During my military career I had a wonderful opportunity to live in Athens, Greece, for 3 years. I remember Athens as a big city with lots of traffic and lots of angry drivers. But I didn’t care. It was Greece!
Greece has been in the news quite a bit lately and it hasn’t exactly been portrayed in a positive light; however, during my time there, I made friends who are still special to me to this day. I experienced a culture unlike any I had ever encountered. But, most important, I discovered a cuisine that has pretty much driven the way I cook and eat since that time. When people ask me what my “specialty” is, I usually reply: I don’t really have one, but I cook Mediterranean food more often than not.
I love Greece and Greek food. Even when living there and eating it almost everyday, I never tired of it. And as for that terrible traffic? I learned to drive and shout at the other drivers just like the locals. Besides, where else can you eat “small fishes fried” (smelts) washed down with an ice-cold Mythos beer while gazing upon the blue ocean and equally blue sky?
Years later I became friends with a man who was encountering some personal difficulties. I advised him to think about what he wanted to be doing 5 years later and use that goal to formulate his decision. A couple of weeks later he told me he had decided what he wanted to be doing 5 years down the road. When I asked what that was, he told me he wanted to be discovering Greece with me. Say what?
I wasn’t exactly looking for a mate at the time — I’d just returned to the U.S. after a long period overseas, had just bought a house…excuses, excuses. Well, he did something right, because in November we will have been married 13 years. And yes, we did go to Greece together.
Today’s recipe reminds me of everything that I love about Greek food, but it’s not as heavy as some of the typical dishes can be. It’s wonderful for summer and is ideal for a weeknight meal, as it’s a snap to make. This dish can be served over rice or with some hearty bread to soak up the delicious sauce.
I used halibut for this dish, but any white fish filet will work, such as cod, tilapia, or even catfish. Ouzo is an anise-flavored Greek liqueur that is usually diluted with water until cloudy and served as an aperitif with a bowl of olives. It really is the ingredient that sets this dish apart.
1/3 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 onion, diced
2 bay leaves
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, not drained
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup water
2 pounds halibut filets or other white fish
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 bunch dill, chopped
1 tablespoon Ouzo
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and sauté the garlic until fragrant, but not brown. Add the onion and sauté for 3-4 minutes, then add the bay leaves. Add the tomatoes, mushrooms and bell pepper, and season with salt and pepper. Add the water and simmer for two minutes.
Season the fish with salt and pepper and place on top of the simmering vegetable mixture, nestling the filets down into the sauce. Simmer for 4 minutes.
Add the lemon juice, dill and ouzo to the pan and simmer an additional 2 minutes. The fish should flake easily with a fork. Taste the sauce for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if necessary.
Inspired by Culina Mediterranea by Daniel Rouche