasta packed with omega-3s and bright flavors.
Instructions
  1. Cook the spaghetti according to package directions. In a large bowl, toss with olive oil, lemon zest, minced garlic, Parmesan, tuna, and basil. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

A Love Letter to Food Original Recipe.

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Cajun Lemon Tilapia with Dill Sauce

Cajun lemon tilapia

As a practicing Catholic, my observance of Lent began yesterday on Ash Wednesday. Like most Catholics, I have a love-hate relationship with Lent. No one likes sacrifice, which is exactly what this pre-Easter season is all about, but despite our sometimes begrudging feelings about it, we all can benefit from setting aside some of our own desires for awhile. As I like to remind myself, the hard things are usually the things worth doing.

For my Lenten sacrifice this year, I decided not to go with anything to do with my eating or drinking habits. (After last year’s “giving up” wine turned into a total failure.) This time I’m limiting my screen time, including not watching any TV or movies and not using my phone for any purpose while driving. It may sound like a small “sacrifice”–and really, it is–but even a day and a half in, I’m pleased with this choice because it has to do with my use of time, an area in which I’m constantly striving for balance. My former priest used to say “fast so you can pray,” meaning “give something up that will move you to pray.” And certainly giving up TV and movies and cutting back on my attachment to my phone will give me extra time in my day–time I can spend on other, more important priorities like prayer, studying for my upcoming nutrition licensure exam, or reading.

However, is it just me, or is the first week of Lent the absolute hardest? I can’t tell you how many times in just the last 36 hours my brain has tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, “Hey, you know what’s a great movie? Hey, you know what show I really want to watch?”

GET OUT OF MY HEAD, BRAIN!

Fridays, as all Catholics know, are the same way when it comes to the whole don’t-eat-meat issue. Saturday through Thursday you could be like those “women laughing alone with salad.” (Have you heard of this? It’s a whole thing on the Internet about how often you see pictures of women laughing alone with salad in marketing photos.) But come Friday it’s like…

betty white hot dog

Yes, I did make this Betty White Eating a Hot Dog meme myself. You’re welcome. 

But I have good news! Fridays during Lent (if you do Lent) don’t have to be meatless misery. This Cajun Lemon Tilapia with Dill Sauce is an easy, healthy, super flavorful fish entree to help curb those Friday cravings. And if you don’t do Lent, it’s still an easy, healthy, super flavorful fish entree for any day of the week! Cajun-seasoned tilapia topped with zesty lemon slices and paired with a creamy dill sauce make for an irresistible combination. I especially love to serve it over couscous with a side of steamed broccoli.

So…do you observe Lent? Or if you don’t, have you ever had and experience where self-sacrifice provided personal growth? I’d love to hear your encouragement, because I really want to watch some Netflix right now.

Cajun lemon tilapia

Print Recipe
Cajun Lemon Tilapia with Dill Sauce
Spicy Cajun-seasoned tilapia combines with a cool and creamy dill sauce in this easy fish recipe.
Course Main Dish, seafood
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Course Main Dish, seafood
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.
  2. Sprinkle both sides of tilapia fillets with Cajun seasoning and salt and pepper. Place in prepared baking dish and top with lemon slices. Bake 12-16 minutes, depending on size and thickness of fillets, until tilapia flakes easily with a fork.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare the sauce by combining all ingredients in a small bowl. Serve alongside the fish.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Allrecipes.com.

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