It’s Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, and for Catholics it is also a day of fasting (limiting food intake) and abstinence (no red meat, poultry or alcohol). Our family is what I would call “Cathol-ish”. We are not regular churchgoers, haven’t been since the Extended Deployment and Two Manhattan Christmas of 2013 (a different story for another post), but we do make it on the major holidays. (When my husband was quizzing Peanut on fire safety for Cub Scouts, he asked “What’s something we do twice a year?” Peanut answered enthusiastically “Go to church!” Survey says: Change smoke detector batteries. We gave him partial credit.) The boys go to vacation Bible school every summer and we say grace before dinner every night. We do aim to observe Lenten traditions every year to prepare for Easter (because Peeps and the Resurrection). We didn’t (and won’t) make it to mass today but I did call my husband at work and remind him he can’t eat the leftover Hemingway burger he took in for lunch and haven’t forgotten to abstain from meat myself (yet). That plus the shrimp for dinner (which I did not enjoy with a glass of wine) and the angst I’m having over what to give up is a significant step up from our standard religious effort, and isn’t that mindfulness ultimately the point of Lent? Now let’s get on to the food before this religion talk goes from endearingly honest to irreverently controversial.
Another Nigella recipe here. She writes her recipes with charming and vivid descriptions and anecdotes that make it impossible to not want to try them. This one has been on my radar for a while, but I was in danger of making this blog all about Nigella there for a bit. As it stands now, 3/9 recipes so far are from Simply Nigella. That’s still pretty heavy for a single publication but, dang, she’s just so amazing (I will admit as I transcribe these recipes, I find her comma usage excessive. She’s more than likely correct, but still)! If you want to just go ahead and buy the book, you’d be wise to do so. (I am not compensated for any product recommendations or reviews. I just like telling people what I think about stuff.)
The dish was a hit, and pretty quick to assemble (faster than 30 minutes in only ONE POT!) 7 thumbs up for this one from the family, Meatball offering a single thumb of dissent because he liked the sauce on the shrimp, but not the noodles. His approval of sauce in any form is a huge leap, though, so taking that into consideration, I’m willing to declare this a unanimous win. Peanut rated it 2,026 yums on a scale where pizza (his favorite meal) is 3,000 yums, and completely cleaned his plate while continually declaring how delicious it was. Full disclosure, cinnamon is the predominant flavor. If you don’t care for cinnamon or take issue with flavors you associate with “sweet” in savory dishes, this one’s not for you.
As always, the recipe follows with my notes boldface.
Thai Noodles with Cinnamon and Shrimp (Serves 2)
I doubled this recipe to serve the four of us with 2 smaller servings of leftovers. Quantities below are the original recipe for two.
- 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped “Roughly chopped” is my favorite preparation for garlic, which can become rather tedious when you get into directions like “minced”, “sliced”, and “finely chopped”.
- 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into fine matchsticks Easier than you would think, since most of the cutting goes with the grain of the ginger.
- 1 star anise
- 1/2 long or 1 short stick cinnamon, broken into shards
- 2-3 leafy stems at the top of 1 celery stalk, stems cut into short lengths, leaves roughly chopped The preface to the recipe explains that this is a geographically necessary substitute for Chinese celery. Buy leafier celery from the grocery and pull off the little branches with leaves on them, or use the leafy stalks near the heart.
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons light soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce I assume this is the same thing as Tamari. It’s what I used with dark soy sauce nowhere to be found (and by nowhere, I mean the one grocery I checked)
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper Normally, I would be a snob about this and insist it be freshly ground, but Nigella herself says to use the pre-ground stuff as that’s what the original chef used. Who am I to argue with authenticity?
- 7 tablespoons cold water If you’re doubling, it’s 7 ounces.
- 1 teaspoon chicken broth concentrate
- 1 tablespoon ketjap manis, or 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce mixed with 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar I confess I didn’t even try to find ketjap manis. There is one grocery store in this county that even has a chance of carrying it, and it was just too far out of the way today. If you have an Asian market near you (lucky!), you’ll probably be able to get it. That said, if this is the only thing you’ll in which you’ll use it, why not use staple ingredients instead?
- 10 raw shell-off jumbo shrimp, thawed if frozen I was at the warehouse store and the jumbo shrimp was farmed, the wild Gulf shrimp were large. I’m a source snob (sort of. I’ll happily shop at a big box store or the warehouse club but be picky about what I buy there) so I bought the wild shrimp and just weighed out a pound, which is four servings according to the package.
- 3 ounces mung bean (glass) noodles or rice vermicelli, soaked and drained as per package instructions One package is 5.5 ounces and I learned my lesson on rice noodle quantity making the pho, so I used the slightly smaller amount.
- fat pinch ground cinnamon I am guessing that two fat pinches is about 1/8 teaspoon.
- fat pinch ground cloves Ditto.
On a high heat, heat the oil in a large wok. We do not own a wok. It’s a “would be nice to have” but having lived this long without one, I think we’ll continue to do so. We do have a deep, curve-sided saucepan that works well in a wok’s stead. You could use any skillet here, I think. Add the garlic, ginger, star anise, cinnamon, and the sliced leafy stems of celery, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
Stir in both soy sauces and leave to simmer for 30 seconds, then stir in the oyster sauce and ground pepper. I added the oyster sauce with the soy sauces because I got distracted. Mom problems. Still worked out.
Add the water, followed by the chicken broth concentrate and the ketjap manis (or the mixture of dark soy sauce with dark brown sugar), stir until everything’s well combined, and bring to a boil. It will boil almost instantly so have the shrimp ready.
Now add the shrimp, immersing them in the liquid. Simmer until the shrimp are cooked through. My shrimp being smaller, this didn’t take long at all. 4 minutes, maybe?
Finally, add the drained noodles and stir well – I find a couple of pasta forks, one in each hand, best for this – so that everything is combined, and most of the dark liquid is absorbed. If we have pasta forks, we call them something else. I used a pair of tongs and they worked well for both stirring the noodles and serving the dish. Add the pinches of ground cinnamon and cloves, stir again, and if you’re not serving straight from the wok, decant into a serving bowl and sprinkle with the reserved chopped celery leaves. Save yourself (or in my case your spouse) some cleanup and serve it right from the pan. Also, if you’re serving children, pick out the bits of cinnamon and start anise left behind. It’s tree bark and not very tasty, and I’m not sure how well the body digests it.
Cool leftovers, then cover and refrigerate within 2 hours of making. Will keep for up to 2 days. Delicious cold. I can’t verify how these taste cold but I have a hard time imagining them being anything short of delicious.