Monday, November 1, 2010

I Have an Eggplant


“I have an eggplant.  Call me back.”
- Omnieater’s sister

            I have a sister.   Let’s just call her Betty.  Betty, is, let’s say, culinary-challenged.  She burnt rice in a rice cooker.  She made jell-o that could double as a hockey puck.  She invited people over for dinner and then had me on the phone for an hour and a half to guide her through the meal she had invited them for. It is not that she has poor taste – she will happily eat at French Laundry or Blue Hill.  She gave up on cooking and now will not cook.
I am sure everyone knows a Betty (or Bob, if you know a guy) – the ones that will not cook, even if you threaten him/her with a kitchen torch.  I have heard all the usual and not-so-usual excuses: “Don’t have the time,” “Don’t have the equipment,” “All I have is a 6 pack of beer and moldy mustard in my house,” and the pathetic, “I am allergic to steam.”  These people are the damned of the food world.
            How can one rescue these poor souls from cooking purgatory?  When it comes to cooking, think like FDR –the only thing to fear is fear itself.  But you can’t simply just give them a recipe and force them to cook. (I know, I’ve tried.)  The key is to give them simple recipes with a minimum of ingredients, utensils, and time.  And opening a can or using a microwave does not count.  The other requirement is that whatever they are going to make has to be drool-worthy.  Why bother cooking again if it tastes it tastes just ho-hum?  They might as well return to speed-dialing Patsy’s. 
            Below is one my favorite dishes to goad non-cookers into thinking that cooking is worth their trouble.  You can get all the ingredients at any grocery store.  It just takes up one pan. You can serve it with rice, with bread, with pasta, and in tortillas (corn are nice).  You can make it as an appetizer or as a meal.  It’s exotic enough that you can make up some crazy story about how some old lady in a tiny barrio in Catalonia taught you how to make this after a night of serious Amontillado drinking.  And most importantly, it is lick-the-plate good.   Isn’t that the reason we cook in the first place? 

Garlic Shrimp or Gambas al Ajillo
I first tasted this dish as a college student in Cambridge.  For years, I tried to figure it out how it was made, but only after a trip to Barcelona, did I finally convince someone to hand over his recipe. The price for that recipe was a long night of drinking - on my tab.  In spite of the hangover (and the bill), the recipe was totally worth it.

1/2 c. of extra virgin olive oil – more, if needed
4 -5 large cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
11/2 pounds of jumbo or extra large shrimp, peeled, rinsed and dried
salt and pepper
1 tsp. ground cumin
11/2 tsp. hot paprika (see note)
1 tsp. of freshly squeezed lemon juice
Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley for serving

1.     Warm the olive oil in a heavy skillet over low heat.  Make sure that there is enough olive oil to cover the entire bottom of the pan.  This is not the time to be cheap.  Add the garlic and cook until it turns golden.  Depending upon the size of your pan and this might take a while.  It is far better to go low and slow than to burn the garlic.
2.     Raise the heat to medium high and add the shrimp, a pinch of salt and ground pepper, cumin and paprika.  Toss or shake the pan to blend and cook shrimp for about 5-10 minutes, turning shrimp occasionally.  Shrimp are ready when they are pink all over and the oil is bubbling nicely.
3.     Take shrimp off heat, stir in lemon juice and parsley.  Serve immediately.
Note: If you can find it, use pimentón ahumado picante or hot smoked Spanish paprika.  You can find it at specialty stores or at Kalustyan's.

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