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Shrimps in Pumpkin-Seed Sauce & Rice for Cook the Books: "Like Water for Chocolate" by Laura Esquivel

Posted Mar 16 2010 3:01am

"Like Water for Chocolate" by Laura Esquivel was one of the first foodie novels that came to my attention and I read it when it was first published here in the U.S. in 1992. I loved the charming story of Tita, who as the youngest daughter in her well-to-do family, is forced by tradition to spend her life taking care of her aging and dominant mother while her heart longs for Pedro, her true love. The book is full of magic and sensuality and of course food, as Tita spends her days in the kitchen where she cooks dishes that contain all of her suppressed emotions and that have an amazing effect on those who eat them. Wanting to revisit the book, I chose it for this round of Cook the Books , the virtual foodie book club, hosted by Rachel of The Crispy Cook , Johanna of Food Junkie Not Junk Food and yours truly. I thought it would be nice to dip back into some foodie fiction and also be able to explore some Mexican cooking in creating a dish to represent the book.


For inspiration in choosing my recipe(s), I looked to two authorities on Mexican cooking and cuisine, Dianna Kennedy and Rick Bayless. I only own one of Diana's books, " Nothing Fancy: Recipes and Recollections of Soul-Satisfying Food " (published in 1984), which she wrote from her ranch in the mountains of Michoacán, Mexico. The book is a collection of Kennedy's favorite recipes from all over the world but includes many Mexican recipes and the Shrimps in Pumpkin-Seed Sauce immediately caught my eye and sounded so delicious--I knew I had to make it. I wanted a very simple rice dish to accompany my shrimps in their sauce, so I went through my Rick Bayless cookbooks and found a recipe for Classic Mexican White Rice in his " Mexico One Plate at a Time." And while I know it is not traditional and I may have to beg for Rick's (and Tita's) ;-) forgiveness, I used a medium-grain brown rice in my recipe. I just don't buy white rice much anymore--I like the fiber boost I get from brown rice. Along with a simple green salad with red bell pepper, avocado and toasted pumpkin seeds with an lime & olive oil dressing, it made for a delicious meal.


Kennedy says, "This is one of the most delicious and elegant ways of preparing shrimps. Of course, you can do as some of my friends do: substitute for the shrimps lumps of crab meat or delicate white fish, but it would be advisable to have some fish stock on hand. This recipe will serve from 4 to 6, depending on whether it is a first or main course. Always buy small or medium-sized shrimps, which have much more flavor than the giant ones, and of course they must be fresh, with the skins on."

Shrimps in Pumpkin-Seed Sauce
"Nothing Fancy" by Diana Kennedy
(Serves 4 to 6)

1 1/2 pounds medium shrimp, unpeeled
2 1/2 cups cold water
sea salt to taste
4 oz (about 1 cup) hulled, raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds
3 fresh chilies serranos, or any fresh green hot chili
1/4 medium white onion
8 sprigs of fresh cilantro (coriander), or more to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup crème fraiche or homemade sour cream

Peel and devein the shrimps, reserving the shells. Place the shells in a saucepan together with the water and salt and cook over a medium flame for about 15 minutes. Strain, discard the shells, and reserve the broth. Put the cleaned shrimps into the broth and cook for about 2 minutes after they come to a simmer; they should just turn opaque, no more. Strain the shrimps, setting them aside and reserving the broth.

In an ungreased heavy pan, lightly toast the pumpkin seeds, which should puff up a little but not brown.

Put the broth, pumpkin seeds, chilies, onion and the leaves and tender stalks of the cilantro into the blender jar and blend until smooth. (If you want an even smoother sauce, grind the seeds first in an electric nut/spice grinder.)


Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over a low flame, stir in the sauce, and cook for about 10 minutes over a low flame, stirring it from time to time so it does not stick to the bottom of the pan. If the sauce becomes lumpy--the starches in the seeds tend to swell rather rapidly--then simply put the sauce back in the blender and blend until smooth. Stir in the cream and the shrimps and merely heat through, adjusting the salt to taste.


Classic Mexican White Brown Rice (Arroz Blanco Marrón)
"Rick Bayless Mexico One Plate at a Time"
(Makes 5 cups, serving 5 or 6)

2 1/2 cups chicken broth or water
salt
2 Tbsp vegetable oil or olive oil
1 1/2 cups white rice, preferably medium-grain
1 small white onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
3 Tbsp roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

Heating the liquid: In a small saucepan or microwave oven, heat the broth or water until steaming; stir in about 3/4 tsp salt if using salted broth, 1 1/2 tsp if using unsalted broth or water. Cover and keep warm.

Frying the rice: In a medium (3 quart) saucepan (one that's about 8-inches in diameter is perfect for even cooking) with a tight-fitting lid, heat the oil over medium. When hot, add the raw rice and onion and stir regularly until the grains have turned from translucent to milky white, 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for a few seconds, until fragrant. For beautiful white rice, the grains should not brown.

Simmering the rice: Add the warm liquid and lime juice, stir thoroughly and scrape down any grains that are clinging to the side of the pan. cover and cook over the lowest heat for 15 minutes--the temperature should be low enough that only the slightest hint of steam escapes from the lid. Remove the pan from the heat and let stand covered for 5 minutes. Uncover and test a grain of rice: If it's still a little hard, re-cover the pan and set over low heat for about 5 minutes; if the rice has absorbed all the liquid (and is completely dry), sprinkle on 2 Tbsp of water before returning it to the heat.

As soon as the rice is done, sprinkle on the parsley and gently fluff the rice to release the steam and stop the cooking, then turn it into a warm bowl. It's ready to serve.

Working ahead: The rice can be successfully made ahead: turn it out onto a baking sheet in a shallow layer to cool, then cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. When ready to serve, reheat in a microwave oven or a steamer. Or reheat on a baking sheet, covered with foil in a 325 degree F. oven until heated through, about 15 minutes. Toss in the parsley and serve.


Notes/Results: Wonderful! The shrimp are succulent and delicious in the flavorful sauce. The shrimp stock combined with the toasted seeds, chilies (I used seranno), and cilantro works well and the crème fraiche adds a nice tangy element. (BTW--In addition to tasting great, pumpkin seeds are one of the most nutritious seeds you can eat and are full of maganese, magnesium, phosphorus, tryptophan, iron and other essential nutrients and vitamins.) This is an easy dish to prepare and would be perfect for entertaining. I cooked the brown rice about 35 minutes, with a 10 minute standing time. The rice was simple and good with a nice hint of lime, and although not quite as pretty as white rice, the brown rice stayed moist and tasty. I would make both of these dishes again.


You have until 3/26 to join us in reading and posting a dish inspired by "Like Water for Chocolate." I'll be rounding up all of the entries at the end of the month and you'll be able to check them out at the CTB site here . A winner will be selected by our esteemed judge for this round, the wonderful Ben Herrera from What's Cooking? Ben is a talented cook, photographer, and blogger who really knows his Mexican cuisine and is a fan of the book, so we are very excited to have him as a judge. Hope you join us!

BTW: I'll resume the usual Tuesday "Things I Am Loving This Week" next Tuesday. ;-)
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