Sometimes You Just Want to Indulge

Sometimes you just want to indulge yourself, even if no one else in your house will eat crab cakes. (Fools.) I had stopped by our local butcher and food store, Carnivore Oak Park, to drop off some hand-sewn masks for the staff, and they had these gorgeous ramps in the refrigerator case.

Now, I’ve never eaten ramps before, or even seen them, but they were so pretty, I had to try them. I brought them home, along with some asparagus and fresh made crab cakes from Carnivore, looked up recipes, and discovered the consensus was to treat them like leeks or scallions, and that they would respond well to grilling.

A little olive oil, salt, and pepper later, voila! I even plated it up pretty, even though it was just for me. Well, and for you guys. I did the asparagus and crab cake in the toaster oven, sliced the ramps in half (both because they wouldn’t fit in my grill pan otherwise, and because I thought the onion-y parts and the greens might need different cooking times), and twenty minutes later, I tore into this deliciousness.

The white and red ends of the ramps are sweet and onion-y; the green leaves are just slightly bitter, and they pair beautifully with the the roasted asparagus and crab cake (which I tossed on the grill pan a bit at the end, just to brown it nicely), esp. accompanied with a bit of tartar sauce.

There’s lots of both roasted asparagus and grilled ramps left (crab cake all gone, thank you very much), and my tentative plan is to take some of the chicken stock I froze a month or so ago at the start of all this madness, and turn it into a soup. Toss them in a pot, add the stock, add cream, simmer for a bit until blended, then use a hand-blender to puree into creamy deliciousness.

The only problem is, I really would like to top that with a little fresh crab — I might have to go back to Carnivore later today…

Grilled shrimp spread

This was ALMOST very frustrating. I grilled these beautiful jumbo shrimp with chili-salt-lime, thinking I’d make a sort of mango-shrimp salad with them. The shrimp themselves were fabulous; I ate three of them straight off the grill pan because I just couldn’t resist. But when I chopped them up and combined them with chopped mango, the result was v. disappointing. The mango was quite green, and somehow the end version was just meh. I hate eating meh food. It was late by then, so I went crabbily to bed, complaining to Kevin that I’d ruined the shrimp.

But in the morning, I took another stab at it; I pulled the chopped shrimp and mango out and put them in the food processor, figuring I’d aim for more of a spread, rather than a seafood salad. I added some mayo and processed a bit — better. But the seasonings seemed off — it needed more lime, more salt, and something sweet. Mango jam to the rescue — mango chutney would’ve been even better, I suspect, but I was out of that, and I had a bit of the jam left.

I don’t have a picture of it, but the end result was respectable enough that people at brunch were complimentary and asked me what was in it. Whew. Rescued! This is the result of 20+ years cooking, you know — ten years in, I don’t think I would’ve had a hope of knowing how to fix this dish, which would have been very sad!

Daly Bagel Collaboration Brunch

Amanda Daly took some great photos at our Collaboration Brunch today.  So good to get some of her bagels; it’s been too long!

(I, um, may have eaten three so far today, and am eyeing a fourth….)

I was too busy talking to folks to take many photos — a great group for today’s Daly Bagel brunch, and a particular shout-out to my high school friend, Carmela Diosana, all the way down from Madison.  Great to see you again and delighted to pass your Feast of Serendib orders to you!

Lovely brunch all around. Much fun foodie conversation!

For today’s brunch, Karina had suggested a kithul treacle & strawberry shmear, which we’d seen at a fancy hotel in Sri Lanka that had a bagel bar in their Western section. That gave me an idea — I had some sugar pumpkins that had come in our imperfect produce order, that I hadn’t figured out what to do with yet. So I split one in half and roasted it, then scooped that out and combined it with whipped cream cheese and kithul (palm) treacle. Makes a great bagel shmear, as it turns out — I had mine on an Amanda Daly chai bagel. Mmm….

My standard Sri Lankan curried salmon + cream cheese = yummy curried salmon shmear with a little bite to it. The shmear bites back. 

Sri Lankan Grilled Shrimp

The last few days have been so harried that I was eating very badly – I didn’t have time to cook, and was often running from event to event, so there were a few days of just grabbing whatever random snacks I had around the house, making mediocre sandwiches, etc. One dinner this week? Rice cakes + chocolate, both snacks I had in the car. Gah.

This was bad in two ways: a) this was generally way less healthy than I normally eat, and b) it makes me cranky and sad, eating bad food.

By yesterday, I had hit my limit, and finally caved and ordered some Japanese & Thai takeout from Bua Hana up the street – that was good, because eating some fresh seafood was such a relief, taste and health-wise. And their Thai green chicken curry with rice has fed me for three straight solid meals. But it also makes me wince; that cost $40 to feed the family, and I know if I’d cooked, I could have made meals just as healthy and delicious for $10 or less.

We do what we must, and sometimes, there just isn’t the bandwith to cook, even for someone like me, who loves cooking. But I wish I’d thought ahead a little, and made some protein on the weekend to carry me through the week. A few weeks ago, I did a batch of Sri Lankan grilled shrimp, and that was perfect – I threw them into Caesar salads, with quinoa and a tangerine dressing, and into sandwiches and quesadillas. The spicy flavors made me happy, and the extra protein made my body feel great.

So here’s a new recipe that’ll be in Gluten-Free Serendib, along with a resolution to try to remember to grill up a batch on Sunday. If you buy peeled, raw shrimp, it takes almost no time to toss them in a spiced yogurt marinade – then go off and do something else for a while, let it work its magic. When you come back, a few minutes on a grill pan on the stove is enough to make a week’s worth of happiness.

NOTE: This will, of course, also work with scallops, chicken (thighs are tastier than breast, but both will work), steak, eggplant, mushrooms, etc. Just adjust grilling time appropriately.

*****

Sri Lankan Grilled Shrimp

2 lbs. raw shrimp (either fresh or thawed from frozen), peeled and deveined
½ c. yogurt
1 T Sri Lankan curry powder
1-2 t. cayenne
1 t. black pepper
1 t. salt
juice of one lime (2-3 t.)
oil to spray on grill pan

1. Combine ingredients and marinade one hour (or four hours in the fridge; or even overnight).

2. Heat a grill pan to high heat and spray with oil. Add shrimp and cook 2-3 minutes on one side. Flip and cook a few more minutes on the other side, until shrimp are pink-orange and cooked through. Serve hot or cold, with whatever you like – rice, naan, quinoa, salad greens, eggs, or just straight up as a snack.

Tangy Chili Shrimp on Toast

(30 minutes, serves dozens)

My mother is known for these delicious, fussy little appetizers. They present beautifully for a cocktail party.

1 lb medium raw, peeled shrimp
2 medium onions, minced
enough vegetable oil to sauté (about 3 TBL)
1-2 rounded tsp cayenne
ketchup to taste (about 1/4 cup)
1 t. lime juice
1/2 – 1 rounded tsp salt
cilantro or curly parsley for garnish
either buttery crackers or slices of white bread
butter to spread
mustard to spread (optional)

Optional: Cut small circles of white bread and toast in an oven for a few minutes. Spread with butter, or butter mixed with mustard. Alternately, use crackers.

1. Sauté onions in oil until golden; add cayenne and sauté on high a minute or two until darkened.

2. Add shrimp, ketchup, lime juice, and salt; turn down heat to medium and cook, stirring, until well blended.

3. Serve on toast or crackers, placing 1-2 pieces of shrimp on each one and garnishing with a sprig of parsley or cilantro.

Halibut with Roasted Spicy Beets, Beet Green & Coconut Mallung, and a Dill-Citrus Gremolata

    I’ve been wanting to learn how to cook different kinds of fish, so tonight, I took on halibut. This seems like a fairly delicate fish, and many of the recipes I reviewed were very simple and lightly seasoned. Which is fine, but, y’know, Sri Lankans gotta bring a little heat, right?

So I took an pleasant-looking recipe on Epicurious, which made use of both beets and beet greens for a very pretty result, and started messing with it. Lime and lemon instead of orange, mostly to lead it in a Sri Lankan direction. A little green chili improved the beets, and a little lime juice improved the halibut.

The real excitement was taking the beet greens and using a mallung-style approach with coconut, lime juice, and sugar. So good! On roasting, the greens sitting under the fish soaked up lots of flavor, and the greens on the edge got delightfully crispy. I could’ve made a meal out of beet greens alone, which is not something I say every day! But they were delicious with the halibut and the roasted beets.

If you wanted to make it just a little more South Asian, I think you could add a t. of cumin powder to the halibut, and/or 1-2 T of coriander seeds and maybe a few T of yogurt to the beets. I’ll be trying that next time!

Ingredients:
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Gremolata:
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon finely grated lime peel + 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon peel

Beets:
3 medium (1 1/2- to 2-inch) beets with green tops attached; beets trimmed and scrubbed
1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
1-3 green chilies, chopped fine (optional)

Beet greens mallung:
Beet greens very coarsely chopped (about 4 cups, ideally)
1/2 c. grated dried coconut (unsweetened)
1 t. lime juice
1/2 t. sugar
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper

Halibut:
4 6- to 7-ounce halibut fillets or mahi-mahi fillets (about 1 inch thick)
2 T lime juice
more salt and black pepper to grate over

1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Cover large rimmed baking sheet in foil and brush with 1 tablespoon oil. Mix chopped dill and grated peel in small bowl for gremolata.

2. Peel beets and slice into 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick slices; put in medium glass bowl; add enough water to cover beets halfway. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and microwave on high until just tender, 4-5 minutes. Uncover and drain. Return beets to same bowl, and add 1 tablespoon oil, 1 tablespoon gremolata, sliced shallots, and green chilies.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss well.

3. Toss chopped beet greens in another medium bowl with 1 tablespoon oil, lime juice, sugar, salt, and pepper.

4. Spread beet slices in single layer on half of prepared baking sheet. Mound beet greens on other half of baking sheet.

5. Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper; place fish fillets on top of beet greens and pour remaining lime juice over fish. Brush fish with remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Sprinkle fish with 2 tablespoons gremolata.

6. Roast fish and vegetables until fish is just opaque in center, about 10-12 minutes.

7. Divide fish and vegetables among plates. Sprinkle with remaining gremolata and serve.

Spiced Swordfish Bowl with Red Rice, Cashews, Cranberries, Tomatoes, and Yogurt-Lime-Honey Drizzle

Experimenting with yesterday’s Sri Lankan spiced swordfish. Made a quick drizzle (1 T yogurt, 1 T lime juice, 1 t. honey), cooked some healthy Sri Lankan red rice (similar to brown rice, with a lovely nutty flavor), and stirred in some salted, roasted cashews, dried cranberries (sultanas would be more traditional, but I love the added tang from the cranberry), and fresh summer cherry tomatoes.
 
This was sweet and hearty; a comforting meal. If I were doing it again, I think I’d add some kale salad, either in place of the red rice, or in addition — the fresh green would be nice. And I definitely would want to up the spice level for me — sliced pickled jalapeños would be a great addition. But that said, yum. 🙂

Sri Lankan-Spiced Baked Swordfish

This spice preparation is one we’d traditionally use for deep-frying. In a hot country, a quick deep-fry is perhaps preferable to having a hot oven on! But I rarely deep-fry anything, so I wanted to see how it would do baked. Delicious!
 
You could certainly flake it into a salad, maybe accompanied by grilled peaches and a lime-honey yogurt dressing. I’m planning to try it soon in a bowl preparation, with red rice and a sunny-side-up egg on the top. But for my lunch today, I just had one of the swordfish steaks straight up, with a piece of fresh fruit — perfect.
 
Ingredients:
1 lb swordfish steak
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 TBL lime juice
1 tsp red chili powder
1 tsp salt
1 T oil
 
1. Preheat oven to 400.
 
2. Mix spices, lime juice, and oil together in a mixing bowl and add fish; coat thoroughly.
 
3. Optional: Heat grill pan on stove on high; when pan is hot, add fish steaks and cook 3 minutes. (This is mostly to get the pretty char marks and a bit of that flavor; you can totally skip this step if you want.)
 
4. Turn steaks over (char-side up) and put on a foil-covered baking sheet; bake 20 minutes. Serve hot!

Spicy Shrimp with Avocado and Mango

Spicy Shrimp with Avocado and Mango
(10 minutes, serves 1-2)

I had some frozen cooked shrimp that I’d bought by mistake (usually I prefer to buy raw and cook them, which lets you use them well in a greater variety of preparations), so I was a little stuck trying to decide what to do with them. I wanted spicy, fruity, rich and satisfying enough that I didn’t feel the need for additional bread or rice. This delivered nicely, and was particularly pleasant to eat on the back deck, enjoying a perfect early summer day.

2-3 T cilantro, chopped
2-3 T lime juice
1 T vegetable oil
1 t. salt
1 t. black pepper
3-5 chopped green chilies (optional)
1/2 lb. cooked shrimp, shelled
1 avocado, peeled and cubed
1 mango, peeled and cubed
1 t. raw red chili pepper (optional)

1. Combine cilantro, lime juice, oil, salt, black pepper, and green chilies in a bowl, beating quickly to emulsify dressing.

2. Stir in shrimp, avocado, and mango. Stir in red chili pepper if using. If you let it sit a little, maybe 15-20 minutes, it’ll blend better, but if you are impatient like me, you can just eat it straight up. Enjoy!

    

Quinoa & Red Rice Bowl with Mackerel Curry

I’ve been experimenting with alternatives to white rice, and alternatives to the traditional Sri Lankan way of eating rice, which is a big plate of rice with a little curry on top. That’s reasonably frugal, but also pretty high in starch and low in fiber (things I pay attention to as I get older and my metabolism slows down).

The problem is that it just doesn’t work to simply reduce the amount of rice and add in quinoa, because you can’t eat it the same way, rolling up the rice and curry into satisfying little balls with your hand and popping them in your mouth. The texture is wrong, the rice and curry won’t hold together in those proportions, etc.

So I figured maybe there was something to this quinoa bowl thing that’s so popular right now, and maybe if I tried to compose a Sri Lankan bowl, that might work better. The red rice + quinoa (cooked in a mix of chicken broth and water) on its own was a little dry, esp. after the first day, so I knew I wanted to add plenty of unctuous rich flavor. Fried egg was an obvious contender (egg hoppers are classic Sri Lankan food, and so delicious), and mackerel curry is nicely traditional (and deliciously spicy). Avocado lent another creamy element, and a cool balance to the heat, and a crisp kale-coconut-onion-tomato sambol was the perfect vegetal accompaniment.

I wasn’t even hungry, but dear reader, I DEVOURED this bowl, and was tempted to fry another egg and go back for seconds. Experiment: wildly successful. (Bonus, this would be easy to pack up and take to work to eat with a fork in the office.)

Tomorrow, maybe I’ll try it with beef curry, for poor Kevin, who doesn’t appreciate fish. Pretty sure that will also work great, keeping all the other elements the same. (A little seeni sambol added in wouldn’t hurt either…)