Who asked the vegetable to be the star?
In the American food culture, protein is king. Protein has its place as the literal center of the plate. No matter what protein you choose or how frequently you include it in your diet, protein has a set of benefits that no other food group offers.
Nonetheless, I’m an advocate of vegetables. We’ve talked a bit about winter vegetables, and how satisfying and succulent they are. They easily satisfy our winter desire for comfort food. Tonight I did a simple braise of fennel. Fennel is available year-round and, like many vegetables that are simply and well prepared, all of a sudden I crave it.
So, cut off and discard the stalks from two fennel bulbs, and slice the bulbs lengthwise through the core into 1/2″ slices. Chop enough of the fennel fronds to measure 1 Tbsp. Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over moderate heat; brown fennel slices well, turning slices every 2-3 minutes. Reduce heat. Season with herbed salt and pepper. Add 3/4 C vegetable stock. Simmer, covered for 12-15 minutes until fennel is tender. Sprinkle with chopped fronds.
Back to the center of the plate. It’s easy to make fish cakes from leftover tilapia, haddock or other mild whitefish fillets, already cooked and rough-chopped. Add herbs, diced and cooked potatoes, and an egg to bind. Roll fish cakes in Panko bread crumbs, and saute for 5-6 minutes per side in olive oil. Serve with freshly squeezed lemon juice.
It’s hearty. It’s simple. It’s a great meal in less than 30 minutes, and it’s an award-winner.