Spicy Shrimp with Fried Plantains and Mango Avocado Salsa

I left August 29, and I’ve finally returned. I’ve seen Kenya- the Masai Mara, Nairobi, Mombasa, Diani Beach- hiked in New Hampshire and dined in Boston, battled sandflies in Michigan, worked in Atlanta, celebrated weddings in North Carolina, biked Orange County, waved at seals in La Jolla, and shopped in Los Angeles. Two months, and more travel than I could possibly squeeze into a (relatively) functioning work schedule, and I wait on the edge of my seat to finally settle down and relax in Chicago. It’s the right moment, see, because while the dog days of summer and picturesque, perfect days of early fall are tantalizingly beautiful along the Chicago lakefront, they are also days of activity and adventure. You can’t slow down; I won’t slow down; not until the leaves fall. So here it is, the first day I could smell the crispness to the air, the undefinable quality that forebodes the dropping temperatures and the consequently required heavy jackets. After four years in and outside this city, it feels almost comforting to notice this change. While Chicago thrives in the summer, at its heart, it is a winter city. Many may argue against that, but genuinely, those who live here endure and make magic of these (truly) 8 months of cold weather. So much so, that it only feels right, somewhat like a homecoming, to be back among the chilly air and more brusque breezes. No one will admit to liking it; far from it. I’d rather perpetual September and October for the rest of time. But it is calming, to be on this side of things. I’m ready to slow down, embrace it, and warm up by the artificial dry heat of my antiquated radiators. This is made significantly better by a pumpkin-clove candle from Anthropologie, which is the best smelling thing to ever enter my apartment. All I need now is the return of my dachshunds.

I had intended on sharing a recipe for sweet potato ramen in a curried broth, which was excellent, innovative, and aesthetic. But, somehow, I threw out the recipe. Usually I remember a recipe well enough, but I can’t be certain in this one, and it’s worth doing right. I’ll have to repeat the process (possibly not burn my hands on the soft boiled egg next time), and share in the coming months. What I’m sharing today is, quite obviously, a remnant from my weeks doing Whole 30. The biggest problem with Whole 30 is going to Kenya immediately afterward and forgetting all of it. Problem? Maybe that’s the best thing to do. Regardless, I did eat well during that challenge, from a health and flavor standpoint, and some recipes bear posting, even outside of my current dietary restraints (of which I have none). So, without further ado, a very delicious, albeit distinctly summery, dinner.

shrimp and plantains

Spicy Shrimp with Fried Plantains and Mango Avocado Salsa

Serves 4

  • 1 lb large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined, tossed in the juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp. coconut oil
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flake
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • 2 plantains, peeled and sliced
  • 2 tbsp. ghee
  • 2 avocado, diced
  • 2 mango, diced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • Salt & pepper

In a mixing bowl, toss together the avocado, mango, shallot, and lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper.

In a large sauté pan, heat the coconut oil over medium heat. Add the shrimp and season with the spices above. Turn after 2-3 minutes, once the bottom side is appearing lightly pink and opaque. Cook another 2-3 minutes and remove from the pan.

In the same sauté pan, add 2 tbsp ghee over medium high heat. Add the plantains and toast for 2-4 minutes, until golden brown. Flip and cooked the alternative side. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the pan.

Plate the shrimp and plantains with a side of the mango avocado salsa. Enjoy!

An Enchilada Dinner Party, Part 2: Roasted Tomato and Chile Vegetable Enchiladas

So you’re off to a great start for dinner: you’ve eaten a massive amount of guacamole, and you’ve sipped greedily on delicious sangria. But now it’s time to feast! I decided to make two types of enchiladas, primarily because I wanted to try out two different recipes. The vegetable enchiladas were significantly more labor intensive; however, they have the benefit of being vegetarian, (possibly) gluten-free, and (almost) every-other-dietary-restriction acceptable (vegan if you skip the cheese, which I’ve done previously. You don’t miss it if you pile on the guac to serve!). I’m not any of these things, but I do appreciate vegetables (massively so), and I like the idea behind making something a bit more non-traditional. To appease classic tastes, I also prepared (incredibly tasty) chicken enchiladas, which were simpler, more quickly prepared, and an all-around hit, so I’ll share those tomorrow. The vegetables in these enchiladas are pretty acceptable year-round, although I suppose fresh summer squash and corn could amp up the flavor a bit. Roasting and sautéing the vegetables imparts a more dramatic flavor, which sufficiently minimizes any “blandness” due to out-of-season ingredients. And, finally, we’re wrapping up all these veggies in a corn tortilla, smothering them in salsa, and baking them with cheese. Should we really be worried about anything?

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Roasted Tomato and Chile Vegetable Enchiladas

Makes about 24 enchiladas; Serves 12

24 corn tortillas

12 oz. manchego cheese, freshly shredded

Roasted Tomato and Chile Salsa

  • 1 tbsp. grapeseed oil
  • 6 roma tomatoes
  • 2 packages/cartons grape tomatoes
  • 1 large sweet onion, quartered
  • 3 jalapeno peppers, stems and seeds removed
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1 large lime, juiced
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro

3 tbsp. olive oil

1 yellow onion, diced

2 bell peppers, diced (any color)

1 jalapeno, diced

3 zucchini, diced

5 oz. shitaki mushrooms, diced

5 oz. cremini mushrooms, diced

2 cups frozen corn

3 tsp. cumin

2 tsp. smoked paprika

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

2 tbsp. chile sauce

6 tbsp. all-purpose flour or cornstarch

4 cups vegetable stock

1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

Salt & pepper, to taste

To prepare the salsa, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl, toss vegetables with grapeseed oil and spices (leave out lime juice and cilantro). Pour the bowl’s contents onto the baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes, until the vegetables are browned around the edges. Once roasted, add the roasted vegetables to a food processor with lime and cilantro and blend until smooth. If your food processor is too small, blend in batches. Alternatively, you could use a blender or immersion blender. This salsa can be made days in advance and should be kept in the refrigerator.

If you’d rather save some time the night of cooking, dice/chop/prepare all the vegetables used for enchiladas the day before. They will keep well stored in individual containers in the refrigerator. This prep time is not to be dismissed; I believe I was chopping for well over 30 minutes. I’d highly recommend having everything prepared beforehand!

The day of cooking, heat olive oil in a Dutch oven or VERY large pot over medium heat. Sauté garlic for about 20 seconds, until just fragrant. Add onions, peppers, jalapeno, and zucchini to the pot and sauté until softened (time will depend on cooking vessel; I’d estimate about 10 minutes). Add mushrooms and sauté until softened and just releasing their juices, about 10 minutes longer. Pour in spices and chile sauce and mix thoroughly. Sprinkle flour over the vegetable mixture, and stir until flour has combined and cooked, about 3 minutes.  Add vegetable stock to the vegetables and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Or, if using cornstarch, mix cornstarch in about 1 cup of stock, whisking to combine. Add vegetable stock to the vegetables and, while stirring, add cornstarch-stock slurry and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the temperature and simmer until the sauce has thickened. Add frozen corn, stir, and heat for about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, add chopped cilantro, and stir. Set aside to cool slightly.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour an even layer of about 1/2 cup of salsa into the bottom of two 13×9 baking pans (I used glass pyrex). Now, set up your work station. The corn tortillas require heating on a skillet for about 20 seconds per side before use. I used a large griddle to heat multiple tortillas at once (with the help of my roommate preparing the chicken enchiladas simultaneously). I found working with about 2 heating tortillas was most efficient without burning or waiting. Next to the griddle or skillet, keep a large bowl filled with the salsa nearby. Have a large spoon ready in the vegetable mixture, and keep the shredded manchego cheese a quick reach away. To prepare each enchilada, heat a tortilla until softened. Dip in salsa on both sides, then let rest in the enchilada pan. Fill with about 1/4 cup of the vegetable mixture, then top with about 1 tbsp. of manchego cheese. Roll the tortilla tightly and move to the furthest corner of the pan. Repeat this process 23 times. I found about 12 tortillas fit in a 13×9, with a row of 10 running longitudinally, and 2 fitting transverse across the bottom of the pan. Once the enchiladas are all rolled and squished together, top with another 1/2 cup of salsa per pan and a thorough sprinkle of manchego cheese (may as well use it all!). I had some leftover vegetable mixture (as I only made 18 enchiladas), so I added some of that to the top as well.After this, your hands will be a sticky mess of sauce, salsa, and cheese, but nothing a quick hand wash can’t handle.

Place the pans side-by-side in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. I made these at the same time as two equally-sized pans of chicken enchiladas, so I rotated all 4 pans twice during cooking. Once the cheese has melted, the sauce is bubbly, and the entire floor of your condo building smells like mexican food, the enchiladas are done.

I don’t have a photograph of the finished product, because I slipped these into the oven after guests had arrived, and within minutes of being done they were somehow gone entirely. These can be eaten as is, unadorned, or topped with anything from a fresh squeeze of lime, chopped cilantro, guacamole, or sour cream. I’ve said these are labor intensive, but they are so delicious, so flavorful, and so worth it. They absolutely should be dinner for Brian.