Summer dinners are all about striking the right balance. They're about taking advantage of gorgeous ingredients without spending too much time in the store or the kitchen. They're about lending enough spice to complement the warm weather, without compromising fresh flavors.
More: Learn how to pick the freshest piece of halibut.
Tonight, a North African spice blend punches up halibut and sweeps through a couscous dialed up with herbs, olives, and fennel. This flavor combination will make you feel like you've taken a spur-of-the moment plane ride right to the spice markets of Marrakech or Algiers, but all it actually requires is a quick zip through your spice rack. All this seasoning works beautifully with the always-cooling, four-ingredient Tom Collins. If that's not worth a weeknight toast, we're not sure what is.
Click through on the recipe photos or titles to see (and save and print) the full recipes, but we've also written you a handy grocery list and game plan below.
Juice of 8 lemons, divided
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 pound halibut
1 bulb fennel, trimmed and cut into bite-sized wedges
1/2 small cauliflower, cored and broken into bite-sized florets
2 cups Israeli couscous (also called pearl couscous)
1 pinch saffron
1/4 cup green olives, quartered
1 handful parsley, roughly chopped
1 handful cilantro, roughly chopped
1 lemon, cut in wedges
1 bottle gin
We're assuming you have olive oil, garlic, salt, paprika, cumin, nutmeg, and cinnamon. If not, be sure to add those to your shopping list, too.
1. Preheat the oven to 350º F.
2. Assemble the halibut marinade: In a bowl large enough to accommodate the halibut, mix together 1/3 cup olive oil, 2 crushed garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Then add the cardamom, coriander, tumeric, and cloves, along with 2 teaspoons each of paprika and cumin and and 1/4 teaspoon each of nutmeg and cinnamon. Add the halibut and spoon the marinade over the top. Marinate it at room temperature for about 30 minutes. The marinade has citrus, so you don't want to over-marinate for fear of mushy fish.
2. Bake the halibut: When the fish has marinated, transfer it into a baking dish. Scrape out any remaining spice paste from the marinade dish, and spread it on top of the fillets. Bake until the fish is done and flakes easily, 25 to 30 minutes.
3. Prepare the couscous: While the halibut is baking, prepare the vegetable couscous. Heat a large pot over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, then add the fennel and cauliflower. Sprinkle with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to caramelize and develop light brown spots. Add a few tablespoons of water and cover to steam, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender (2 to 5 minutes). Remove from the pot and place in a large serving bowl. In the same pot, add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Add the couscous and cook, stirring occasionally, until the couscous toasts and darkens slightly, just a couple minutes. Add 2 1/2 cups water, crumble in the saffron, and add the salt. Bring to a boil, cover, and lower the heat just enough to maintain a simmer. Cook until the water is absorbed and the couscous is tender, about 10 minutes.
4. Assemble your plate: While the couscous is cooking, assemble the remaining ingredients. Add the olives, parsley, and cilantro to the serving dish with the cooked cauliflower and fennel. When the couscous is done, tip it into the bowl with the herbs and vegetables, and toss well. Scoop the couscous onto plates, and top with the marinated halibut. Serve with lemon wedges.
5. Fix yourself an ice-cold Tom Collins: Briefly but vigorously, shake all ingredients except club soda with ice in a cocktail shaker. Strain into a Collins glass filled with ice, then top with soda. Garnish with a lemon slice and a cherry, or drink immediately if you can't wait.
Photos by James Ransom