Anytime I have seen a recipe that calls for bottled mayo as an ingredient, my impulse has been to shout, “What?” It seems like such a cheat. I mean, real mayonnaise, à la mode Française, is so easy to make if you use a food processor.
If the recipe came from a publication called Cooking Light, I wanted to shout even louder.
But sometimes, I am so wrong.
One of my friends sent me a version of this month’s recipe in an email link from her daughter, who lives in a college dormitory. The daughter said it was her new favorite dish. How she managed to make this dish in a dorm just goes to prove that college dorms have changed drastically in the decades since I was a student. For starters, I would not have had the equipment. Or access to most of the ingredients. Or the nuns’ permission to smoke up the faux-kitchen with the aromas of cilantro, cumin, shallots, coconut and ginger. Who even knew what couscous was back in 1975, let alone Israeli couscous? Also, um, shrimp used to come in a can at the local A&P.
But here’s the biggest question about the fact that this dish was prepared in a dormitory: How in the world did the cook swat away all the kids who must have come running (and salivating) while its scent circulated down the hall? The recipe says that it serves four, but you have never seen anything like the way it was ravaged by one man in my house.
So, anyway, back to the mayo. There really is no reason to make it from scratch in this case, given the already extensive list of ingredients. But do not be daunted by the list. It sounds like a lot of stuff, but many of the items are repeated in the three stages, and if you prepare the dish one step at a time, it’s neither as complicated nor as time-consuming as it might appear. Come on, people. A girl made it in her dorm!
I did fiddle with the original in order to maximize certain flavor components. For instance, I always roast and grind my own cumin seeds, but you don’t have to. I also changed the juice from orange to tangerine because I am crazy about tangerines, especially at this time of year. And I added coconut. Finally, while the recipe calls for serving the dish over a bed of fresh baby spinach, I opted to braise the spinach, both because it is easier to eat when tender and because it adds just that one further soupcon of flavor. On the other hand, you may prefer the crunchiness of the raw greens.
The world is your oyster. I mean, your shrimp.
The recipe: Crispy Shrimp with Ginger-Citrus Sauce on Toasted Israeli Couscous
For the sauce:
1½ cups orange or tangerine juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons organic chicken stock
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
Fresh-squeezed juice of 1 lime
¾ teaspoon ground roasted cumin
¾ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Bring the orange/tangerine juice to a low boil in a small saucepan. Let it boil until reduced to ½ cup (approximately 15-20 minutes); then remove it from the heat. Once cooled (the juice should be thick), whisk the rest of the sauce ingredients in. Cover and set aside.
For the couscous:
1 cup of uncooked large-pearl Israeli couscous
1½ cups heated organic chicken broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 small shallots, peeled, halved and sliced thinly
A pinch of sea salt
Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large pan with a lid. Add the shallots and stir to coat them; then add the couscous. Stir the couscous in the hot oil, toasting the pearls evenly. Once the couscous is golden brown, add all of the heated chicken stock. Stir, cover with the lid, and simmer on low for 10-12 minutes, or until done.
For the shrimp:
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 egg or egg white, slightly beaten
½ cup panko breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
½ teaspoon grated fresh ginger
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
½ teaspoon cumin powder
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 mounds baby spinach
Reheat the sauce over low heat.
(Do not allow it to boil again — it just needs to be warm.)
Combine the shrimp and lightly beaten egg or white in a bowl, tossing thoroughly to coat. Combine the breadcrumbs, ginger, cilantro, coconut, black pepper and cumin in a large bowl with a lid. Shake to combine it all. Using a slotted spoon, add the shrimp to the bowl. Reseal the bowl and give it another good shake to completely coat the shrimp.
Heat the canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; arrange the shrimp in a single layer in the pan. Cook two minutes on each side or until golden.
Place ¾-cup couscous on each of four plates; then pile ¼ of the raw baby spinach on top of the couscous. Using a flexible spatula (so you don’t tear the crust), pile the shrimp on top of the spinach. Drizzle sauce over the whole dish, adjusting the amount to your taste. Serve any remaining sauce with the dish. Serves two to four.
Photo courtesy: John Nation