When socializing in restaurants and homes was curtailed last March, I soon realized that I would be mostly dining at home and would need to keep a supply of staples on hand for weeks of meals. To cut down on trips to the supermarket, I ordered ingredients online and stocked up on as much quality frozen food as my limited freezer space allowed.
When the warmer days came around, I was grateful for the abundance of the local farm stands, with safer outdoor shopping. I also learned the value of foods that have a long shelf life and produce that will happily stay fresh for more than a few days in the refrigerator.
I am still at home, still cooking daily, and although my menus have evolved over the months, a few key ingredients have been constant. I wanted to share with you some of the dishes I am currently enjoying, with ingredients that I always have on hand. These are palate-pleasing dishes that look complex on the surface, but are quite straightforward to prepare. I have lost count of the number of bags of frozen raw shrimp I’ve purchased and here is my favorite method of preparing them: simmered in a flavorful sauce, enhanced with fresh spices and a little sour cream.
Most people are familiar with bulgur wheat as the staple ingredient for tabbouleh salad. Here, this quick-cooking whole grain is the star of a warm pilaf prepared with onions, garlic and tomato. For crunch and freshness, the menu is rounded out with a crunchy savoy cabbage salad (a great keeper!), dressed with zesty lemon, garlic, olive oil and dill. Hopefully soon we will all be venturing out more frequently, but until then, happy cooking!
Spiced Shrimp with Sour Cream
Despite the long list of ingredients, once you have assembled everything, this dish is easy and quick to prepare. When purchasing raw frozen shrimp, be sure they are labelled preservative free and naturally raised. I like the Naked shrimp brand, available at King Kullen. Follow package directions for thawing and never at room temperature. All the ingredients are available locally and good quality dried spices, including cinnamon sticks are available at The Market in Greenport. For a larger selection, purchase online at www.Kalustyans.com.
1 shallot, diced
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
1 tsp. black or yellow mustard seeds
2 garlic cloves, peeled
½ inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
1 fresh bay leaf
1 jalapeño or long green chili
(Leaving the chili whole, cut two slits down the length using a sharp knife.)
1 cinnamon stick or ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
1 ½ tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. paprika
½ tsp. ground black pepper
½ cup canned plum tomatoes pureed
½ cup water
2 Tbsp. sour cream
1 lb. frozen raw shrimp, peeled, tails on and thawed
Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a wide, heavy pan. Add the mustard and cumin seeds and cook, stirring, over medium heat for a minute until fragrant. Add the diced shallot, whole chili, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, ½ tsp of salt and continue cooking for about two minutes, until shallot is translucent but not browned. Using a micro plane or other fine grater, grate the ginger and garlic directly into the shallot mixture and stir thoroughly. Add 2 Tbsp. olive oil, the paprika,1 tsp. of the turmeric and cook the mixture for a further minute, before stirring in the tomatoes and water. Simmer the mixture over low heat, stirring frequently for about seven minutes. If it starts to look dry, add an extra tablespoon or two of water. Discard the bay leaf, cinnamon stick and chili and mix in the sour cream. Bring the sauce to a simmer and add the shrimp in a single layer. After two minutes turn the shrimp over and simmer for a further two minutes. Do not overcook. Add the remaining ½ tsp. of turmeric and the black pepper and stir everything together. Turn off the heat and add a squeeze of lemon juice, before serving with the cabbage dill salad and bulgur wheat pilaf.
Bulgur Wheat Pilaf
To save time you can substitute basmati rice for the pilaf. Makes 3 to 4 servings.
Bulgur wheat is parboiled, cracked whole wheat grains. As well as having a delicious nutty flavor, it is very nutritious and high in fiber. You can find it at several locations locally, including an excellent artisanal Greek brand at Agora Little Market in Mattituck. Nigella seeds will have to be ordered online. They are optional to the dish but add a wonderful depth of flavor to may dishes and baked goods. With the addition of lentils or chickpeas, the pilaf can be served as a vegetarian main course.
1 small yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
¾ tsp. cumin seeds
½ tsp. nigella seeds (optional)
1 bay leaf
1 cup bulgur wheat
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
½ cup of canned tomatoes roughly pureed
Salt and pepper
Bring the broth to a boil. Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet or shallow pan with lid. Add the cumin seeds and cook over medium heat until lightly toasted and fragrant (about a minute). Add the onion, bay leaf and ¼ tsp. salt and cook on low for five minutes until translucent but not brown; add the garlic after four minutes and stir frequently.
Mix in the bulgur, making sure that all the grains are coated with the oil and onion mixture. Add the hot stock and tomatoes and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cover with a lid and cook gently for about 10-12 minutes, stirring from time to time and adding a little more broth if the mixture is too dry.
At this stage, the bulgur will still be al dente. Take the pan from the stove and place on a heatproof surface. Remove the lid and cover the pan with a clean dishtowel before replacing the lid and leaving to rest for about 10-15 minutes.
When ready to serve, remove the dishtowel, fluff the grains with a fork and add a grind or two of fresh black pepper and salt to taste. Makes about 6 servings.
Savoy Cabbage Dill Salad
½ a small savoy cabbage shredded (about 5 cups)
1 clove of garlic, peeled
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh dill
¼ tsp. fine sea salt
Grate the garlic clove into a small bowl using a micro plane grater. Stir in the salt and lemon juice, before whisking in the olive oil and blending thoroughly. Fifteen minutes before serving, place the shredded cabbage in a serving bowl and add the dressing and fresh dill. Add a couple of grinds of fresh black pepper and adjust salt to taste. Makes 4 servings.