Shrimp in Tomato Sauce: Middle Eastern Cuisine

This shrimp dish is my very favorite recipe from my favorite Middle Eastern Cookbook.

This rich, red sauce combines cumin, cinnamon and lemon juice into something so exotic tasting that it's hard to believe I made it in a suburban New Jersey kitchen!

Better still, this dish is easy to make, passing the five easy questions test with flying colors.

I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Shrimp in Tomato Sauce
(modified, but not beyond recognition, from Taste of the Middle East by Soheila Kimberley)

4-5 Tablespoons olive oil
2-3 onions, chopped coarsely
3-4 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
5 tomatoes, chopped
About 5 Tablespoons tomato paste (about half of a small can)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup water (or you can use seafood stock, optional)

1 lb raw, peeled medium to large shrimp
Juice of one lemon
White rice, to serve

1) Saute the onions on medium-high heat until they begin to brown, about 5-6 minutes. Turn down the heat to medium and then add the garlic.

2) Saute the garlic/onion mix for 1-2 minutes, then add the chopped tomatoes. Then add the tomato paste, cumin, cinnamon, black pepper and water.

3) Bring to a low boil, then simmer the sauce for 15 minutes on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Don't let the sauce stick to the bottom of the pan.

4) Add the shrimp, then the lemon juice, and stir well.

5) Cook for another 5-7 minutes, until shrimp are pink (maybe 1-2 minutes more if you're using large shrimp). Please, whatever you do, don't overcook the shrimp--it is a borderline crime to serve your guests tough, overcooked shrimp! Serve immediately with white rice.

Easily serves 5.

Related links:
Taste of the Middle East: Over 70 Enticing, Aromatic Dishes from This Fascinating Cuisine (Creative Cooking Library Series)

Five Exceptional Food Sites

For too long this blog has been mostly about me. So for a change, I'm going to talk about five other food sites that I consider especially noteworthy and worth recommending. Each one of these sites has inspired me, given me ideas, or helped me improve the work I'm trying to do here at Casual Kitchen.

There is an enormous universe of food-related blogs out there. So many, that it’s humbling and exciting at the same time. Think of all the content, photos and vicarious cooking experiences out there just waiting for you to sample—all for free. (I love the long tail!)

1) 101 Cookbooks
This is a long-running blog from Heidi Swanson based on her resolution to stop buying cookbooks and actually start cooking the recipes in the cookbooks she has. A great idea for a blog. And since she’s been at it since early 2003, there are a zillion recipes here to choose from, replete with inspiring photographs.

A quick warning: the recipes here are not what I'd call "casual"--this blog elevates cooking to high art, but with the trade-off that the recipes tend to be more complex, more time-consuming, and involve tougher-to-find ingredients. If you’re looking only for recipes that pass the five easy questions test, this is not the blog for you. But if you’re looking for artistic food ideas and a wide range of ethnic recipes, then spend some time here and learn.

Two of my personal favorite posts here are How to Make Gnocchi like an Italian Grandmother and Dukkah.

2) Chez Pim
What initially drew me into this blog was Pad Thai for Beginners, which I stumbled onto about five months ago. The recipe is involved, even a bit intimidating, but somehow you can tell it is truly authentic. I haven’t made it yet (I’m still working up the courage!), but it’s on my life list of things to do before I die.

Pim’s blog is a wide-ranging mix of subjects: food, recipes, how-to’s, travel, tourism, even restaurant critiques. And this blogger is the real deal, with a solid CV of articles in major magazines. Also, if you want a good starting point to find an extremely high-quality list of other food blogs, take a look at her blogroll here.

3) Homesick Texan
I really like Homesick Texan because she’s the rare mix of a talented writer and a talented photographer. And of course who wouldn’t root for somebody on a quest to find good Tex-Mex in New York City? It's a tougher quest than you'd think.

Take a look at her post on mole sauce—emotional, complex and appetizing all at once. Other favorites of mine include recipes for green salsa, sopapillas, and of course flour tortillas, which contains a one sentence description of a psychological experience we should all be so lucky to have once in a while when cooking: “I found myself just staring at them with a silly grin plastered on my face, amazed at what I had made.”

In the rare instance when I find myself in that joyous cooking state, I usually shout out “this is my finest hour!!”

4) Stickyrice
This is an unusual blog about Hanoi, focusing not on recipes, but on local restaurants and food. It’s so compelling and exotic that it makes me want to live there! This site is also accompanied by stunning photos, as well as many more beautiful photos on a linked flickr page.

Laura and I have limited experience with Vietnamese food, but the one restaurant we do know, we go to whenever we can: the creatively named Vietnam Restaurant in Ithaca, New York. We’ve been going there since the early 1990’s, whenever we visit our old college town. But don’t worry about my inexperience with this cuisine -- I found about this site from a friend who is a genuine Vietnamese person, so it has to be good.

5) Cooking by Numbers
Most of us cook by first looking at recipes in a cookbook, then going to the store to buy the ingredients we need. But what if there was a site that lets you plug in the ingredients and items you already have, and then it gives you a list of recipes you can make with those items?

There's a slightly different version of this problem, that I call The Bachelor's Dilemma: You'd like to cook tonight (at least in theory), but you open your fridge and cupboards and see at most five or six random items in there. What the heck can you make with them?

In both cases, Cooking by Numbers has an answer for you. Click each of the items you have in your fridge and cupboard, and the site will call up recipes in order of relevance to the ingredients you have. Either something pops up that can be made entirely from your ingredients, or you'll be stuck only buying a couple of extra things at the grocery store. Either way, it’s a great starting point for coming up with recipe ideas based on what already you have on hand.


Hopefully you’ll enjoy these blogs and sites as much as I have. I’ll be returning to this theme as I find more exceptional food sites to pass along.

Thai Pasta Salad

During the hot summer months, we're always on the lookout for healthy and easy-to-make pasta salad dishes. Over the past week it's been so hot that even the mere thought of turning on the oven to cook something makes me break out into a sweat.

That's why today's recipe, Thai Pasta Salad, is simply perfect for this time of year. It's low in fat, yet it also contains a healthy dose of protein, carbs and veggies. You'll have a balanced and complete meal with just this dish alone. After a hot afternoon spent mowing the lawn or playing tennis--or perhaps riding an inadequately air-conditioned bus from your job in New York City?--this dish really satisfies.

Best of all, it involves just a few scant minutes of stove time. And as you'll see below, the mix of spices is a lot more creative and exotic than some boring macaroni salad.

You can also make this recipe vegetarian style, either by leaving the chicken out, or (preferably) replacing it with 12-16 ounces of very firm tofu.

Thai Pasta Salad

1 lb chicken breasts, cut into smallish pieces
1 lb box of dried linguine
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
30-40 cilantro leaves (Unfortunately, for those of you who hate cilantro, you're SOL on this recipe--it's too critical an ingredient to leave out)


1) Season the chicken pieces with cayenne and/or black pepper. Heat oil in a large non-stick pan and then sear the chicken on high heat for just a few short minutes (certainly cook it through, but try not to overcook the chicken). Set aside.

2) Cook linguine according to directions. While water is boiling/pasta is cooking, make the dressing mixture (see below). Combine pasta with tomato, red pepper, cilantro and dressing mixture. Add the chicken and stir well. Can be served warm or cool.

Dressing Ingredients:
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons hoisin sauce*
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon pepper

3) Heat oil in a very small saucepan. Add chopped garlic and red pepper flakes. When the garlic and pepper flakes begin sizzling in the oil, remove from heat and add the remaining dressing ingredients. Set aside.

Serves 4-6

* Hoisin sauce can be found in the Asian food aisle of any major grocery store.
Related Posts:
Chickpeas, Pasta and Tomato Salad
Penne Pasta Salad
How to Tell if a Recipe is Worth Cooking With Five Easy Questions
Mock Wild Rice: An Insanely Easy To Make Side Dish

Photographs courtesy of Laura L. Perrin.

The Gin and Tonic

As a continuation of our effort to work our way through the entire Mr. Boston Official Bartender's Guide, and as a celebration of an absolutely flawless summer Saturday, today's drink is the glorious Gin and Tonic.
Gin and Tonic

Fill either a highball glass or a smaller rocks glass with ice cubes.
Squeeze a lime wedge into the glass.
Add 1 to 2 shots gin, depending on your preference.
Fill glass the rest of the way with tonic water.
What's so great about this drink (and what makes it much easier to make than its distant cousin the Gimlet), is that it can be made as weak or as strong as you like. Some people like their gin and tonics with a ratio of gin to tonic as much as 1:3 or even 1:1. No matter how you make it, the drink still tastes great.

For example, if you were to use a smaller rocks glass with two shots of gin, you'd have about a 1:2 or 1:3 ratio of gin to tonic. If you were to use a taller highball glass (holds 8-10 ounces) and one shot of gin, you'll have more like a 1:6 ratio. That's how we typically make ours--unless I've had a particularly bad day at work.

Moreover, this is the PERFECT drink for a hot summer day. Somehow this drink quenches the thirst like no other.

The Garlic Press

The garlic press is an inexpensive kitchen tool that not only makes life easier for you, it helps add a bit of depth and subtlety to your cooking.

Essentially, the garlic press takes a garlic clove and extrudes it through a bunch of tiny holes. It takes just a few seconds, and it gives you garlic rendered in a form unlike any other. It’s sort of a garlic goo--and don't worry, I mean that in a good way.

But best of all, it saves you valuable prep time. You can blast through several cloves of garlic in a fraction of the time it takes to chop up just one lousy clove with a knife.

The next time you're cooking something that calls for garlic, try using pressed garlic instead of regular, painstakingly chopped (or extra-painstakingly minced) garlic. It will infuse your recipe with a delicious garlic essence, yet you won't really find any discrete pieces of garlic in the dish.

In today's post, I'll give examples of when to use a press and when to stick to minced or chopped garlic, and I'll talk about the texture and extra-strength flavor you can get out of the humble garlic clove when it's forcibly extruded through a press.

Also, at the bottom of this post is an Amazon link to the exact garlic press we use in our kitchen. It's sturdy, easy to clean and I highly recommend it.*

I’ve talked before about how using pre-minced garlic from a jar is, in my opinion, the second-worst form of cheating. Once you have a garlic press in your kitchen, you'll find that using it is easier than scooping the pre-minced crap out of the jar in the first place!

A great example of a recipe that lends itself to pressed garlic is my pasta puttanesca. You can clearly see in the photos from that post that (for some fool reason) I didn’t use the press at all when I made the dish. Nevertheless, this is a textbook example where you could save 3-5 minutes at the very least by using a press and blasting though the six cloves of garlic rather than painstakingly chopping each one. That's significant in a recipe that takes only 20-25 minutes in all to make!

Also, be aware that you will get a lot more flavor mileage out of a pressed garlic clove than a chopped garlic clove, so you could use perhaps 4 pressed garlic cloves for the pasta puttanesca recipe instead of using 6 chopped garlic cloves. But of course this is a personal judgment call.

In the fattoush recipe, I used the garlic press, but I kept the clove count the same. It gave the dish an extra-strong garlic infusion factor. Fortunately for each of us, Laura and I both like garlic. :)

But note that while certain recipes benefit from using a press, certain ones won’t. In a recipe like farfalle with mushrooms and gorgonzola cheese, I would NOT use a garlic press. In this dish you’ll be sautéing the garlic in oil for a few minutes, so you’ll want to have noticeable chunks of garlic in the dish. Furthermore, the garlic should be a subtle and secondary part of the recipe. If there's anything that should be allowed to overwhelm, it's the gorgonzola cheese. After all, that's the centerpiece ingredient. You shouldn't let a less important component like the garlic overpower this recipe in my opinion.

Let's do a quick pictoral how-to on using the press:

First off, separate the garlic into individual cloves. You can leave the paper on.

Then, using your open palm on the flat of a knife, give a clove a quick wap (whap?) with the bottom of your hand. Not too hard, we don’t want garlic roadkill. You’ll get a feel for how hard to hit it after a few smashes.

You can see in the picture below that I gave this poor guy a bit too hard of a hit. But keep in mind we're about to extrude him through a bunch of tiny little holes, so maybe it was for the best that I put him out of his misery ahead of time.

In any event, this makes it much easier to remove the paper peelings around the garlic.

Place the clove into the press. Adjust the metal presser/plunger thingy....

...give it a good squeeze...

And voila--here are some delicious green beans with a real kick! No salt or butter needed here.

Use a knife or your finger to scrape the extra garlic trailings from the outside of the press:

There will be a thin garlic “skin” left inside the press, but if you’re pressing multiple garlic cloves, you can just ignore that until you’re done. No need to clean the thing out each time before placing in a new clove. You can blast through several cloves in just seconds, and then you'll only have to clean up once.

When you're all finished, you can use the plastic attachment to clean out the holes (easiest if you do it under a running faucet). It's a snap to clean!

Finally, let me also also admit that this is yet another example of how I was wrong in a cooking debate. Laura wanted one of these, and of course being the habit-laden stick-in-the-mud I always am, I laughed at the idea. Of course not only am I now using this garlic press all the time, I'm even writing blog posts about its merits!

Who's laughing now, garlic boy?

* Note: if you purchase any item via links to Amazon, I will receive a pathetically small affiliate fee.