Sunday, June 27, 2010

"I am delicious"

A few weeks ago, B and I went to DC for a long weekend. Though both of us have visited the capital and environs for various conferences, it had been years since either of us had been there as tourists. His obligatory school trip across the country from California was in eighth grade, and mine in sixth.

My school trip, unlike B's, was cut brutally short by the development of that nasty, highly contagious rash known as chickenpox. It was not a coincidence that the pox had been going around the entire school that May, and my own little brother had gotten it just ten days before we left. About halfway through the trip (we'd already seen Monticello and Mt. Vernon, but had just arrived in DC itself), I saw a few herald spots, felt the beginning of the itch (oh, that miserable itch), and knew the jig was up. I was sent home early. The title of my subsequent scrapbook was "Spotlight on Washington, DC."

On this trip, B and I visited some monuments that we hadn't seen in twenty years.

The Washington monument by night was very impressive, but B and I most enjoyed the ghostly Korean War memorial with the larger-than-life soldiers trekking through the night (the pictures didn't turn out very well, or I would share them with you). The entire memorial wasn't even there the last time either of us visited the Mall! Another landmark we saw on our trip certainly was there twenty years ago, but, not surprisingly, wasn't pointed out to us by our teachers.

Yes, there it is. That's the infamous Watergate complex! We saw it from a boat cruise we took down the Potomac from Georgetown to Alexandria.

The real purpose of our trip, however, was to visit family (my brother—the very same one who gave me chickenpox—and his girlfriend) and friends. In addition to sight-seeing, we ate at lots of great restaurants, cooked in E&T's beautiful kitchen (just one room of their beautiful house in their beautiful neighborhood), watched some French Open tennis, and, because the hot weather had just arrived for the summer, appreciated the air-conditioning.

One time when we were cooking, or discussing cooking, the subject of tamarind came up. It turns out that both my brother and my friend E have had major difficulty locating tamarind paste in this large, multicultural, cosmopolitan city in which they live. It's not even available at their Whole Foods. And, as anyone who has cooked with tamarind before knows, the paste is a huge shortcut. Tamarind is also available in its original seed pods at some Asian markets, or in blocks made from the innards of the seed pods. However, in order to be usable, the blocks must be softened in hot water, and then laboriously pressed through a strainer to separate the fibrous waste from the delicious, tangy, dark-brown tamarind juice. It's a real pain.

All the discussion about tamarind made me excited to return home, where tamarind paste is easily available, so that I could make one of my favorite recipes. I bought three tubs of paste at an Asian market in the Richmond: one for me, one for E&T, and one for my brother. I didn't mail them until a few days ago, though, so that's why I couldn't post earlier in the month and thereby torture them with a recipe that would make them salivate.

B loves this recipe. One time he went through my Gourmets until he found this one, and affixed a sticky note onto the cover: "I am delicious." Each component is delicious on its own, but what makes the recipe special is how well they all work together. The Thai-inspired tamarind shrimp top an avocado and cilantro base that represents the best of California cuisine. The shrimp and avocado are in turn served over rice, and finished with sauteed shallots. Everything combines to make a dish worthy of company—if you're willing to share it, that is.

Though some of the reviewers on Epicurious despise the brown color of the tamarind sauce, I think one of the best parts of the dish is how colorful it is, from the white rice to the green avocado to the pink shrimp. The very best part, of course, is the taste, and the tang of tamarind paste is a major contributor.

Now that E and my brother have tamarind paste on the way, they're all set to make this recipe, since that's really the only non-standard grocery ingredient. The dish is perfect for summer, and writing about it makes me wish it were on the menu for this coming week. I think you'll like it too. Enjoy!

Tamarind Shrimp with Avocado
Adapted from Gourmet, April 2005

Serves: 4, generously
Time: 35 minutes active and total

2 large avocados, peeled, pitted, and chopped into 1 inch dice
1/4 c. cilantro, chopped
juice from two limes, divided
2 T. tamarind paste
1 T. soy sauce
1 T. fish sauce
1 t. sugar
3-4 T. vegetable oil
3 shallots, sliced crosswise and separated into rings
2 cloves garlic, minced or smashed
1 inch ginger, peeled and minced
1 serrano chile, seeded if desired and minced
1 1/2 lb. uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined (I use the 31-40/pound frozen shrimp from Costco)
cooked Jasmine rice (I use 1 1/2 c. uncooked rice)
1/4 c. peanuts, toasted and chopped (optional)

First, mix together the avocado, cilantro, and juice from one lime in a small bowl; set aside. In another small bowl, mix together the juice from the remaining lime, tamarind, soy and fish sauces, and sugar; set aside.

In a medium-sized saute pan, heat 3 T. vegetable oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the shallots, and saute until lightly browned. Using a slotted spoon, remove the fried shallots from the pan and drain on a paper towel (I usually lightly salt them).

Using the same saute pan, add the garlic, ginger, and chile (adding another tablespoon of vegetable oil if necessary). Stir for 30 seconds, or until fragrant, and then add the shrimp, tossing frequently for two minutes until evenly pink. Add the tamarind sauce, and cook for another two minutes, until shrimp are just cooked through.

Place 3/4 c. cooked rice on a plate, then top with avocado mixture, shrimp and tamarind sauce, and fried shallots (and peanuts if using). Serve immediately.


  1. I think this is my favorite post so far, for obvious reasons. ;) I recommend pulling those tails off the shrimp (after thawing, before cooking). I know most recipes and restaurants leave the tails on (why? cause then they add more volume or don't curl up as much? pshaw), but this dish is too delicious to have to reach up with your fingers and pull shrimp tails off after every tasty bite!

  2. Glad to see a post on this dish. Of all the recipes you've shared with us, it's our favorite and now part of our regular dinner rotation.

  3. I'm with Brian. Why the hell do restaurants leave tails on? Perhaps this is deserving of its own post series called "Why the hell."

    Also, don't forget that I helped you finish that scrapbook, sicko.

  4. I should have been more clear! I always pull the tails off--B would have it no other way.

    And yes, JMc definitely was crucial in finishing the scrapbook. She got me lots of postcards and took pics at the several sites I was not able to visit due to my unexpected illness.