The Hungarian Feast of One and a Half Fishes: Broiled Snapper, Fennel Risotto and Kale Salad

I meant to put this up last night, but Mama Buddha and I found ourselves consumed by a 750 piece puzzle, which took precedence.  Sorry.

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So, happy belated Christmas Eve and a Merry Christmas to all, if that’s your persuasion. If not, then happy day to you anyway!

Christmas Eve day is my favorite day of the whole year. It’s both an eve AND a day! It’s a Christmas miracle!  Not only that, to me, it’s the one day of the year where the wonder, awe and Christmas spirit is at its strongest before Christmas morning comes, the presents are opened and everyone starts to move on with their lives.   It always has been, and even now that I’m grown and the pile of presents under the tree isn’t as big as it once was, this day still has a special place in my soul.

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From a food perspective, I grew up eating seafood on Christmas Eve.  From an appetizer of shrimp cocktail, to a big bowl of gumbo with a side of broiled fish, it was all seafood, all the time.  I thought this was for two reasons:  One, we’re Catholic. Two, we lived in Florida- seafood city.  When I asked Mama Buddha why eating seafood on Christmas Eve was a Catholic tradition, she told me that she didn’t think it was limited to Catholics. Huh, I thought that was why we did it…apparently not.

Since I’m Catholic, I’m going with the Catholic rationale for the eve of seafood. If you have thoughts on why other religions or countries share this practice, I’d love to hear it in the comments!

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The Buddhas, at the Chriskindlmart ,Chicago 2013

The most famous tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve comes from the Italian “Feast of the Seven Fishes,” where at least seven different kinds of seafood are served in one grand, gut-busting meal before midnight Mass. The fish part comes from the Catholic practice of abstaining from meat on Christmas Eve, while the number may refer to the seven sacraments (though this rationale is debatable).  The dishes change depending on the family and I’m sure every Italian grandma has 1000 different recipes to share.  Despite having Christmas almost every year with my part-Italian extended family, I had never heard of this amazing tradition. If I could convert to be Italian, I would just for Christmas Eve. I guess it’s good that I can’t, because this blog would be called the Italian Buddha and my play on words would be lost.

As much as I wanted to recreate the Feast of Seven Fishes, Hungary Buddha style, it seemed a waste for a party of two. Two because Little Buddha was off celebrating Christmas Eve with his squeeze, Frijole.  Therefore, Mama Buddha and I had our seafood-y Christmas Eve dinner of broiled snapper, fennel risotto and a simple side salad, a meal made cohesive by lemon and parsley.  Dinner was delicious, but admittedly lacking without our traditional  gumbo, but making it would have just been too much food for too few people.

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Simple, tasty and done in a little more than 30 minutes, leaving plenty of time for putting together that silly puzzle.

For the snapper:

2 snapper fillets

Salt and pepper to taste

Lemon juice and parsley to garnish

1.  Salt and pepper on each side.

2.  Broil roughly five minutes on each side, until fish flakes easily with a fork

3.  Garnish with Lemon juice and parsley

fish

For the risotto

(Serves 4)

1 bulb fennel, cleaned and coarsely chopped

3 cloves garlic

1 cup of Arborio rice

4 cups fish stock (you can use chicken stock. I “found” fish stock in my freezer and thought score! Perpetuating the seafood theme- and adding the half fish)

1 lemon, juiced

Salt and pepper

Handful parsley, chopped

1 cup parmesan cheese, or to taste

Olive oil, for the pan

Directions

1. In a saucepan, warm the stock.

2.  Meanwhile, in a large, deep saucepan, heat a bit of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the fennel and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes until soft. Stir in the rice to coat for 1 minute.

3.  Ladle in the warm stock a few ladle-fuls at a time, stirring to develop the starch and waiting until all the liquid is absorbed before adding more. This dish will should take around 18 minutes from the first addition of stock.

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4.  During the last minute of cooking, stir in the lemon juice and cheese.

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For the salad:

1 head kale

4 canned mini-beets

Cheese, why not? Your choice.

Pecans, or your choice

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For the dressing:

1 lemon, juiced

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 TB Dijon mustard

1 tsp honey

1 tsp olive oil

Salt and pepper

1.  Heat all the dressing ingredients quickly just enough to loosen everything up.  Toss with the kale, beets, pecans and cheese.

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Dinner was capped off by some of that Cape Brandy Pudding.

Ho Ho Ho!

 

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