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Thai Shrimp Cakes

25 Jul

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Sometimes, when the sun is shining and the temperature is just right, I’ll notice that the hammock in our backyard is looking particularly lonely. If there happens to be a slight breeze, the hammock might even be swaying just a bit from side to side, like the arms of a new parent gently rocking a baby to sleep. Soon, as though being pulled by a magnetic force that guides people into relaxation, I am in the hammock, my eyes slowly beginning to close. But, wait—what’s that? Are there weeds in the vegetable patch? And what’s going on over there, by the gladiolas? Did a tree branch fall over and squash the flowers? I’d better pick up that branch and assess the damage. While I’m at it, I may as well pull those weeds. And those other weeds. And that clover that is growing into the strawberry bed. Goodbye, hammock. It was nice spending 90 seconds in your maternal embrace.

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If there is one thing I have, sadly, learned this summer, it’s that, the older I get, the more difficult it is for me to relax. Oh, believe me, I want to relax, but every time I set aside a cozy little meeting with a good book or that lonely little hammock, my mind automatically turns to thoughts of all the other things I could be doing that might be deemed a bit more productive. The one silver lining in all of my inadvertent refusal to sit down and take it easy is the fact that, while I am doing whatever it is that I should be doing, my mind usually begins to wander to thoughts of food. Sometimes, as in this most recent case, those food thoughts can produce something truly spectacular.

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While in the thick of yard work, I decided that I needed to use up some of our garden’s mint. Immediately, my thoughts turned to lemongrass, mint, ginger, and the spicy kick of chiles, all enveloping the mellow taste of prawns. Taking a cue from my favorite Indian kebabs, I decided to feature my creation in the form of small patties, browned until just crisp on the outside, but still tender in the middle. They were exactly what I hoped they’d be: spicy, fresh, and filled with complimentary flavors. I don’t know what it says about me that I do my best thinking while working, not relaxing, but if all my ideas end up being this good, I might just have to spend even yet more time weeding, and even less time in the hammock. Sigh. The sacrifices I make.

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Last Year: Best Food to Pack on a Roadtrip (this is particularly timely, since we’re living in San Francisco until the end of August, and our drive from Portland to San Francisco was a typical 12-hour affair) and Smoked Spatchcocked Chicken

Thai Shrimp Cakes 

¼ cup chopped lemongrass, outer stem peeled away

2 tablespoons grated ginger

½ cup chopped fresh mint

½ cup shopped cilantro leaves

½ chopped green onion

2 cloves garlic

½ to 1 small hot chile—birdseye or Serrano

2 large eggs

1 cup panko or dry, unseasoned bread crumbs

1 pound raw shrimp, deveined, tails and shells removed

½ teaspoon sea salt

vegetable oil

In the bowl of a food processor, combine lemongrass, ginger, mint, cilantro, green onion, garlic, chile, and eggs. Pulse until herbs are uniformly chopped, about 6 or 7 long pulses. Add panko, shrimp, and salt, and pulse until shrimp has become chopped somewhat fine, but not ground into a paste. You should still be able to see small to medium chunks of shrimp.

In a large skillet set over medium-high heat, heat enough vegetable oil to just cover the bottom of the pan. Using about ¼ cup of shrimp mixture at a time, form mixture into rough patties, then gently place them in the hot oil, cooking each patty for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until the shrimp has cooked through, but the patties remain tender. Cook 3 to 4 patties at a time, being careful not to overload the skillet. Add just a teaspoon so more vegetable oil in between cooking each batch of patties, allowing the oil to heat up heat time.

Depending on how generously you size your patties, you should end up with about 12 shrimp cakes total.

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Roasted Sweet Potato Salsa

16 May

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Foods can oftentimes lead double lives. A cake can masquerade as a bread (there are many instances of this), a breakfast can go undercover as a dessert, or vice versa, and a salsa can brand itself as such, when, in actuality, what it really happens to be is a salad. A hearty, healthy, super satisfying salad.

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The ever-changing identity of this salsa is, I think, one of its best attributes. Introduced to me by my sister-in-law, one of the first things I remember thinking about this salsa was, “I want to smear this on some bread and pile arugula on top of it.” I often think things like this, which is what, I assume separates me from people who just eat food that tastes good and then leave it at that. Sometimes I see food and immediately want to turn it into different food, but not because I think the original incarnation of that food is in any way bad. On the contrary, I am driven to play around with said food because it is so delicious, so multifaceted, that I think it should be given the chance to shine in every way possible.

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A salsa like this, hearty with savory roasted sweet potatoes and onions, can be moved in several directions. With chunks of fresh avocado and tomato, it certainly works as an appetizer to be scooped up by tortilla chip, but, piled on top of a bed of greens, it would also make a great salad. You can fold in some black beans and take it to a potluck as a summer salad to share. You can, as I mentioned before, slather it on lightly toasted bread and top it with some arugula and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice. Of course, you can also eat it as is, with no tortilla chips, which is what I initially did after mixing it together, taking a taste, then discovering that I was finding it difficult to stop tasting. Because even though this salsa makes a great starting point for many different dishes, it also happens to be pretty darn fantastic on its own.

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Last Year: Mexican Chocolate Zucchini Muffins and Spicy Ginger Garlic Potatoes and My Favorite Raita

Roasted Sweet Potato Salsa

Adapted from an Everyday Food recipe shared by my sister-in-law

1 large sweet potato (about 1 pound), peeled and diced into small chunks

1 medium red onion, diced into small chunks

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium tomato, diced into small chunks

1 medium avocado, diced into small chunks

1 small jalapeno pepper, finely diced, ribs and seeds removed it you want to tone down the spice. Alternately, you can just add 1/8-¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes if you don’t have a jalapeno pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

¼ cup fresh lime juice (from about 2 limes)

sea salt

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. On a large baking sheet, toss together the sweet potato chunks, diced red onion, and olive oil. Roast in the center of the oven until the sweet potato is tender and browned in spots, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and allow to cool completely.

When sweet potato mixture has cooled, add tomato, avocado, jalapeno or red pepper flakes, cilantro, and lime juice. Season with salt and toss to combine.

Makes about 4 cups of salsa.

Avocado, Fennel, and Egg Salad

22 Mar

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I have an almost phobic dislike of mayonnaise. It wasn’t always this way. I can remember not caring one way or another about mayonnaise when I was a kid, but, as an adult, there are few food items that make me want to turn around and run more than the sight of mayonnaise. I don’t care for the odor, I possess no tender feelings about the taste, and, up until a jar mistakenly showed up in our refrigerator last week, I don’t think I had so much as touched a jar of mayonnaise for the better part of a decade.

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So, what is a person to do when the topic of egg salad comes up? Ordinarily I would just excuse myself politely and then shudder off any lingering thoughts of the m-word, but since I have taken it upon myself to help those who may be in need of some post-Easter-egg-dying recipes, ignoring the problem really isn’t going to help anyone. Besides, shouldn’t we all just face our fears instead of—okay, no, so I am not even going to pretend that I am planning on making friends with mayonnaise. I’ve lived this long without it, and I think I am doing just fine.

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Luckily for me, and lucky for the state of egg salad, one doesn’t need mayonnaise in order to whip up an utterly dreamy batch of egg salad. Looking for another creamy sidekick to help bind some eggs together, it occurred to me that I could just use the food that I have been using for years to adorn my sandwiches in place of mayo: avocado. Super smooth, wonderfully rich, and delightfully mild, avocados make a perfect addition to egg salad. Because I have been on a huge fennel kick lately, it seemed only natural to add a handful of chopped fennel to the salad, and, sprinkled with a shot of fresh lemon juice, it was just the thing to make this salad sing. Piled on slices of hearty, multigrain bread or nestled on top of a hill of fresh greens, it’s an egg salad I think anybody would greet with open arms.

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Last Year: Polenta Toast with Roasted Asparagus and Fried Eggs

And, in case you missed the link above, here is an article I wrote for Portland Farmers Market last year about naturally dying Easter eggs (those beautiful eggs seen in the picture above were dyed using onion skins!).

Avocado, Fennel, and Egg Salad

1/3 cup chopped fresh fennel

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

½ medium avocado, peeled and diced into cubes

3 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and diced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh fennel leaves

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

salt to taste

In a small bowl, combine chopped fennel and lemon juice. Toss to combine, then set aside while you prep other ingredients.

In a large bowl, combine avocado, eggs, chopped fennel leaves, pepper, and salt. Toss to combine. Add chopped fennel, along with any remaining lemon juice from the bowl, and toss everything together to combine. Taste for seasoning. You may want to add more salt and pepper.

Serve on toasted bread, on top of fresh greens, or, if you are my husband and you like to use a tortilla chip as a fork, eat it as a dip with tortilla chips.

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