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Books for Cooks: Valerie Rice gives salmon the California treatment of oil, lemon and figs | Books for Cooks

“Lush Life, Food & Drinks from the Garden” is an apt title for Valerie Rice’s cookbook, which is rich with California-lifestyle photographs and recipes. Like the fig leaves, peaches and Meyer lemons in the recipe below, much is also found in our little section of the South Carolina Lowcountry.

Rice also includes wine commentary from award-winning sommelier Rajat Parr, who writes of the salmon in fig leaves: “Since the dish has some spice from the relish, a light and fresh gamay would be a delicious choice — perhaps the Dutraive Fleurie from Beaujolais or Evening Land’s “Seven Springs” from the Willamette Valley.”

The book is a bountiful banquet.

Prospect Park Books. $35.

Grilled salmon in fig leaves with nectarine relish

In California, salmon season runs from April to August, just when the leaves from our fig trees happen to be big and tender. When picking fig leaves, select ones that are growing in multiples. They protect the fruit from the sun, so watch for exposing the figs.

Grilling fish like this is a great technique because 1) the fish doesn’t stick to the grill, 2) it tastes amazing (the fig leaves impart a coconut-like flavor), and 3) it uses what’s growing in the garden. The tangy yellow nectarine relish is equally as good on fish as it is on simply grilled poultry.

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6 4-ounce salmon or halibut fillets, pinbones and skin removed

Extra-virgin olive oil

Flaky sea salt and freshly ground white pepper

6 large fresh fig leaves, rinsed, stems removed

Nectarine relish (see recipe)

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Brush both sides of the fish with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place 1 fig leaf, shiny side down, on a rimmed baking sheet; top with 1 fish fillet. Wrap the leaf around the fish like you would a present. Turn the fish over so its weight secures the leaves in place. Repeat, wrapping remaining leaves and fillets.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit or fire up the barbecue. Bake fish until just cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Or cook fish on the grill using indirect heat with the lid closed. As the fish cooks, the fig leaves will form a secure wrapping around the fish.

Place the fish packages in their leaves on a platter or plate them individually. Remove the leaves. Serve with relish.

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Nectarine relish


1 cup diced yellow nectarine or peach, about 1 large

¼ cup chopped green onions, white and pale green parts only; about 2 onions

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, tightly packed

2 tablespoons chopped preserved Meyer lemons

2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

1 fresno chile or small jalapeño, stemmed, seeded, and diced

½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper

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Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate. Relish can be made up to 6 hours before preparing the fish.

From “Lush Life: Food & Drinks from the Garden” by Valerie Rice, Prospect Park Books 2021.

Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.