salmon up the river (nicoise salad)

backpacking flowers

The salmon are here! They found their way home. Across the ocean, up the sound, into the Cheakamus. The river is vibrating with fish and the air is thick with eagles drawn into the valley with the promise of food. The salmon are at their end, but I like to imagine they have found peace through arrival at the exact stream where they were born, where they emerged from the rocky river bottom as tiny little fish about to start their massive migration and constant movement of life. On big return years like this one it is hard to imagine what it must have been like for the Coast Salish people who were faced with intact ecosystems that allowed for millions on millions of salmon to return every year.

It always blows my mind to think about how pre-contact salmon consumption for the Sto:lo people (near the Fraser river) was estimated to be about 1000 pounds per capita per year. In other words, at least 4-12 million pounds of salmon were consumed every year, in one river, in one tiny part of the world (1). So many fish that just don’t exist anymore, and can’t magically find their way home (2). So much ecosystem change. This makes me sad, but at least some of the fish still find their way up the river.

Lately, I am definitely wishing for some of that fish energy. Stamina for finding the home-land. The elation of landing in a new place has faded somewhat. Its been replaced with that minor gnaw of homesick for a home that doesn’t really exist. I’ve been packing and unpacking for years. I know I can’t stay here. Pretty sure I can’t go back to my little corner of vancouver island. Its an interesting time being unsure where my river is. Happy like the minnow fish to be out in the ocean having a grand adventure, but starting to hope for the time to turn on my homing beacon, find my magnetic angle, spot the latitude that will bring me towards home.

In the mean time, there has been much distraction from melancholy over my failure to build a permanent nest. I have had fifteen births since starting practice. Egad. There have been many sleepless nights. Fatigue tempered by a perfect weekend backpacking trip in the mountains with our friend’s ten month old (I forgot my tent poles but at least we remembered the wine). I lucked out with the best roommates anyone could ask for in team condo living. It is hard to be lonely with housemates who specialize in delicious food, ping-pong, and the refusal to let me whine.

And? This salad. The picture is terrible (apologies from my waterlogged cameraphone), but the product is delicious. It is the peak of summer in a bowl: fresh new potatoes, sweet local greens, salmon, and some eggs because if you look at my archives this blog should really be called “things i eat with eggs” and i can’t disappoint you now that you are hooked. I threw some citrus in the dressing to add some longing for the coming winter. Its almost citrus time! Hurrah! I ate this meal one night where I was home alone and wasn’t expecting to be. I was initially lonely, but I poured myself some wine, put out the picnic blanket, and sat on the porch and watched the birds swoop over the estuary. It was fleeting, but I was suddenly content and grounded. Home found in the familiarity of seasonal food inside my favourite dinner bowl. Maybe this salad will do the same for you?

nicoise salad

End of Summer Nicoise Salad

Dressing:  I will admit I never measure out salad dressing. But, here is an approximation in case you don’t have a staple one of your own.

1/2 cup olive oil
1/8 cup vinegar (balsamic/white/champagne are all ok)
1/8 cup orange juice
1-2 teaspoons mustard
Dollop honey or maple syrup
Salt + pepper

Salad:

Fish + herbs like sage, rosemary, or oregano (I used local salmon; I sometimes use artic char or tuna)
Eggs- One hardboiled egg per person is usually enough
Nice lettuce or salad blend
Fresh pole beans
New potatoes
Handful of hazelnuts

Method:

Prepare the eggs: Put a pot of water on to boil, and add the eggs. Boil for 8-10 minutes or less if you want them soft and runny. Peel, and cut into slices.

Prepare the fish: Turn the oven to 400 degrees. Place the fish on an oiled baking tray. Cover fish with salt + pepper, and some herbs like sage, rosemary, or oregano). Bake for 10 minutes while you prepare the rest of the salad.

Prepare the potatoes and beans: Cut the potatoes in half or quarters. Place them in a bot of boiling salted water, and cook until just tender. Meanwhile, cut the ends off your beans. Right before the potatoes are done, add the beans to the water and cook for a minute or two. Drain the potatoes and beans. Add a dollop of butter if you want. Salt and pepper to taste. I can’t ever resist.

Prepare the salad: Rinse (or don’t rinse) your lettuce. Place on a plate. Arrange the potatoes, beans, and egg all pretty around. Sprinkle with hazelnuts. Put the warm fish on top, and cover with the citrus dressing.

Add extras:
Fresh basil, parsley, and lemon juice would all be delicious sprinkled over-top. Sometimes I will dollop on a little pesto, or cover the whole thing with capers. In very indulgent times, I will also steam an artichoke and add that to the entire mix. Its up to you. Happy fall!

……………………………………………………………

1: I can’t help but informally provide sources for you; it seems wrong not too. For more about salmon, see one of my favourites-A Sto:lo Coast Salish Historical Atlas, ed. Keith Thor Carlson, 2001.

2. For a fascinating article (straight from oregon!) on how fish find their way home using the earth’s magnetic force: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=126720

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