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.
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.
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.
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
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.