Getting Your Mojo On For Valentine’s Day

For dinner last night I made a fish dish that emphasized flavour while delivering healthy eating. I was a little surprised to see that I also had created a romantic dinner that would be perfect for Valentine’s Day: simple to prepare, flavourful, light (i.e., room for a luscious dessert) and pretty to look at. Had I realized, I would have fancied up the table setting and added candles, but even so it felt like a special occasion meal under the low, warm glow of the chandelier and I took a quick photo just before we tucked in.

A few weeks ago, Karen at Back Road Journal, a lovely blog that I follow published a post about Cuban pork with black beans and rice, and it included a mojo sauce to flavour the meat. I had never heard of mojo sauce before (there are always things to learn in the world of food) and the combination of citrus juices, garlic, onion and spices had me intrigued. I kept thinking about this sauce, but haven’t had the right occasion yet to use it on a pork roast. When we were planning our halibut dinner yesterday, my mind immediately made the connection to the mojo sauce. I thought it would be a perfect accompaniment to the mild fish, and I was absolutely right. The flavour was amazing … the combination of three types of citrus was tart and complex, mellowed by the richness of the onions and garlic, and enhanced by the subtle spicing. I foresee endless possibilities for this sauce.

I rarely make fish, probably because it was so supremely unpopular with the offspring when they were growing up; I just ordered it in restaurants instead of preparing my own. Now, however, I’d like to explore using fish more. So, yesterday we put a second mortgage on the house and bought two filets of halibut (I think it was the most expensive fish in the showcase; next time we may use something a little more downmarket, although I have to say the finished product was worth the expenditure). I will definitely include fish on the menu more regularly in future.

While we were out and about doing our Saturday errands, I planned the menu that would showcase the lovely fish: halibut in mojo sauce, rice with red chile and cilantro and roasted asparagus with garlic. For the wine, we enjoyed a Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio with this meal.

(I was just talking to my daughter Jenn, and told her about this Valentine’s Day menu. Her response? ‘Nothing says I love you like fish breath!’ Hey! Not to worry, this meal won’t leave you searching for a breath mint before you get to the canoodling part of the evening.)

Here’s how it all came together.

Mojo Sauce

I used half the amount called for by Karen at Back Road Journal in her recipe for Cuban Pork and adapted some of the methodology to use this as a sauce for the fish instead of a marinade.

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, cut in half then thinly sliced
  • 1 large clove garlic, sliced thinly lengthwise
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan. Add the onion and garlic and stir until translucent. Add the seasonings and stir. Add the juices, and simmer. During this time, the onion and garlic will become  mellow and infuse their flavour into the juices. Before using, taste and adjust seasonings to your liking.

Basmati Rice with Red Chile and Cilantro

I wanted to create a rice with a flavour profile complementary to the mojo sauce. I usually use basmati rice because I like the scent and flavour of it. This time I added some tastes that I thought would pay tribute to Cuba. And, it was also important to add colour to the dish.

  • 1-3/4 cups water, brought to a boil in a saucepan
  • 1 cup basmati rice, well rinsed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/2 red chile pepper, minced
  • a tablespoon or two of finely chopped fresh cilantro
Add the rice to boiling water, and turn heat to a simmer. Add the seasonings, chile and cilantro. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, until all water is absorbed, stirring a couple of times. When done, turn off heat, fluff with a fork and keep covered until ready to use. To add some flair for serving, press the rice mixture into a ramekin or fluted cup, and invert onto the plate; it holds the shape quite well.
Roasted Asparagus with Garlic
Roasting or grilling is the only way I prepare asparagus. It’s easy, fresh and flavourful. When roasting in the oven, the temperature and cooking time varies by what else might be in the oven; lower heat, longer cooking time, and vice versa. In this case, I roasted at 400° for about 12 minutes. 
  • 1 bundle asparagus; I like the medium sized ones best but sometimes you can only find the thin ones
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • fresh lemon
  • freshly ground pepper
Hold each asparagus spear near the top and bottom, and snap off the bottom piece. They will naturally break at the border of the tough and tender parts. Rinse and arrange on a parchment paper lined baking tray. Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil over, then strew the minced garlic among the green spears. Squeeze a lemon half over to also drizzle with citrus. Generously season with freshly ground pepper, then roll the spears gently with your palm to coat them well. About halfway through the roasting time, turn over with tongs. A final spritz of lemon juice at the end adds a nice burst of flavour and acidity.
Halibut Filets with Mojo Sauce
Preheat oven to 400°
  • 2 halibut filets, about 1.5 inches at the thick end
  • tablespoon or so of olive oil
  • freshly ground pepper
  • mojo sauce
  • finely chopped fresh cilantro
Add the oil to an oven-proof skillet or baking tray lined with parchment paper. Gently rub the halibut flesh side in the oil, and then place skin-side down. Spoon a few tablespoons of the mojo sauce over the fish, and add freshly ground pepper. Roast for about 15 to 18 minutes, or until the fish is done to your liking. Ours was still moist, but broke into flakes with pressure.
When the fish is done, gently remove from the pan with a spatula to prevent it from breaking and plate skin side down. Spoon more of the warm mojo sauce over top, and garnish with a sprinkling of chopped cilantro.
As you can see, I plated the asparagus between the rice and the fish, for a burst of colour and a pleasing pattern of shapes on the plate.
With fresh flowers and candles on the table, and your favourite romantic music playing softly in the background, this would indeed be the perfect Valentine’s Day meal. This year, my sweetie and I are going out to dinner on the day, so you could say that Valentine’s came early at our house.


  1. This was the best fish dinner I have ever had …thank you so much for making this meal special.

    The flavour was superlative!


    • Ah, you caught my reference to the fish we had on Wednesday evening … take-out fried fish left a little something to be desired in the healthy eating department, and since it was barely warm by the time it came home it was also lacking in the usual appeal of a deep-fried guilty pleasure.

  2. Auntie Mar
    Thanks for the care package delivered by the meals on wheels fellow.
    At least this time I didn’t have to feed him.
    The salad was great as I was expecting lettuce and the chicken was
    nice and moist not dry as a bone like mine usually is. I didn’t know
    what the little half marble shaped things were but as I wolfed them
    down it suddenly dawned on me–Brussels Sprouts!
    Bye for now,
    The always hungry food taster, Paullywog.

    • Glad you enjoyed your dinner. Next time I’ll try to send you a bigger portion! Got a kick out of your description of the sprouts as “little half marble shaped things.” For a moment there, I had no idea what you were talking about! Although, with the balsamic vinegar glaze they were somewhat altered in appearance from their natural state!

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