Friday, January 20, 2012

Salmon with Pumpkin-Seed Cilantro Pesto

Salmon is well-known as a superior source of omega-3 oils, which support heart health, muscle and tissue development, eye care and cell functions among others.  Did you know it's also a excellent source of vitamins D, B12, and B3 as well as protein?  Health experts encourage eating salmon on a weekly basis so I did a little research on the sustainability and contamination levels of wild salmon.  Alaskan salmon leads in both categories.  Eight different varieties of Alaskan salmon have been evaluated for mercury and pollution contamination and have been found to have a low contamination risk for regular consumption.  In addition, The Monterey Bay Aquarium has recently determined Alaskan salmon to be the only low-risk salmon in terms of four sustainability criteria: the inherent vulnerability of the fish, the effects of fishing on the overall habitat, the status of wild stocks, and the nature of the by-catch (the other types of fish that are caught unintentionally during salmon fishing).  While Alaskan salmon is recommended if you prefer wild-caught salmon, any variety of farm-raised salmon is also fine.  For this recipe we used a Scottish farm-raised salmon that I found at my favorite fishmonger (Don't you love that word?  It sounds so Charles Dickens-ish.). The salmon was delicate, buttery and absoloutely delicious.

OK, enough with the science talk.  The unusual part of this recipe is the pesto - essentially a southwestern version of the more traditional Italian pesto that is usually made with basil, garlic and pine nuts.  The bright flavors of cilantro and lime plus the nuttiness of the pumpkin seeds contrast wonderfully with the buttery fish.  And it's a really easy recipe - just whizz up the pesto, cook some salmon fillets, and there you go. We used the leftover pesto from this recipe to spoon over chicken and pasta the next day, which was equally delicious.

Toasted pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas, can typically be found in health food co-ops or the bulk foods aisle of some upscale groceries.  They're also excellent in salads, granola, or anywhere you would traditionally use walnuts or almonds.

We decided to serve spinach (another superfood) and mashed potatoes with the salmon, but The Lawyer and I had different ideas regarding how to plate the meal.  My version (above) was vertically stacked with the potatoes acting as the glue holding everything together.  The Lawyer's concept was more side-by-side as you can see below.  I can hear some of you saying to yourself  "Do they actually talk about things like how to plate food?"  Yup, we do.  Foodies are crazy people.

* * click here for a printable recipe version * *

Salmon with Pumpkin-Seed Cilantro Pesto
Serves 4

1 teaspoon plus ¼ cup olive oil
½ cup roasted salted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
½ cup firmly packed cilantro leaves and stems
½ teaspoon cracked coriander seeds
½ garlic clove, coarsely chopped
1-1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Salt and pepper
4 6-ounce skinless salmon fillets
1 lime, cut into 4 wedges

Hot mashed potatoes (optional)
Baby spinach (optional)

Place 6 tablespoons of the pumpkin seeds in a food processor together with the cilantro, coriander seeds, and garlic; pulse until coarsely chopped. With the machine running, gradually add the lime juice, ¼ cup olive oil, and ¼ cup water, blending until a coarse puree forms. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Heat the remaining 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Season the salmon fillets with salt and pepper. Add to the skillet and cook until just opaque in the center, approximately 3-4 minutes per side depending on thickness.

To serve, place the spinach and hot mashed potatoes on a plate (if using) and top with the salmon. Spoon pesto over, garnish with the remaining pumpkin seeds, and serve with a lime wedge.

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