Last year, I read probably the most inspiring food book I’ve ever encountered: Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Ever since the 5th grade, when I wrote a report on Barbara Kingsolver, I have been intrigued by this author I considered more or less local (she was a long-time resident of Tucson; I live roughly 90 minutes north in Mesa). Most people know her for her best-selling novels, but Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a memoir of Kingsolver’s family’s journey across the country, leaving Tucson (waaahhh!) for rural Virginia, where they attempted to make a go of running a self-sustaining farm. If you have any interest in the idea of eating seasonally/locally, or wonder why some people find it worthwhile, please read this book. It, more than anything else, motivated me to make the effort to support local agriculture and eat what the seasons provide.
That being said, unfortunately, in the Phoenix area, eating seasonally can be a bit of a joke. In her memoir, Kingsolver calls February “Hungry Month” since it’s the time when (in her part of the country) plants lie dormant and nothing grows. In Phoenix–or at least in our backyard garden–Hungry Months include May through September. Then again, Kingsolver also mentions that eating locally in the desert Southwest is defined (by the powers that define these things) as within a 250-mile radius. So I guess we’re off the hook for not having to harvest dead grass for our salads during these summer months.
My point here is that, even though it’s difficult, I try–and want to keep trying harder. I get to the farmer’s market when I can, and I certainly don’t buy $6 asparagus in August or $5 strawberries in January. When I saw this soup recipe, it got me excited to bust over to my nearest Sprouts and bag up armloads of vegetables that happen to be on sale right now because they actually belong to this season. (Maybe not in central Mesa, but somewhere not too far away.) The result was fabulous. This soup, while very simple, had an unusual flavor that took me by surprise. The savory-tart combination of broth with lemon juice was the perfect background for the freshness of summer vegetables corn, tomatoes, and zucchini. Not to mention that with the veggies chopped ahead of time, it was done in 30 minutes! If you’re a year-round soup lover like me, this will make you realize that “summer soup” doesn’t have to be a contradiction in terms.
Summer Vegetable Soup with Shrimp and Lemon
(Adapted from Fine Cooking Fresh)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 qt. chicken broth
1 c. diced tomato
2 small zucchini, cut into medium dice
1 1/2 c. fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 lb. red potatoes, cut into medium dice
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/4-1/2 lb. pre-cooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh herbs, such as basil, parsley, or cilantro, or a mix
Juice of one lemon
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large stock pot or Dutch oven. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, another minute or two, being careful not to let it brown. Add the broth, the remaining vegetables, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the shrimp until heated, 1-2 minutes. Reduce heat to low and add fresh herbs and lemon juice. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if desired.
Pop quiz: what’s the world’s most popular fruit? Apples? Bananas? Tomatoes, if we’re going to be fussy and technical?
Nope, none of the above. Numerous reports name the world’s most widely consumed fruit as the mango. Around the globe, mangoes outrank apples by 3 to 1 and bananas by 10 to 1. We Americans have some catching up to do in terms of our mango savvy. If this were the Olympics, the Brazilians and Indians would be slaughtering us.
I’m not actually sure I had ever eaten a mango before about the age of 25. My dad has always told me the story of his near-death-experience-mango-allergy, so genetics being what they are, I always steered clear for fear of some terrible case of sticky-sweet anaphylaxis. Fortunately, whenever I did eventually get up the guts to taste some, mangoes were kind to me and did not bring me any closer to death. Quite the opposite. They’re loaded with Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and fiber, so if anything, they should add to my lifespan. So indulge me while I give you a second mango-related post in the space of three days.
This dinner is one of those powerhouse meals that manages to be healthy, delicious, and gorgeous at the same time. It’s ideal for company, as it looks straight out of a magazine and is almost entirely prepared ahead of time. To make this for dinner last night, I made the mango salsa a day ahead (gives the flavors more time to meld anyway) and put the tilapia in the marinade in the early afternoon. Served with rice and steamed broccoli, it’s just what summer ordered!
P.S. If your local grocer does not offer mangoes, or if they are out of season, I recommend purchasing them frozen. Trader Joe’s sells pre-peeled, pre-chopped mangoes in their frozen section, which is what I almost always use for this recipe. Frozen fruits are typically picked at the height of ripeness, so you’re much better off buying frozen than fresh if the fruit you’re looking for is not in season.
Herb-Marinated Tilapia with Mango Salsa
(Adapted from Allrecipes.com)
For the marinade:
1/2 c. olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp. dried parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp. dried basil
1 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
3/4 tsp. salt
4 large tilapia fillets
For the salsa:
1 1/2 c. mango, peeled and diced
1/3 c. red pepper, diced
1/3 c. red onion, minced
1 small jalapeño, seeded and minced
2-3 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped
3 Tbsp. lime juice
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
salt to taste
For best results, prepare the salsa ahead of time (up to 48 hours) by combining the mango, red pepper, red onion, jalapeño, and cilantro. Stir in lime juice and lemon juice. Season with salt to taste.
Place tilapia fillets in a large Ziploc-type bag. Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, garlic, basil, black pepper, and salt. Pour over fillets, coat with the marinade, squeeze excess air out of the bag, and seal. Marinate refrigerated for at least 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Place tilapia fillets in a glass baking dish, draining off excess marinade. Bake for 13-15 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Serve topped with mango salsa.