Thursday, December 22, 2011

Shrimp Piri Piri with Quick-Preserved Meyer Lemons

Shrimp Piri Piri with Quick-Preserved Meyer Lemons

I saved the most traumatic cooking experience of the year for December. It had come time to use the fruits from the young dwarf Meyer lemon tree that the Gastronomer and I have been lovingly caring for since March, and I wanted to make something special. I picked out this recipe from among the La Times' "100 things to do with a Meyer lemon". It sounded right up our alley, and yet different than anything I had ever made before. Our little tree only bore 8.3 smallish lemons this year (1 tiny runt lemon = 0.3 smallish lemons), and I would be using 5.3 of them on this evening, so I really wanted it to turn out well. Unfortunately, the instructions for "quick-preserving" the lemon peels got me quite confused. The recipe said to:

"Return the drained peel to the pan, add the reserved juice, salt and sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Makes about three-eighths cup."

I presumed that this meant that the mixture of the liquid plus peels was supposed to have reduced to a volume of 3/8 cup. This clearly had not happened after 10 minutes. Having previously experienced that most recipes involving reduction underestimate the amount of time it will take, I continued cooking the peels, ultimately leaving them on the stove for a good 30 minutes. It was only then I realized that using the liquid as part of the sauce could not possibly be the right approach--I put 1/4 cup of salt in there for goodness sakes! Perhaps this would have been obvious to someone who had made traditional preserved lemons before, but it obviously wasn't spelled out clearly enough for me. I took the pot off the stove. I had accomplished my original goal of getting rid of most of the liquid, but what was left was a gloopy mess. The quick-preserved peels were worlds away from the ideal texture and far too salty. I did my best to salvage things by straining what liquid I could out of them, but still feared that I had wasted our precious fruits and would soon be ruining a perfectly good pound of shrimp. I cautiously added less than half of the peels to the marinade mixture and carried on.

Thankfully, this story has a happy ending. I couldn't julienne the peels and garnish the dish with them as instructed, but the end product actually tasted really good! Amazing, even. The shrimp were oh so tasty, and the sauce was not ridiculously salty--it seemed that I had guessed right in the amount of preserved peel I added. I hadn't been sure how much I would like the black rice, but it went together perfectly with the shrimp. This is a really great recipe--every bit as good as it sounded on paper--although there were a couple of additional steps that should have been written more clearly. I'm looking forward to trying it again and really getting everything right.

Recipe adapted from Marcus Samuelsson's The Soul of a New Cuisine by the Los Angeles Times.

For Quick-Preserved Meyer Lemon Peels
  • 6 Meyer lemons
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar

For Shrimp Piri Piri

  • 1 cup black rice (Forbidden rice) [when uncooked, this looks similar to wild rice, but they are actually quite different]
  • 4 red jalapeño chiles, seeded, ribs removed and chopped [after Whole Foods let me down, I surprisingly found these at Ralphs]
  • 2 green jalapeño chiles, seeded, ribs removed and chopped
  • 2 serrano chiles, seeded, ribs removed and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, plus additional for garnish
  • 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
  • Juice of 1 Meyer lemon
  • 1 recipe quick-preserved Meyer lemon peel, julienned, divided
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 pound medium shrimp, tail-on, peeled and deveined
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Additional chopped cilantro for garnish

Make Quick-Preserved Meyer Lemon Peels

Using a vegetable peeler, peel the lemons, trying to keep away from the white pith. (If necessary, scrape excess pith away from the peels with a small knife, but a little bit of pith is unavoidable and won't be a problem). Squeeze the juice from the peeled lemons into a bowl and reserve: You should have about 1 cup. Add water to bring the liquid up to 2 cups; set aside to reserve.

Place the peel and 2 cups of water in a saucepan and bring to a rolling boil. Drain. Repeat this procedure once more. Return the drained peel to the pan, add the reserved juice/water mixture, salt and sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside. When cool, the pieces of peel can be scooped out of the liquid with a slotted spoon. You should end up with about 3/8 cup of "preserved" peel.

Make Shrimp Piri Piri

In a medium saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, cook the black rice according to the package instructions (about 30 minutes) and reserve.

In a food processor, combine the chiles, garlic, cilantro, parsley, lemon juice and 1/8 cup of the preserved lemon peel and process until the mixture is a coarse paste. Add 1/2 cup olive oil in a slow stream and reserve. (Makes 1 cup.)

In a large bowl, toss the shrimp in the sauce and allow to marinate, covered and refrigerated, for 30 minutes.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over high heat until it shimmers, then add the marinated shrimp [I'm not sure what the intention was in the original recipe, but I poured in all of the marinade as well and was glad I did--it made a terrific sauce to pour over the rice at the end]. Toss for 3 to 4 minutes until the shrimp is opaque, taking care not to overcook. Season with kosher salt.

Serve the shrimp over the black rice, garnished with the remaining preserved lemon and a little chopped cilantro.

Yield: 4 servings
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 2 hours 40 minutes
Substitutions: I went ahead and took the tails off the shrimp before marinating and cooking--this made the end product easier to eat, if perhaps slightly less attractive. I also reduced the amount of olive oil to about 1/3 cup to make the recipe a bit less fatty; this still produced a marinade/sauce with an ideal consistency.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Eat My Blog Charity Bake Sale 2011

Eat My Blog Info Postcard

For those of you in the Los Angeles area, this Saturday is the fourth iteration of the Eat My Blog bake sale benefiting the LA Regional Food Bank. Over 50 talented bakers and restaurants will be contributing an incredible collection of creative, irresistible desserts; you can check out the menu at If you're in the mood for something a bit less avant-garde, but still gourmet, I'll be bringing some very special chocolate chip cookies. Hope to see you there!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Herbed Carrot Salad

Herbed Carrot Salad

When I was looking for a recipe to try from Flatbreads & Flavors by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, the obvious choice would have been to attempt a flatbread. However, for some reason I settled on this selection from the "flavors" portion of the book instead. I think it was the mint--I'm obsessed with herbs. I planned to make this salad as part of a four-course birthday meal for The Gastronomer. When she heard the menu, she asked, "Are you sure you didn't choose that recipe for yourself...?" Indeed, I'm the one who is fond of carrots and the aforementioned mint, so perhaps she had a point. Fortunately, when we sat down to sample the salad, we both LOVED it. I'll definitely be making this one again in short order.

The recipe calls for freshly ground cumin--I'm sure that would make the flavor even bolder, but I used the ground stuff and it still turned out great. I did take advantage of the opportunity to bust out our rarely-used mortar and pestle to muddle the herbs.

Recipe from Flatbreads and Flavors: A Baker's Atlas.
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seed [or ~3/4 teaspoon ground cumin]
  • 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped mint
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • pinch of sugar
  • 3 tablespoons plain yogurt [I used Trader Joe's nonfat Greek yogurt]
  • 2 pounds carrots, thinly sliced and steamed until just tender
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • Leaf lettuce for serving

You will need a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, a bowl or glass jar with a lid, and a medium-sized bowl.

In a mortar, grind the cumin seed to a coarse powder. Add the cilantro, mint, and salt, and pound and blend well. Transfer to a bowl or glass jar. Add the oil, vinegar, and sugar and mix well. Alternatively, using a spice grinder, grind the cumin seed. Transfer to a bowl or glass jar and stir in the herbs and salt, pressing the herbs with the back of a spoon to crush them. Add the oil, vinegar, and sugar and mix well. Let stand in a cool place, well sealed for up to 24 hours to allow the flavors to blend.

To prepare the salad, stir the yogurt into the dressing. Transfer to a medium-sized bowl, and add the carrots and pepper to taste. Toss to coat the carrots well. The salad can be served immediately or refrigerated for up to two hours; bring to room temperature before serving. To serve, make a bed of leaf lettuce on a medium-sized plate, and mount the carrots onto the lettuce.

Yield: 6 servings
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: Not given
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 1 hour (not counting time for the dressing to marinate)
Substitutions: We sauteed/steamed the carrots with a bit of water in a skillet with a lid on it. The original recipe said to steam the carrots for five minutes, but we found that they were still very crispy at this stage. The Gastronomer likes her carrots pretty soft, so we ended up cooking them much longer.

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