I’m Italian, which means I grew up watching my family cook mostly… Italian. And every now and again, on special occasions and celebrations, it was a special treat to have things like calamari (which is appropriately the Italian word for “squid,” FYI), sopressata, ricotta pies and assorted specialty cookies. So now, as an adult, I think I automatically have a fondness for things like calamari because of those good times.
The best calamari I’ve ever had was at a restaurant called Pomodoros in Asheville, NC. It seemed like a very simple presentation but it was awesome – the calamari was fried (very crispy) and tossed with fresh tomatoes and banana pepper rings in this light lemon sauce and served with marinara. All of those different acids really came together and just gave the dish a bunch of layered flavors – plus the sweetness from the lemons (because yes, lemons are sugary and sweet) really cut the acid well. Just thinking about it now makes me want to take a road trip.
Anyway, if you’ve noticed, I like working with versatile foods, so that’s obviously one of the reasons I like working with calamari. Here’s the thing with seafood: with something like a white fish, it’s harder to work with because it’s flaky, it falls apart, and it may not lend to all of the flavor combos you want to try. With calamari, though, you can stuff it, fry it, grill it, sauté it, or you can even grind it up and put in a sausage. Like I said, anything. And with calamari, it tastes like seafood without having that obnoxious seafood taste. Some people might say it’s got a weird rubbery texture… but those are people who overcook it.
Now I know a traditional Italian calamari is fried, but again, calamari is such an adaptable food that I wanted to do something a little bit different. It’s summer time, so I’m thinking lighter fare anyway in addition to wanting to be a little bit healthier – so I decided to do a sautéed calamari with a sweet and spicy puree. I like using fruits in my dishes because it adds sweetness and texture and color and flavor… all from just a little bit of fruit. The peach and the cactus pear go very well together and that touch of spice from the ancho chili heats things up a bit.
For the summer peach, cactus pear, and chili puree:
2 peaches, quartered
3 cactus pears, peeled and quartered
2 reconstituted ancho chilies, seeded and stemmed
1/8 cup honey
1 cup water
Salt to taste
Throw all of the ingredients into a blender. Puree until smooth and then strain through a fine mess strainer to remove any seeds. Set aside.
For the coconut-maple quinoa:
3-to-1 ratio of water to quinoa
½ Tbsp salt
¼ cup maple syrup
1 heaping Tbsp coconut oil, the new superfood in cooking… and life
When making quinoa, some people like to boil the water first and then add the ingredients… but I don’t. I just throw everything in at once. Keep a lid on the quinoa and stir often using a whisk (because it helps to remove clumps and ensures even cooking).
You don’t want to undercook the quinoa because an unopened grain will make your quinoa crunchy; be sure to let that grain open completely, which should occur after about 20-30 minutes over med-high heat.
This quinoa will be the base of your dish. I also added a little bit of wilted bok choy for the bed as well because the color, texture, and flavor of the crisp green bok choy really completes the dish.
For the sugar-coated plantains:
1 medium ripe* plantains, sliced ¼ inch thick
1 Tbsp kosher salt
3 Tbsp raw sugar
3 dashes of cumin
2 dashes of cinnamon
Grapeseed oil for deep frying
*You want to be sure your plantains are medium ripe (firm but sweet). If they’re too ripe, they’ll just puff up and get all mushy. If they’re too green, they’ll be too starchy.
Combine salt, sugar, cumin, and cinnamon in a bowl and set aside. Deep fry the plantain slices in grapeseed oil until lightly golden brown. Strain away any excess oil and then toss your fried plantains in the spice mix.
For the calamari:
¼ tsp onion powder
1/8 tsp nutmeg
½ tsp granulated garlic
½ tsp chili powder
¼ tsp sea salt
3 dashes of cumin
3 dashes of pepper
½ Tbsp vanilla
½ Tbsp pumpkin pie spice
1 lb calamari (pre-cleaned if possible so you don’t have to mess with removing membrane, muscles, etc.)
2 Tbsp coconut oil
2 Tbsp grapeseed oil
Combine all of your spices in a large bowl and set aside. Cut the calamari into rings and then toss with seasoning mix. Let that sit for about 20 minutes to marry. Then you will sauté the calamari in a mixture of coconut and grapeseed oils. Sauté on high heat, very quickly, in small batches.
This should only take 2-5 minutes top in a hot pan. Like I said, when you overcook the calamari, that’s when it gets that rubbery texture.
Serve the calamari over a bed of wilted bok choy and quinoa with the plantains on the side and the peach cactus pear chili puree over top.