I think when you begin to love someone, it’s just part of the natural progression of things to probe them endlessly to figure out everything they like to eat. And everything they hate, too.
I ask questions about food preferences immediately — in friendships, in love — mostly because, well, let’s not get hurt later on.
“Cake or pie?” And they think, even when the answer’s easy. “But if you were forced, at which of the fast food chains would you eat for the rest of your life?” They shudder. “Which doughnut really defines you, though?” I judge them.
It’s all very routine.
With Kate, with Sabrina, with Daniel, anyone I’ve ever adored or admired or wished would love me back but didn’t — I asked this weird series of questions. Coming to know who they are, in taste alone, is like a form of intimacy. An acceptance of quirks and desires but also of boundaries. A way for me to navigate the one essential question, which is: “What can I cook for you?”
I pray it won’t be pasta. God please not pasta.
And then, of course, there’s the matter of the clash. We just can’t like the same things all the time, at least not all the way. Kate will always like ice cream cake. Sabrina will crave things doused in vinegar and hot sauce. My family will scrub the counter with my tofu. Daniel will insist that Qdoba is better than Chipotle, even when there’s quite simply no way.
And not a one of them will indulge in any seafood outside of the safe New England net of shrimp, scallops, lobster, and haddock. Salmon? No. Not tilapia, not sea bass, not halibut, certainly not mahi mahi.
So here I am. Making cajun tilapia for one. Not sad, just something. We do what we want, don’t we?
This sandwich. First, it’s loaded with flavor, which I know we all love. Step one is to create a straightforward cajun spice blend that you can store in a small jar for later use on fish, chicken, pork…anything. It’s fantastic. Added to that bold, spicy kick is bacon, which is always a joy, isn’t it? Salty and crisp and a perfect companion for the flaky tilapia. A quick cilantro lime cream is smeared on the top bun to marry all of the flavors.
- 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 1/4 teaspoons cayenne pepper
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise (recommended: Hellmann’s)
- 2 tablespoons 2% Greek yogurt (recommended: Fage)
- juice of half a lime or 1 tablespoon
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh cilantro
- 1 1/2 tablespoons cajun spice blend
- 4 filets of tilapia (1 lb)
- 4 slices bacon (recommended: Applegate Farms Uncured Sunday Bacon)
- 1 medium vine-ripe tomato, sliced
- 4 leaves of romaine or butter lettuce
- 4 hamburger buns, split
- Make the spice blend: Mix all spices/herbs together until blended. Store in an airtight container and use on fish, poultry, pork, or beef. (Makes about 1/4 cup).
- In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, yogurt, lime juice, and cilantro. Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble the sandwiches.
- Sprinkle both sides of each tilapia filet generously with the cajun spice blend, pressing gently to coat. Put the coated filets on a plate while you make the bacon.
- Heat a large fry pan over medium heat and cook bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon from the pan, transfer to a paper towel-lined plate, and leave 1 tablespoon of bacon grease to the hot pan to cook the fish.
- Add as many of the filets to the hot pan as can fit, and cook until the underside is crisp and browned, 3 minutes. Gently flip the filets and cook for 3 more minutes. Remove the filets to a clean plate. If any filets stand to be cooked, add a teaspoon of oil to the pan, swirl to coat, and cook for 3 minutes per side. You may consider lowering the heat to prevent burning.
- Assemble the sandwiches by laying the hamburger buns on a clean work surface and smearing 1 tablespoon cilantro-lime mayo on the (face-up) top sides of each. On the bottom halves, layer a leaf of romaine, slice or two of tomato, 1 tilapia filet, and 1 slice of bacon (folded in half or cut in half to cover more area). Top with the mayo-smeared halves and serve immediately.
Nutrition Information for 1 Sandwich (1 filet, 1 slice bacon, 1 tablespoon mayo, lettuce, tomato, and 100-calorie burger bun): Calories: 350, Total Fat: 16.8g, Total Carbohydrate: 23.7g, Fiber: 5.9g, Sugars: 3.7g, Protein: 32.7g
Now it’s your turn: What do you make that’s just for you?