Shrimp Scampi

Short on time but long on previously-frozen shrimp, I needed two or three easy sauces in order to vary a week’s worth of meals. The simplest that I came up with was the American-style shrimp scampi. In America, scampi refers to a type of dish, (e.g. shrimp scampi), in which prawns are cooked with white wine and served over pasta. Scampi, however, is actually a small variety of lobster that is also called Norway lobster, Dublin Bay prawn, and lastly by its Italian name, scampi. A fresh langoustine needs just a hint of butter to draw out its sweetness.

The light classic wine and stock combination, which conveniently uses the shells to make shrimp stock, forgives one for using frozen shrimp.

Shrimp Scampi

Shrimp with shells – ¾ lb

Olive oil – 2 tbsp

Shallot – 1, chopped

Garlic cloves – 3-4, chopped

Lemon – 1, juice

Thyme – 2 sprigs

Bay leaf – 1

White wine – ½ cup

Stock – ½ cup

Salt and pepper – seasoning

  • Peel and devein shrimp. Keep the shells.
  • To make a shrimp stock: Boil 2 cups of water. Add the shells and bay leaf. Cook on simmer for 15 minutes. When cool, strain the liquid and reserve.
  • Heat 1 tbsp. of oil in a medium pan. When oil is hot, lay the shrimp out in a single layer in the pan.
  • After about two minutes or when shrimp turns pink, turn the shrimp over. Repeat on the other side. Remove the shrimp and keep aside.
  • Heat the remaining oil in the same pan. Add the chopped shallot and cook until softened.
  • Add garlic. Sauté for a minute or until garlic turns lightly brown.
  • Add the reserved stock and wine to the pan.
  • Add thyme. Cook for 10 minutes on low, until the liquid has reduced in volume by about half.
  • Add lemon juice.
  • Add shrimp and cook until heated through.
  • Season with salt and pepper.
  • Pour over cooked pasta or spiralized zucchini. Serve immediately.


Note, two mild sauce combinations that also accentuate the briny flavor of shrimp are:

Classic White Wine Sauce: shallots, garlic, and cream.

Coconut Sauce: shallots, garlic, ginger, green chili, and unsweetened coconut milk.

Raclette Grill

I posted several communal food blogs over this past year, and all of the featured meals worked well when friends and family visited. As we all gathered around one pot, the kitchen buzzed with collaborative activity and commotion. Each person took charge of one aspect of assembling the necessary ingredients around the main event. It seemed appropriate to usher in the New Year with a communal meal, working with a familiar theme and a favorite ingredient – cheese.

My niece’s Christmas present, a raclette grill, inspired me to borrow a German New Year’s Eve tradition to usher in 2016. The raclette grill is a combination of a table-top hot plate and small spade-like pans called coupelles. Many more people can hover around a raclette grill than a fondue pot, while melting individual pans of cheese and interspersing them with fondue favorite accompaniments of boiled potatoes, green beans, and pickled onions. Fresh tomatoes and peppers were reintroduced, as they added color and contrasting texture. New additions, such as kielbasa, bratwurst sausages, and shrimp sizzled on the hotplate. Some of us scattered raclette cheese on the accompaniments to set under the grill, while others preferred to slide the melted cheese right off the coupelles on to the dinner plate. Whatever our choices, going into the New Year was remarkably easy.

Best wishes for festive and shared meals in the New Year!

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Summertime And Livin’ Should Be Easy: Mixed Seafood Grill

On a hot and lazy summer afternoon, I channeled the Gershwin brothers’ lyrics and decided on an easy and simple menu – grilled seafood. Inspired mainly by a large not-often seen cleaned octopus at the supermarket, I added a few squid, shrimp, and scallops as well to throw on the barbecue. The well-thumbed copy of The Barbecue Bible by Steven Raichlen had a recipe for the octopus with a few ingredients and little effort that would be in keeping with theme of the afternoon.  The grilled octopus, however, had enough flavor to balance the other seafood that only needed a light seasoning of salt and pepper to make for an easy summertime, grilled meal.


Grilled Octopus

Octopus – 1lb, cleaned and trimmed

Red wine vinegar – 1 tbsp

Lemon juice – 1 tbsp

Oregano – 1 tsp

Salt and pepper – ½ tsp each

Olive oil – 3-6 tbsp

Parsley – 3-4 sprigs

Lemon wedges – 2

  • Preheat the grill to high.
  • Peel, scrape the reddish skin off the octopus and rinse the octopus, if not already cleaned.
  • Oil the grill grate, and lay the octopus on the grill. Keep turning with tongs until nicely charred, about 3-6 minutes on each side.
  • Cut the octopus into small bite-sized pieces and put them into a bowl.
  • Combine all the remaining ingredients and whisk. Pour this marinade over the grilled octopus and let the octopus sit for 10-30 minutes.
  • Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serve with coleslaw or green salad and grilled corn.




Étouffée (or Etouffee)

Even a week after Mardi Gras’ end in New Orleans, the colorful bead garlands continue to drape trees along the parade route. A time for simplicity that follows all the merrymaking seems harder to shed in the city, especially one noted for its soupy gumbo, meaty jambalaya, and crawfish étouffée (pronounced ay-too-fay). It is here on a cool February afternoon as I was enjoying étouffée, a seafood dish ladled over plump rice grains, that I realized that this dish could be even further enhanced with compound butter.

Étouffée originated in the bayous of Louisiana where crawfish, a small lobster-like crustacean, is plentiful. When crawfish isn’t in season, shrimp is substituted and is “smothered” (from French verb, étouffer) in a creamy roux sauce. The shellfish flavors in the dish are developed through a two-step process. Combining shrimp stock with butter makes shrimp compound butter, and this modified butter provides the base for a rich roux.

Shrimp Étouffée

Raw shrimp (with shells) – 1 lb

Butter – 4 tbsp

Flour – 2 tbsp

Onion – 1 medium, chopped finely

Garlic cloves – 2, minced

Bell pepper – 1, de-seeded and chopped

Celery stalk – 1, chopped

Bay leaf – 1

Seafood stock – 1 cup

Cayenne pepper – 1 tsp

Red chili pepper – ¾ tsp

Fresh pepper – ½ tsp

Salt – ½ tsp

Lemon – ½, juiced

Green onions – 3, chopped finely

Parsley – 3 tbsp, chopped

Cooked rice – for serving

  • To make the stock: Shell and devein the shrimp. Reserve the heads and shells. Make a shrimp stock by adding the heads and shells to 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Cook on low for about 20-25 minutes. Skim off the scum that rises to the surface. Divide the stock, keeping one half of the stock with all the shells.
  • To make the shrimp compound butter: Add 4 tbsp of butter to the stock with the shells. Continue to simmer for another 10 minutes. Strain the shells, and allow the liquid to cool. The butter will solidify and can be skimmed off the surface to become shrimp compound butter.
  • To make the roux: Heat a cast iron pan. Add the shrimp compound butter. When it melts, add a tablespoon of flour at a time, stirring and incorporating it into the butter. Keep stirring on simmer. As the roux cooks, it loses the floury taste. The color changes from white to cream to brown, and the aroma from sugar cookie to toffee.
  • Once the roux has turned to a rich brown color, add the onions, bell pepper, garlic, celery and bay leaf and cook for about 8-10 minutes, until the vegetables are softened.
  • Add the cayenne pepper, chili flakes and pepper. Sauté for one minute.
  • Add the stock, salt and bring to a boil. Whisk so that the roux and stock are well mixed. Simmer for 15-20 minutes.
  • Add the shrimp and cover and cook for 5 minutes until the shrimp has turned pink. Do not overcook.
  • Just before serving, add the lemon juice, green onions, and salt. Garnish with parsley.
  • Serve over cooked rice.






Food Thickener: The Final Step in Making Gumbo

Struggling to make sense of the religious disconnect in the news, I tried to offset it with a food analogy that works – Gumbo. A stew that originated in the south, the Creole gumbo is a blend of several cultures (West African, French, and Native American) and culinary influences (Spanish and German). The success of all the variables coming together is in the final step, the addition of a thickening agent.

A food thickener or agent is usually added at the end of cooking to enrich the stock. There are several options to condense the cooking liquid: reducing the liquid to a concentrate in order to intensify its flavor (such as a wine reduction); bringing it to a velvety-smooth consistency by adding cream, whisked egg yolk or yogurt; or adding a starch, such as cornstarch, tapioca, arrowroot, or flour.

There are three ways to thicken gumbo, but the most commonly used method is to add roux. Roux, which is made with equal parts flour and butter and slowly cooked over low heat, is added to hot gumbo stock. The starch in the flour breaks down to become gelatinous, and gives heft to the stock without altering the flavor. Mastering the roux is key to making a good gumbo. The roux starts out as pale-cream in color, and is the base for béchamel or white sauce for soups. When the flour and butter continue to cook further it turns a warm toffee color. This darker roux is less of a thickener than its paler counterpart, but imparts a nutty flavor associated with gumbo.



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The other two methods of thickening gumbo stock are using filé (dried sassafras leaves) or simply letting okra and the vegetable trifecta of onions, bell pepper, and celery cook down. There are meat gumbos with Andouille sausage, chicken, and turkey or shellfish gumbos with shrimp and crab. Gumbo is both haute cuisine and an everyday meal. My interpretation (as I cannot call upon a family recipe) of the dish was made with essential gumbo ingredients that I had at hand.


Shrimp Gumbo

Flour – 4 tbsp

Unsalted butter – 4 tbsp

Shrimp – 1 ½ lb, with heads and shells

Vegetable oil – 3 tbsp

Onion – 1, diced

Garlic cloves – 3, minced

Okra – 10 pods, sliced lengthwise

Bell pepper – 1, diced

Celery – 3, diced

Tomato – 1, diced

Bay leaves – 2

Dried thyme, oregano, basil – ¼ tsp each

Cayenne pepper and paprika – ¼ tsp each

Salt and pepper – ½ tsp each

Green onions – 3, chopped (garnish)

Cooked Rice – as accompaniment


  • To make the roux: Heat a cast iron pan. Add the butter. When it melts, add a tablespoon of flour at a time, stirring and incorporating it into the butter. Keep stirring on simmer. As the roux cooks, it loses the floury taste. The color changes from white to cream to brown, and the aroma from sugar cookie to toffee. Once it has reached a deep brown, remove the roux from the heat. Keep aside.
  • Shell and de-vein the shrimp. Reserve the heads and shells. Make a shrimp stock by adding the heads and shells to 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Cook on low for about 20-25 minutes. Skim off the scum that rises to the surface. Keep aside.
  • Heat the oil in another pan.
  • Add the onion to the hot oil. Sauté until they are lightly browned.
  • Add the garlic and okra and sauté for a minute.
  • Add the bell pepper, celery, and tomato to the mixture. Cook on low for about 5 minutes, stirring so that the okra is crisp.
  • Add the herbs, salt, and pepper.
  • Add the hot stock and continue to cook for about five minutes. Add the roux a little at time, stirring continuously so it is incorporated into the stock.
  • Add the shrimp and cook for a minute on each side. Remove from heat as soon as the shrimp turn firm and pink in color.
  • Serve with cooked rice. Garnish with green onions.







One Cup of Semolina: Three Tastes Semolina Snack (uppamav)/ Couscous (Part 1), and Gnocchi (Part 2)

One of my favorite Indian breakfasts (although I could eat it at as a snack or dinner too) is a semolina dish called uppamav. Its creamy texture is my comfort food, with a hint of aromatic ginger and a nutty crunch. Uppamav, couscous (or couscous pearls), and gnocchi are all made from semolina, the inner yellow endosperm of a variety of protein-rich wheat grain called durum wheat. While gnocchi is made using semolina flour, uppamav and couscous are made with semolina granules. They have this silky consistency because the granules easily absorb water, causing the grain to swell and soften.


This makes uppamav and couscous a filling meal – the same grain appears in various guises in the Middle East and Israel, North Africa, and the Asian subcontinent. The fluffy couscous is paired with meat stew (in Africa) and combined with dates and pistachios and perfumed with saffron (in Israel and the Middle East). In North Africa, couscous is steamed in a couscoussier. It is a specially designed pot, featuring a steamer perched above the main pan that slowly stews the meat and vegetables. The process can be replicated with a homemade steamer, but the process is time-intensive as the couscous cooks slowly in the steam.

Semolina grain cooks quickly in boiling water, allowing the couscous to plump up and soften. The couscous pearls, which are bigger semolina granules, look like orzo or rice. The flavors vary when water is substituted with broth, stock, or wine or by adding vegetables or meat. Semolina dishes make a versatile standalone dish bulked up with meat or vegetables or can be served plain as an accompaniment to a stew.


Semolina (Couscous Pearls) with Soprasetta

Semolina or couscous pearls – 1 cup

Oil – 3 tbsp

Shallot – 1, finely chopped

Ginger – ½ -inch, finely grated

Garlic – 3 cloves, finely chopped

Cooked meat  (soprasetta) or de-veined raw shrimp  – ½ cup

Saffron – 3-4 strands, soaked in 1 tbsp. warm milk

Salt and pepper – 1tsp

Water and white wine combined – 1¾ cup

  • Heat a pan with oil. Add the shallots and cook until golden brown.
  • Add the ginger and garlic for a about a minute.
  • Add the water and wine to the pan. Add the salt. Bring it to a boil.
  • Add the shrimp and cook it for two minutes.
  • Add the couscous in small batches, stirring vigorously as each new batch is added. Cover and cook on a low heat for 3 minutes for semolina and about 8 minutes for couscous pearls. The water should be fully absorbed.
  • Add the cooked meat and fresh pepper.
  • Fluff the semolina. Add the soaked saffron and milk. Serve warm.


In Indian cooking, semolina granules are used to make both sweet and savory dishes. The following recipe combines previously cooked or frozen vegetables to serve either as a complete vegetarian meal or as a side dish for meat consommé.


Semolina With Mixed Vegetables

Semolina granules – 1 cup

Shallot – 1, finely chopped

Ginger – ½ -inch, finely grated

Serrano chili – 2, chopped

Oil – 3 tbsp

Mustard seeds –1 tbsp

Lentils – 2 tbsp. (any, as it is for the crunch)

Chopped mixed vegetables (frozen) – ½ cup

Cilantro – ½ bunch, washed and roughly chopped

Cashew nuts – 2 tbsp. (optional for garnish)

Salt – 1tsp

Water – 1¾ cup

  • Heat a pan. Add the semolina (no oil) and sauté for about 3 minutes, until it is heated through and has a war aroma. Keep aside.
  • Clean and heat the pan. Add oil to the pan.
  • When the oil is warm, add the mustard seeds.
  • Once it starts to pop, add the lentils and sauté until it changes color.
  • Add the chopped shallot and sauté until brown.
  • Add the ginger, chili, and cashew nuts and sauté for a minute.
  • Add the frozen vegetables or cooked fresh vegetables and sauté for a minute.
  • Add the water and salt and bring the water to a boil.
  • Add a third of the toasted semolina to the boiling water, stirring vigorously to prevent it from clumping. Add another batch and keep stirring, until the final batch is added. Cover and cook on a low heat for 3 minutes. The water should be fully absorbed.
  • Fluff the semolina. Serve warm. Garnish with cilantro.


Fusion Flavors

A and N. grumbled when I spiced up meatballs for dinner, stating that the dish wasn’t really Italian anymore! I admit to adding couple of dried red chilies to the tomato sauce and a hefty pinch of red chili powder in the meatballs, but I tweak every recipe to suit my palate. Even the classic dishes, I think, can benefit from a change occasionally. There is a lot of leeway when you are experimenting with food – ultimately, you, the taster, determine whether the new flavor is worth repeating or abandoning.

Fusion cooking entails combining two different styles of cuisine. Both cuisines are represented on the plate, and neither style should dominate; rather, they should complement and round out each other. At one of my favorite restaurants, Tamari, owner Allen Chen combines Asian and Latin flavors. “The gateway to exploring a culture is through food,” comments Chen, who ran a Chinese restaurant in Mexico, subsequently married his Mexican wife, and now creates food encompassing both cultures. One of the dishes, Pork Cheek Quesadilla, is served with aged cheddar, sweet shishito pepper and a creamed winter squash called kabocha that replaces sour cream. The main dish looks and tastes Mexican, but has an Asian overtone. In another dish, Asian Sea Bass, the broiled fish is placed on top of a bed of finely chopped Brussels sprouts, watercress, and pomegranate, and spiced with mojo and chili oil. An overtly Asian dish now has hints of Latin flavors through the sauce, mojo. A mojo sauce is made with olive oil, heaps of garlic, vinegar, and juice of a citrus fruit (lemon, lime, orange juice), and variations of this sauce is used in Spain, Cuba, Caribbean, and the Dominican Republic.

I grew up on Indian-Chinese food, a hybrid cuisine that was developed out of the Hakka Han community. This group settled in Kolkata (previously known as Calcutta), India around the 18th century. Indian-Chinese cuisine is one of the most commonly chosen fast foods in India, and a growing fan base exists in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the United States due to the cuisine’s spiciness quotient. Indo-Chinese food is prepared by slightly altering the steps of a traditional Indian meal. First, ginger, garlic, and chilies are sautéed; next, instead of adding spices, soya sauce and cornstarch are introduced; and for the final stage, vegetables, chicken, or noodles are added. The nomenclature is simple: The protein or vegetable’s name is tagged on to Chinese descriptions, such as “Manchurian,” “Chop Suey,” “Fried Rice,” and “Chow Mein” – resulting in dishes like Chicken Manchurian, Vegetable Chop Suey, and Prawn Fried Rice.

Blending two cuisines at home is easy. There is no right or wrong way of doing this, but your taste buds may try to protest at the thought. Begin by choosing a familiar dish and substituting one or two ingredients from another cuisine. Maintain similar textures, such as grits, polenta, and cream of wheat (semolina) or brown rice and quinoa. Stick with elements you favor from the original dish and introduce only one or two flavors from a different cuisine. However, it comes down to experimenting and practice, practice, and more practice to make the perfect fusion food!

My attempts at Mediterranean-Korean fusion even impressed A. and N., who are here this week. I made Mediterranean-style Shrimp with Garlic, with bay leaf, lemon, and dried red chilies, served over couscous. I paired this with an Asian-inspired salad of baby spinach and Korean-flavored vinaigrette. To make the vinaigrette, I combined 1/3 cup of rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon of plum sauce, 1 tsp. of sambal paste, ½ tablespoon of lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste.








Memories of Flavors

My grandmother, a wonderful cook, discouraged my mother to enter the kitchen, just as my mother did to me, and I to A. and N., so that each of us could study, have a career, and not be tied to the kitchen. Yet, we all found our way into the kitchen to experiment with cooking and develop our own flavors.

Today, as I remember my grandmother on the anniversary of her death, I remember her fish curry; the aromatic, creamy coconut sauce stirs up memories of lingering over discussions of the merits of river versus deep-sea fish. I have tweaked the recipe to use fish available locally. I made my fish curry with branzini, but the recipe works with any firm white fish (such as cod) or shrimp.

In the spirit of memories, I also remembered my friend’s Italian mother, whose recipe for meatballs I followed last week. As earthy smells of basil and tomatoes wafted in her NYC kitchen, the apartment echoed with her family’s conversations about the dinner we had just shared. A. has tweaked the all-beef meatball recipe and made her own with a combination of ground beef, veal, and pork.

We develop tastes to suit our tongues and noses, as well as through the memories that they evoke. In my experience, a dish you make repeatedly is the one that uses the simplest ingredients to capture memorable flavors. Have fun creating new memories!

Fish in Coconut Sauce

Fish (cod, branzini) or Shrimp – 1lb, washed

Onions – 1, peeled and chopped

Ginger – 2-inch, peeled and sliced

Garlic cloves, – 4, peeled and sliced

Tomatoes – 2 quartered

Serrano chilies/jalapeno – 3, chopped

Oil – 4 tbsp

Coriander powder – 1 tsp

Turmeric powder – ¼ tsp

Salt and pepper – 1 tsp

Coconut milk – ½ can

  • Heat the oil in a large pan or skillet.
  • Add the onions to the hot oil. Stir-fry until it browns.
  • Add the ginger, garlic, and chilies. Stir-fry until the garlic turns light brown.
  • Add the spice powders and stir-fry for a minute.
  • Add the tomatoes and once it softens, lower the heat.
  • Add the coconut milk plus a ½ can of water and
  • Lay the fish or shrimp on top of this creamy mixture.
  • Cook for about four minutes for the shrimp, and about 8 minutes for the fish.Image

Ask the Chef: How to Clean and Devein Shrimp

This year, we incorporated the Italian Christmas Eve meal tradition of using seven fish into our holiday plans (upon A’s suggestion and some timely New York Times recipes). One of the dishes was roast shrimp with aioli (see the NYT recipe here) Preparing this feast meant that A. and N. had to look closely at the fish and shellfish that we were planning to use, and it turns out that they had the most questions about the shrimp.

It is almost always cheaper to buy whole shrimp (look for shrimp with firm flesh) and clean it yourself. I devein the shrimp before cooking. My mother would also do the white vein on the underside, but I have noticed that most cooks do not bother with this step.

How to clean shrimp:

  • Hold the shrimp with its head between your dominant thumb and two fingers, and yank firmly away from your body. Its shell should come off cleanly.
  • Next, position the tail between the dominant fingers and pull away from your body with a firm tug.
  • Remove the legs and all the other shells


  • Turn the body so that the curved side faces you
  • Use a small, sharp knife and run it a quarter inch below the flesh
  • Carefully remove the black/brown string-like vein that runs the length of the skin
  • Rinse the shrimp.