Five years ago Don and I visited Granada, Spain to see the Alhambra (so named because of the Arabic name for its reddish walls). Our very first meal, aside from the Hotel’s fabulous breakfast, was lunch in a cafe adjacent to the Alhambra. It was a sunny spring day and the outside tables were perfect. Uncertain about ordering meals, and various food intolerances making the uncertainty worse, I settled on a salad of oranges, fennel and cod. It turns out this is a very Spanish dish and we saw it a number of other times on various travels in Spain.
Since fennel and navel oranges are usually plentiful, and reasonable quality, here in winter, I decided I wanted to try and recreate my memory of the dish. The first challenge was to find some deep sea cod. It is not common here, not being near the deep sea and all! As I recalled, the Spanish original used salted cod but I’m not familiar with using that, soaking it etc, so I decided if I could find some fresh, frozen cod or other white sea fish, I would use that. I couldn’t see any cod in the groceries, so our butcher who sells a lot of good quality sea food was the next stop, and miracle of miracles, they had some. (I have not seen even the slightest hint of any since)
The morning I planned to make the salad I woke around 4am to the sound of the Ghan* train coming into Alice–about 12 hours late! They sound their horn upon arrival, even at 4am, it would seem. We are over a kilometre away from the station but in the quiet of the morning I could still hear it. My first thought was for the poor passengers who obviously had spent more time aboard than they had planned. Part of the Northern Territory adventure, I suppose.
Since I was awake early I turned on the heater in the bathroom and while it was warming I snuggled back in bed for a little while. Winter in Alice is quite cold overnight. After showering and having breakfast I decided to do my grocery shopping early, although 9am would not be early in the summer! As soon as I was inside the grocery I could see the other problem with the Ghan’s late arrival. The produce section had many vacant gaps, the most worrying of which was the one where fennel is usually kept!! Despite best efforts to keep things on schedule, once in a while the Ghan hits sections of the track that have washed out, or some other difficulty. Such is the story of a train that runs through hundreds of kilometres of scrub and bushland.
I had bought the fish, and the orange, but what could I do without fennel? Time for some culinary conjuring! Somewhere in the back of my mind I seemed to remember that celery and fennel were from the same genus, though different species, and thinking that sliced very thinly they would have a similar texture, I decided to try celery in place of the fennel.
I baked the cod with only lemon, olive oil, salt, pepper and thinly slice lemons on top, tied in baking paper at 165C for about 20 minutes. I let them cool to room temperature because it was a salad. Meanwhile I peeled and sliced the orange thinly and used a mandolin to get the celery slices very, very thin. Once assembled on a plate I added another sprinkle of salt, a drizzle of good olive oil, and a squeeze of half a lemon. The original Spanish dish had thin slivers of red Spanish onion through it as well, but onion is something I’m unable to eat so I left it off. The result was delicious, nevertheless. I thought I had lost the photo of that special lunch, but after making what I remembered the dish to be like, the vast recesses of my grey matter led me to the five year previous photo! Next time I will add the radicchio (if I can find it), eggs and olives, now that I see what my memory had forgotten!! Now you know why I love photos so much!
(*Ghan is short for Afghan, and the train is named for the many Afghanistani cameleers who helped settle Central Australia)
Special thanks to Celia for hosting our monthly kitchen get together. Visit her through the link and find other interesting kitchens around the world.