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20-minute tuna steak with basil-mint oil is proof recipe can be speedy, flavorful

Buy the freshest tuna steak you can and cook it to your liking for this quick-as-a-flash dish that marries the warm, meaty fish with cool cucumbers and crunchy pistachios all draped in a minty-basil oil.  (Scott Suchman/For the Washington Post)
Buy the freshest tuna steak you can and cook it to your liking for this quick-as-a-flash dish that marries the warm, meaty fish with cool cucumbers and crunchy pistachios all draped in a minty-basil oil. (Scott Suchman/For the Washington Post)
By Ann Maloney Washington Post

The problem with many quick-as-a-flash recipes is that they fall flat. You end up trading flavor, freshness and/or variety in texture and temperature for that efficiency. But some fast dishes rise to the occasion, as evidenced by this tuna with basil-mint oil and cucumber salad.

The first time I made it, I gathered my ingredients, jotted down my starting time, as I often do – even when I’m just cooking for myself (force of habit). As I sprinkled the pistachios over the plate of food – the final step – I glanced at the clock. Less than 20 minutes had passed.

But would it be good? We dug in. It was. The minty basil oil added grassy freshness and richness that balanced the lightly seasoned, warm tuna and the cool, thinly sliced cucumber. The chopped pistachios added crunch.

So, I made it again, cutting the oil a bit and adding a little water and vinegar to the sauce to lighten it a touch. Same thing. Twenty minutes.

The recipe comes from the “April” chapter of “365: A Year of Everyday Cooking & Baking” by Meike Peters (Prestel, 2019). The 12 chapters, one for each month, offer a recipe a day so you can cook your way through the changing seasons. Some are savory; some are sweet.

I’ve had the cookbook on my shelf for some time but only recently gave it the attention it deserves. I’ve now added it to my retirement bucket list: My goal is to cook my way through it. (Based on the number of sticky notes I’ve already added to the book’s pages, I will have made quite a dent in the 365 recipes by the time I retire.)

In my house, it’s just me and my husband, so I appreciate that many of Peters’ recipes serve just two. Not every dish is lickety-split fast, but Peters, who won a James Beard Award for her 2016 book “Eat in My Kitchen,” thoughtfully designates weekends for more complicated dishes. (Just like most of us do in real life.)

For May? I’m thinking I’ll make the very simple perfect peppered steak or maybe the roasted asparagus with strawberries, tarragon and crumbled eggs. I’m still mulling and turning pages.

Tuna With Basil-Mint Oil, Cucumber and Pistachios

Adapted from “365: A Year of Everyday Cooking & Baking” by Meike Peters (Prestel, 2019).

1 large handful fresh basil leaves (about ½ ounce), roughly chopped

1 large handful fresh mint leaves (about ½ ounce), roughly chopped

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon, divided

1 tablespoon water

½ tablespoon white wine vinegar

½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, divided

Fine sea salt or table salt

1 (9- to 10-ounce) tuna steak, about 1-inch thick

Finely ground black pepper

½ large English cucumber (6 to 8 ounces), scrubbed and very thinly sliced

2 tablespoons salted pistachios, chopped, plus more as needed

In a food processor, combine the basil, mint, ¼ cup of the olive oil, water and vinegar and ¼ teaspoon of the lemon zest and pulse until the herbs are finely chopped. Taste and season with salt and the remaining lemon zest as needed.

Pat the tuna dry and lightly season with the salt and pepper. In a small, heavy pan over high heat, heat the remaining oil until shimmering. Add the tuna and cook until flaky but still pink inside, 1 minute to 90 seconds. Transfer to a cutting board and slice in half.

Arrange the cucumber slices as desired on two plates, add half the tuna to each plate and drizzle the tuna and cucumber with the basil-mint oil. Sprinkle each plate with the pistachios, adding more if desired, and serve.

Yield: 2 servings

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