Fast Grill Recipe #48

Last week I shared an article by Mark Bittman from the New York Times called "101 Fast Recipes for Grilling". The article is available free online. It contains lots of simple ideas, both familiar and innovative flavor combinations, and enough variety to keep you stocked up with fresh recipes and fresh food all summer long.

I had some shrimp on hand and checked the 101 article for ideas. One recipe calls for dusting shrimp with Chili powder, and finish with cilantro and juice from grilled limes. This is a combination of flavors I've been making for years, and recommend it.

I took a pass on that recipe because it's so familiar to me. However, I was surprised at the next shrimp suggestion. It was SO simple, with SO few flavorings, I wondered if it would really have any character at all. Recipe #48 recommends:

Rub shrimp with olive oil, salt and cumin. Finish with juice from a grilled lemon, garnish with marjoram.

It seemed to me that for this recipe to be good, it needed more spice, pepper or garlic. I tried it, not expecting much.

It was a pleasant surprise. Because there were so few seasonings, the flavors seemed more concentrated. The grilled lemon almost had a hint of sweet/sour and was far less sharp than simple lemon juice. Fresh marjoram (or oregano) is not used all too frequently, so it's a refreshing change of pace.

The only tricky part is to determine how much cumin and herb to use. I'd say we used about a teaspoon of cumin for a pound of shrimp, then a little more than a tablespoon of fresh chopped oregano.

Here's Something to Go with the Shrimp

We've enjoyed a summery dish of fresh corn with red peppers for many years. We cut corn off the cob, sauté it with scallions and chopped red peppers, seasoned with cumin and garlic.

Oddly, the southwestern-style flavorings for this dish were passed on to me in the cookbook Cuisine Rapide, by Pierre Franey, a classically trained French chef. In the 80's and 90's Franey published a weekly column in the New York Times called The 60 Minute Gourmet, which was a precursor to what Bittman writes today.

These two men share a lot of common ground. They believe that people should cook at home more often; they make home cooking more accessible and less intimidating than most people take it to be, and they strongly promote the use of simple fresh ingredients and a small number of flavorings to create a wonderful dish.

In his cookbook Franey calls for a slightly different proportion of ingredients than I recommend. Here's my version:

3 ears fresh corn, shucked, cut in half cross-wise, then cut kernels off lengthwise with a large knife
1 large red pepper, chopped
1/3 cup green onions, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
1 clove garlic, chopped
Salt and fresh ground pepper
----- Heat oil and butter in large skillet over medium-high heat
----- Add all ingredients to the pan and sauté about 3 minutes, until slightly softened.

Many people don't realize that corn is very widely grown throughout China. In fact, you'll see field upon field of corn, sometimes in proximity to enormous rice paddies. Something that really surprised me on a trip to the Sichuan province a few years ago, was to find virtually this same preparation of corn and peppers on the menu at a local restaurant. It's also included in the one truly authentic Sichuan cookbook,
Land of Plenty, by Fuscia Dunlop. In the Sichuan version, the corn and peppers are simply cooked in peanut oil and seasoned with salt and pepper.

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