Background: We keep a rather tight food budget; every month is an amazing culinary adventure in which I attempt to make the most delicious foods possible while simultaneously balancing health, nutrition, good taste, stocking up during good sales, and a few hundred dollars. You may scoff at a few hundred dollars, but only if you haven't met my children. Correction, my boys. All of them register at seven years or younger, but are already preparing themselves for those awkward, lanky teenage years in which they noticeably lengthen between dinner and breakfast the next day. These boys eat so much food; there's just no other way to say it. If only I was as thin as they are (and they are skeletal, believe me.) So, my monthly challenge is set, and I try my darndest to make good decisions within my budget.
So, imagine my surprise yesterday when I started hauling off handfuls of organic produce into my shopping cart. Lettuce, cabbage, lemons, broccoli—all victims of my new fascination with organic food. My objective is twofold: do we like the taste/texture/nuance better than non-organic counterparts, and is that difference worth spending more than twice as much on produce? Now, this is largely a cold weather issue, since spring will bring the onset of our local Farmer Market as well as our own (yes, organic) garden. There are obvious benefits, chief among them being the lack of harmful "-icides" and processing chemicals, but I'm not convinced that those are good enough reasons to pay for organic in the supermarket for my whole family at this time. That's a string of conditions, I know, but a father must make these shaded distinctions, even when considering produce.
So, today's experiment was the lemons. I panfried some (cheap, probably chemically-enhanced on a dirty farm somewhere) whiting fish, then topped it with spinach (non-organic; we're rather limited round these parts) over which I squeezed lemon and sprinkled pepper as it wilted. First examination of the lemons was promising: nearly twice the size of their counterparts, and squeezable. Yes, I said squeezable. Why is that notable? Well, the lemons I've been buying have been small, dense, and could double as a baseball they are so hard. As a result, they need all kinds of tricks to extract a reasonable amount of juice: rolling, squeezing, microwaving, pounding, throwing, you get the idea. These organic lemons were fragrant, enormous, and one had no doubt as to their juiciness. In that spirit, I used only about 1/4 of the lemon rather than the half I generally choose for this purpose. I squeezed it over the spinach, and it was plentiful; juice ran everywhere, and the smell was divine. I confess I licked a little from my fingers, then sampled the leftover flesh for comparison. Now, I've heard of lemons so sweet from the tree that you could eat them plain. This was not that kind of lemon. However, it wasn't nearly as acidic to my taste as others, with a milder, gentler version of the pure lemon bite.
All in all, lemon was a win; I think I'll repeat that purchase. Plus, the price difference was only 25¢/pound, and I used less than I normally would have. I estimate I'll end up ahead with the lemons, both nutritionally and monetarily. I can' wait to try a recipe that uses the zest.
Pan fried whitefish with wilted spinach
4-6 oz filet whitefish of your choice
2 cups spinach leaves, whole or roughly torn
1 clove garlic
juice of 1/2 lemon (or 1/4 of my giant organic lemon)
Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat. Add a teaspoon of oil or butter or pan spray to lubricate. Peel and crush the garlic clove, and rub it all over the filet. Season both sides with ground pepper, and place skin-side up (if it has skin) in pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then carefully loosen fish and turn it over. Put spinach and garlic clove in pan, and allow to wilt, 1-3 minutes. Remove from heat and squeeze lemon over top of it all. Season with additional pepper, if desired. I served mine with a small red potato for a nicely rounded, nutritionally sound lunch.