I love it when a plan comes together, when a dish in your imagination turns out as delicious as the actual experiment. This is one such meal.
Last night I put a little gourmet Italian twist on southern-style Shrimp n’ Grits, then added a serving of smoky-garlicky greens as a side. The results? Not only was the presentation gorgeous, it tasted heavenly. As in I would absolutely put a this recipe in the category of “the perfect bite” and serve it up in a spoon to Nigella Lawson and Anthony Bourdain on the show “The Taste”. Then step back and wait for them to swoon and hand me the prize without further debate.
In place of the traditional grits, I pan-fried thin slices of ready-made polenta, often used in Italian recipes. I used Trader Joe’s brand, which comes in package shelf (not refrigerated), usually near the Italian section of the store. It looks like moist, cooked cornmeal made into a log and wrapped in plastic. That is because, well, it is. It is not the most appetizing looking food when you open it up for slicing. (Think yellow corn grits that may have been left too long in a pan.) However, once you’ve pan-fried them in olive oil and butter, with a little salt and pepper…. Look out, Louise. They turn into crispy-edged, buttery disks of corny decadence.
I can’t wait for you to try this recipe, a Taste of Tuscany meets South in Your Mouth.
Bon appetito, Ya’ll!
Shrimp Alfredo with Crispy Polenta and Greens
½ log of pre-made polenta
1 T. butter
1T. olive oil
Dash salt and pepper
For Shrimp and Alfredo:
20 pieces of raw medium shrimp, cleaned, peeled, tails removed
1 T. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup cream
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
1 T. Olive oil
2 cloves garlic minced,
½ red onion, diced fine
2 slices pork or turkey bacon diced fine
4 cups loosely packed, rough chopped kale and/or other greens, thick stems mostly removed
½ cup water
1 t. smoked paprika
1 T. vinegar, your favorite
1 T. brown sugar
Salt and Pepper (or Grill Seasoning or Cajun Seasoning) to taste
Tabasco or Frank’s Red Sauce or Red Chili Pepper to taste
Start the greens first, so they can simmer on the back burner. In your largest deepest skillet, saute olive oil, garlic, red onion and bacon, until bacon crisps. Pile the greens on top of this mixture in the skillet, cover with ½ cup of water, cover, and let the greens cook down about 5 minutes over medium heat. Take lid off and stir in paprika, vinegar and brown sugar, add salt and pepper and hot sauce to taste. Cover again and simmer while you make the shrimp and sauce. (Adding water if needed to keep from scorching, but no more than necessary.)
In another skillet (I like my iron skillet) let oil and butter melt and get hot while you slice the polenta into ¼ inch or so rounds. Place the rounds in the skillet and turn heat up to medium high so that the polenta starts to pan fry. When it is golden brown in places, turn it over and brown the other side. Sprinkle the tops very lightly with salt and pepper. Remove to a paper towel to drain any excess grease, then cover with another paper town to keep warm.
Wipe out the iron skillet with a paper towel, and then put in oil and garlic and shrimp. Cook for just a minute or two until shrimp just turns pink on both sides. (You can add a little water to the pan if the shrimp starts to stick.) Add cream and parmesan cheese. Stir and heat until cheese is melted and the shrimp and sauce is heated through. Season lightly with salt to taste, if needed.
Put about 5 or 6 rounds of polenta on each plate. Pile with shrimp and sauce. Sprinkle with smoked paprika. Serve with a side of the greens.
(Rachel, the daughter)
I used to be a firm believer that I needed a little meat, or at the least some cheese or an egg, at every meal to keep from getting the shakes and a headache. I’m sometimes still surprised that this wasn’t actually true. I obviously still need protein, but it turns out, my body happily accepts plant-based protein, like from legumes, whole grains, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and occasional unprocessed soy (like organic tofu or edamame).
For most of my young adult life I battled headaches almost daily. Recently, it dawned on me that I very rarely get headaches now, like maybe once every two to three months. I wonder if my old diet high in animal protein could have actually been causing it, rather than helping it. Hmmm… I don’t know. But you know what else dawned on me? I don’t have my old built-in excuse for getting out of certain activities anymore.
“Sorry, I have a headache,” can get you out of watching a loud shoot-em-up-bang-em-up boy movie, cooking dinner, going to your husband’s work banquet, paying the bills, and well, you can probably think of a laundry list of other things.
Because I genuinely did have a headache so often, I could pretty much throw it out there on any given day and it was believable. Who was to say just how severe my headache was? Now, I would probably have to put on a bit of a production to sell that excuse. I might have to throw myself on the bed with a damp towel over my head and moan and groan for awhile, stay off my computer (read: facebook), and go to bed early. It’s really more trouble than it’s worth.
Thank goodness, there’s always the go-to “Sorry, I’m so tired” excuse. Who’s going to question that from the mother of a baby?
This recipe for cajun red beans and rice, very high in plant-based protein (and fiber and iron!), is truly easy enough that you won’t need to come up with an excuse to get out of cooking dinner. It only takes about 10 minutes to make, but does need a couple of hours to simmer. With almost 20 grams of protein, 30% of your daily iron needs, 16 grams of fiber, and only 3 grams of fat, you might even feel energetic enough that you want to tackle that laundry list of to-dos.
Rachel’s Vegan Cajun Red Beans & Rice
1 T. olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves (I used 1 very large clove)
2 jalapeno or serrano peppers
2 T. fresh parsley, chopped (could sub dry parsley)
2 t. smoked paprika
3 dashes liquid smoke
2 t. salt-free cajun seasoning (if yours has salt, add this at the end–salt can make beans tough)
1/2 t. brown sugar
1 lb dried kidney beans, sorted and rinsed (no pre-soak required*)
8 c. water
2 t. salt (use 1/2 smoked salt if you have it)
1 t. pepper
1/4 t. cayenne (optional–adds spice)
1 1/4 c. brown Rice & 3/4 c. wild rice, cooked per package instructions or in a rice maker**
In a large sauce pan, heat olive oil on medium heat, add onions, garlic, peppers (whole), and saute until onions are soft. Add parsley, smoked paprika, liquid smoke, cajun seasoning, and brown sugar. Stir for one minute. Add kidney beans, stir. Add water, stir, cover, bring to low boil, then reduce heat to med-low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until kidney beans are cooked through. You can remove the lid for the last 15 minutes or so to thicken up the juices if you like. Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne if desired. (I removed some beans for the little one before adding the cayenne.)
Slow Cooker: Saute onions, garlic, peppers, parsley and spices in a skillet as above. (You can do this the night before and just keep in the refrigerator until morning.) Put onion spice mixture, kidney beans, and hot water to the slow cooker. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. When you get home or the beans are cooked to your liking, season with salt, tilt the lid open and turn crockpot to high heat to let some of the liquid evaporate while you get the rest of dinner ready.
Serve over cooked rice.
*No presoak is required, though it could shorten your cooking time if you do. Some beans can be difficult to digest without a presoak and rinse. I’ve eaten two bowls today and have had no, ahem…flatulence or difficulty digesting. More than you wanted to know, right?!
**I combine the wild and brown rice together and cook in the rice maker with a little extra water and about a teaspoon of olive oil. Comes out perfect every time.
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The Title: Vegan Cajun Red Beans & Rice
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I raised my kids on a lake in the country in small town Texas. I had three sons who all loved to fish, and by the time my youngest, Gabe, was six, he could dig for his own worms, bait his own hook, walk out the back door to the dock and pull in a small crappie (pronounced “croppie” ) or two.
His older brothers would paddle the boat out further and catch bigger bass, and Gabe longed to catch a bass with all his little heart. One day, I was being interviewed “live” on the radio, via telephone. I think I was discussing my first book, Worms in My Tea (co-authored with my mom, Ruthie), when the door to my office swung open, and a large mouth bass nearly smacked me in the face. When I calmed down from the shock of a fish flying in my office, I realized the fish was on the hook end of a fishing pole, being held by one excited little boy on the other end.
“Mom!” he yelled. “I caught a bass!” He sure did, and the news of it was broadcast live, somewhere on the radio in middle America. I managed to wipe fishy lake water from my brow, congratulate Gabe and carry on with the interview. These are things professional mothers do.
But I digress. I started this blog post thinking about crappie, and how, though they aren’t very big, they are, as we say in Texas, “some good eatin’.” And we ate a lot of them. So when the small fish, tilapia, seemed to swim out of nowhere into our supermarkets and on to the foodie scene as the new Rock Star of mild, affordable fish, I couldn’t help thinking how much they looked and tasted like crappie. In fact, who knows? They might just be crappie, with a fancy new name.
I loved tilapia at first bite. And it’s the best last-minute dinner! Even if it is frozen, it thaws in no time. Below is one of my favorite fish dishes. It’s fast, it is easy, it tastes amazing with its sweet, smoky, spicy, citrus flavors. And look how beautiful it is! Serve with an ear of fresh corn and a salad with avocado, and you’ve got a beautiful plate of healthy “good eatin’.”
Here’s something you may not know about tilapia, but as soon as you read this you can tell your friends and amaze them with it. Or just sound like a fish fact Know-it-All. Tilapia can be found in the Sea of Galilee, and are sometimes called “St. Peter’s fish.” This comes from the story in the Gospel of Matthew about the apostle Peter catching a fish that carried a coin in its mouth. (Matthew 14:24-27.)
Becky’s Sweet and Smoky Tilapia
2 T. olive oil
2 T. butter
4 medium to large tilapia fillets
2 T. smoked paprika
2 T. cumin
3 T. brown sugar
salt and pepper
1 lemon, cut in half
Pre-heat oven to 350.
Put oil and butter in rectangle pan (large enough to hold tilapia without overlapping) and put in oven until butter has melted. Tilt pan until it is evenly coated.
In small bowl, mix paprika, cumin and brown sugar. Lightly salt and pepper both sides of 4 fillets. Lay tilapia fillets side by side in the buttery pan. Turn over so both sides are coated with oil/butter. Generously sprinkle tops of tilapia with the brown sugar-spice mix (using all of it), patting it in gently as you would a rub or blackening seasoning. Squeeze one half lemon over all.
Put in oven for 15 minutes or until fish flakes easily. Then turn oven to broil and watching carefully, broil the tops of the fish until the spice mixture starts to caramelize. Remove, serve with the remaining lemon half, cut in pretty slices as garnish.
Variations: Try this method with other fish and other spices you enjoy!
Vegan Variation: Use Earth Balance instead of butter, pressed or plain tofu slices or veggie burgers instead of fish.