Big flavors in small packages

COOKING FOR TWO

Taste: Foods like limes and chilies can give a boost to bland February menus.

February 24, 2002|By Bev Bennett | Bev Bennett,Special to the Sun

Bringing fresh taste into February menus can be challenging. You've had about as much of baked potatoes and turnips as you want for one season. Now you want foods with a little punch to them, and you'll find the big flavors you crave wrapped in small packages.

For example, add a squirt of fresh lime juice to beans, and you have a dish with a Caribbean accent. Use fresh jalapeno chilies instead of crushed red pepper flakes from a jar. Chilies, with their sweet, hot and piquant accents, will enliven salads, meat dishes and even sauces.

You may not work your way through a 5-pound bag of onions too quickly, but you can take advantage of diminutive shallots to season soups or omelets. Even little tomatoes have their place in winter cooking. If you haven't discovered grape tomatoes, you're in for a delicious surprise. These tomatoes, shaped as the name suggests, are sweet, juicy and firm. They can stand alone in a salad.

Learn to use an assortment of seasoning tools in an entree of Sauteed Perch With Jalapeno- Butter Sauce, and you'll never complain about bland food again.

Distributed by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services.

Sauteed Perch With Jalapeno- Butter Sauce

Makes 2 servings

2 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons cornmeal

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1 / 4 teaspoon salt

1 / 4 teaspoon black pepper

4 perch fillets

1 tablespoon butter

Jalapeno-Butter Sauce (recipe follows)

lime wedges

On plate, stir together flour, cornmeal, chili powder, salt and pepper. Coat perch with flour mixture.

Heat butter in 10-inch nonstick skillet. Add perch and cook over medium heat or until browned on both sides and white in the center, allowing 3 minutes per side.

Meanwhile, prepare sauce.

Arrange 2 perch fillets on each of 2 plates. Drizzle each serving with sauce. Arrange lime wedges on the side.

Jalapeno-Butter Sauce

Makes 2 servings

2 tablespoons butter

1 small jalapeno chili, cored, seeded and minced

1 shallot, minced

1 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon

1 to 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

salt, pepper

Melt butter in small pan. Add chili and shallot and saute over medium heat 3 minutes or until shallot is tender.

Add tarragon and 1 teaspoon lime juice. Taste. Season with salt and pepper. If sauce isn't slightly tart, add remaining 1 teaspoon lime juice. Serve immediately.

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