Make the most of culinary herbs and spices.
Great Snack Basics
part of "The Basics at Home" Series
With "The Basics at Home" series we offer pages of simple recipes within a theme. Also included is food for thought about how to use the basics as a jumping off point to create your own versions and links to other applicable recipes within the aPinchOf website.
On this page: Chipotle-Jack Dip; Steamed Edamame Pods; Spicy Boiled Peanuts; Cumin-Spiced Grilled Shrimp
Sometimes simple is good and this recipe for grilled shrimp couldn't be easier. The lime juice bath combined with a quick turn in the pan gives these shrimp an irresistible chewy texture. Serve them as a party snack or pile them on a mound of rice or cous cous to enjoy at mealtime.
The recipe is written for a grill pan. The cooking goes so fast that it is hardly worth heating a gas grill or firing up briquettes. If you are already grilling other foods then by all means cook them outside. You might want to thread the marinated shrimp onto metal or soaked bamboo skewers if your barbeque grid is so wide that the shrimp could fall through.
Cumin-Spiced Grilled Shrimp
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 pound large shrimp, peeled, deveined with tail left on
Combine the lime juice, chile pepper and cumin seeds in a wide bowl. Add the shrimp and toss in the marinade to coat. Marinate in the refrigerator for 15 minutes, stirring once halfway through.
Meanwhile, heat grill pan over medium-high heat.
To cook, place shrimp in the hot grill pan in a single layer. Discard marinade. Cook on one side for 90 seconds, turn and grill until shrimp are cooked through. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Makes 3-4 servings.
Other ways with shrimp: Seafood Ceviche, Yankee Cajun Gumbo, Shrimp and Spinach Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette Dressing.
When I lived in the South I became fascinated by, and perhaps a little addicted to, boiled peanuts. This is a roadside treat you see all over the place down there. I like to call them peanut butter on the half shell. For a couple of dollars you get a cup of hot, spicy peanuts in a softened shell. For that same couple of dollars you can buy your own big bag of raw peanuts and boil them at home.
Realizing this, I started experimenting. The first surprise was how long it takes to achieve that creamy consistency. Expect to tend to your cauldron for at least five hours, maybe several more. It depends on the freshness of the nuts. You will need to add more water and taste a few crunchy peanuts along the way. When fully boiled the nuts should be easy to peel and completely soft. I've noticed a general guide is the dark brown-grayish color they take on in the end but you won't notice that until, well, the end.
You must begin with raw, or "green," peanuts. I have been able to find these at farm stand types of produce markets but you may locate them at your supermarket or could ask the produce manager to order them for you. Google "buy raw peanuts" and you will come up with plenty of online sources.
Boiled peanuts are usually offered two ways--spicy or plain. I like to use a salt-free Cajun spice blend, adding my own salt. Using only salt yields the plain variety. The quantities in the recipe below, a half cup of spices and a quarter cup of salt, may seem excessive but remember it is the flavored water that must penetrate the shell during the long cooking time.
Store extras in the refrigerator for no more than five days. Serve the peanuts warm or at room temperature. I like to heat them before eating so I put a handful or two into a bowl and zap them for about forty seconds on high in the microwave.
Spicy Boiled Peanuts
Here is the basic method: Put a pound of raw peanuts in a kettle or pasta pot, cover with water to make the pot two-thirds full and add at least a half cup of no-salt Cajun blend spices. Bring to a boil and maintain a strong simmer for four or five hours. The peanuts will float to the top at first so just keep pushing them under and stirring frequently for the first hour or so. Keep an eye on the water level, adding more as it falls below the level of the nuts. When they are just beginning to soften to a creamy interior add 1/4 cup of Kosher salt and boil for another forty-five minutes or as necessary.
Here's one that's full of our favorite recipes because we wrote the book! It is also full of information, helpful hints and ideas for using herbs and spices in your kitchen.
For fun peanut facts and stuff visit the online Peanut Institute. Learn about how peanuts are grown, their history and usage with this interesting article from the University of Wisconsin's Alternative Field Crops Manual.
Step aside peanuts, edamame are the new beer nuts. They are fun to pop, taste great and they're good for you, too. Even better, these soy bean snacks are cinch to prepare.
Edamame (say ed-a-ma-me) is the Japanese word for "beans on a branch." Further defined, edamame are soy beans that are harvested early as a vegetable rather than ripening into what is considered a grain crop.
If you can't find bags of frozen edamame in your grocer's vegetable freezer section, look for them in the natural foods frozen section. For the recipe below be sure to get the type that are still in the shell, or pod.
Shelled edamame are also worth investigating. Quick and as easy to prepare as any other frozen vegetable, green soy beans are something new to toss into soups and salads. The somewhat nutty flavor of edamame often appeals to those who say they don't care for peas and/or lima beans.
This recipe is the ideal time to sample some of the different types of salts we find on the market lately. Fleur de Sel, said to be the finest, is better suited to using as a garnish rather than hidden within a recipe. Grey salt from coastal France or the pink salt from Hawaii are other interesting options. I got my hands on some Welsh smoked salt that adds another flavor dimension to this unusual snack.
Steamed edamame pods are a fun finger food. The pod itself is tough and inedible so you literally pop the beans into your mouth. Do this by pinching the edge of the beans that you can feel through the pod, hold it close to your lips and apply enough pressure to send them flying into your mouth. Discard the pod and lick your salty fingers. It's lots of fun.
Just be sure to explain all of this to the uninitiated. Most people's first impulse is to bite right into the pod turning it into an unpleasant experience. Take it from me, I learned the hard way.
Steamed Edamame Pods
Set up the process that works best for steaming in your kitchen. This could be a steamer basket, fitted pot or simply a metal colander set over a pan of boiling water.
1 bag (12 ounces) frozen edamame in the shell
2 teaspoons sea salt, smoked if desired
Place the frozen edamame into the basket of the steamer and set over boiling water. Cover tightly; steam for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Sprinkle the salt over the pods; toss to coat. Transfer to a serving dish. Serve warm with a second, empty dish for discarding the pods.
Makes about 4 servings.
Beyond Onion Dip
There's more to making a great chip or veggie dip than tearing open a pouch of onion soup mix, but not much more. With a few fresh ingredients on hand you can create a dip with zip in no time.
You probably have several of the ingredients on hand for the recipe below. A couple of green onions plus some sour cream and mayonnaise are often found lurking in refrigerators. Grab a can of chipotles, a block of Monterrey Jack cheese with chile peppers and you are on your way. You do have ground cumin, right?
If a chile pepper based dip sounds too adventurous for your crowd, you could replace the adobo sauce and cumin with fresh herbs like dill and chives. Switch the pepper-jack cheese to a creamy cheese like Muenster or havarti.
Once your dip is prepared, punch up the presentation by providing an unusual assortment of "dippers." Instead of, or in addition to, the typical chips, carrots and celery, consider pita chips or an assortment of gourmet crackers. Explore the produce aisle for new vegetables to dip. Try slices of fennel bulb, fresh edible pea pods and mild (sometimes called "sweet") chile peppers.
Canned chipotles are available in the ethnic food aisle of most supermarkets. After opening, transfer the contents to a small covered container and store in the refrigerator. They will keep for months.
2 small green onions, sliced (both whites and greens) about 3 Tablespoons
3/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
3/4 teaspoon adobo sauce from canned chipotles
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1 1/2 cups) shredded pepper-jack cheese
In a small bowl, mix together the green onions, sour cream, mayonnaise, adobo sauce, cumin and salt. Stir in the shredded cheese. Allow to sit for about 15 minutes to develop flavors. Taste for seasonings; adjust as necessary. Serve with potato and tortilla chips or fresh veggies.
Makes 1 1/2 cups
More pages in the Basics at Home series: