By Michael Gardiner
What is a Jew to do for a holiday that began its life as “St. Valentine’s Day” complete with Vatican imprimatur? The answer is simple (at least if your level of observance allows cooking on Shabbat): make an edible Valentine. After all, Valentine’s Day lost its Saintly designation along with its place on the General Roman Calendar in the Vatican’s 1969 revision. Combine that with the fact that Valentine’s Day overlaps with Shabbat this year and the case for a double mitzvah trumping an outdated Saint is compelling. Right?
While there were supposedly three (and possibly as many as seven) “Saint Valentines,” all of whom were supposedly martyred on February 14, their stories seem particularly apocryphal. They certainly appear more sentimental than spiritually compelling. That, as much as anything else, might be a reason for the Vatican’s change of heart.
Perhaps the real reason for the original adoption of the holiday was more political: co-opting the pagan Lupercalia festival. Lupercalia began as a festival in which the Roman Priests would gather in the sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf (or “lupa”). The priests would sacrifice a goat (for fertility) and a dog (for purification), cut the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets where they would gently slap women with the goat hide strips. Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because they thought it would make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn from which the city’s bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These pairings usually ended in marriage.
Whipping with blood soaked goat strips is, perhaps, a bit two millennia ago for my household. Aphrodisiacs – traditional and perhaps a bit less traditional – struck me as a far better bet. My Valentine, strange as it may sound, adores Steak Tartare. It is one of her favorite meals. While it might not, at first blush, seem like an obviously romantic dish, interpreted in seafood form it gets a bit closer. The hotness factor of chile peppers can hardly be doubted and the double entendre is obvious and somewhat traditional. The Catholic Church in Mexico banned avocados because the way they hung from trees apparently reminded priests of testicles. That is a joke that nearly tells itself. From my perspective their aphrodisiac quality finds a more obvious source once the fruit is cut in half, but I’m neither Catholic nor a priest.
Those ingredients lend themselves well to a Badass Kosher approach: restaurant quality elegant, if edgy cuisine readily approachable in a Kosher home. There is nothing here that is particularly difficult. Slightly freezing the tuna will make the knife work a breeze. The toughest part of the recipe is all of the steps. But many of them are optional. The dish will be delicious (if not quite as pretty) without the cilantro oil or the leek garnishes. Even the most exotic of the techniques – the microwave “fried” leeks – is little more than what many do on a nightly basis. The essence of the dish is the tartare preparation and how it combines on the palate with the jus.
And that is a good thing or I would neither enjoy the fruits of this Valentine’s meal nor be married to my Valentine and have a certain Valentine’s Day double mitzvah in my immediate future.
Tuna Tartare | Avocado | Chile-Soy-Lime Jus
Makes 2 Servings
For the Tuna Tartare:
- 12 ounces sushi-grade ahi tuna, diced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Maggi sauce
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon capers, drained
For the Chile-Soy-Lime Jus:
- 1 tomato, roughly chopped
- 2 jalapeño chilies, stemmed, seeded, and thinly sliced
- ½ cup lime juice, freshly squeezed
- ½ cup chicken stock
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
For the Microwave “Fried” Leek:
- 1 leek
- Grapeseed oil
For the Cilantro Oil:
- 1 bunch cilantro leaves
- ½ cup extra virgin oil
- Dash of salt
For the Garnishes:
- 1 fresh avocado (Hass or Fuerte, whatever is freshest and best tasting in the market)
- 4-6 “fried” leek strips
- Cilantro (or other herb) oil
- Make the Cilantro Oil. Blanch the cilantro in boiling water for 10 seconds. Shock in ice water and wring all water from the parsley. Place the cilantro in the bowl of a food processor and add a dash of salt. With the processor running, add the oil in a slow and steady stream. Place the herb and oil mixture in a bowl and refrigerate until the rest of the dish is completed.
- Prepare the Tuna Tartare. In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, soy sauce, Maggi Sauce, lime juice and Worcestershire sauce. Add the remaining ingredients and gently toss to combine.
- Make the Chile-Soy-Lime Jus. Combine the chopped tomato, jalapeño chilies and ¼ cup of the lime juice in a sauce pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the flame and simmer for five minutes. Add the other ¼ cup of lime juice, the stock and soy sauce to the pan and barely simmer for ten minutes.
- “Fry” the leek. Cut the leek in half lengthwise. Slice the outer leaves of the leek into long, lengthwise strips. Lightly brush the grapeseed oil on a large plate. The entire plate should be oiled but the layer should be extremely thin. Arrange leek strips on the plate (you may have to work in batches). Set your microwave oven to 800 watts (the precise strength setting will depend on the total maximum wattage of your microwave oven; for me it was 6) and fry the leek strips for about 3-5 minutes, until the strips are just crunchy and beginning to brown.
- Prep the Garnishes. Strain the cilantro oil through a fine mesh sieve. Spoon the Tuna Tartare into a ring mold on the plate. Slice the avocado in half lengthwise. After removing the pit, cut the flesh into lengthwise slices in the skins. Using a large soup spoon scoop the flesh out – separating it from the skins.
- Plate the Dish. Place two slices of avocado on each plate creating an uneven oval pattern with an empty hole in the middle. Using a ring mold arrange the tuna on top of the avocado. Use a wine glass, spoon or spatula compress the tartare just enough to make sure it stays in place. Carefully place two to four strips of “fried” leek over each tartare. Spoon the jus around the plate and drizzle with the cilantro oil.