Johanna: The Improviser

Never quite follows the recipe. Doesn't really measure. Tastes with her fingers. Somehow, it always works.

Living up to my name

Posted: May 17, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 1 Comment »

On Saturday, after a successful 10-mile run in the morning, and a gorgeous afternoon walking around Brooklyn, I was feeling mixed about dinner; I thought I knew what I wanted to make, but things that I was thinking about weren’t exactly congruent. I wanted mussels, steamed in a green curry-coconut broth. Unfortunately, our grocery store’s fish counter doesn’t run to mussels, but I already had seafood on the brain. I ended up buying shrimp instead, along with a strange amalgam of other ingredients – lemons, green beans, a yellow pepper (which ended up disappearing between checkout and home), and of course…. these:
Living in a neighborhood amassed mostly of people from island nations, our grocery store also doesn’t run to Thai or Indian curry pastes, although it does run to several brands of coconut milk. In the end, I came home completely confused – my ingredients seemed to conflict between two worlds. On the one hand, I had lemons, green beans, and a pepper (or so I thought) to make something light, springy, and clean. On the other hand I had coconut milk and hot sauce, and a yen for something curried. And of course, I had the shrimp. So, I lived up to my name, and improvised. I’ve never had shrimp in a way other than scampi, and certainly never in a curry application, but I figured that as long as everything else tasted good, the shrimp would be a happy accent. And hoooo boy, was I right!

Sorta-Curried Shrimp with Coconut Rice

1. Make the coconut rice: Combine 1 cup of water and 1 1/4 cup of coconut milk in a saucepan, along with a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, and add 1 cup of rice, 1 teaspoon of butter, and another pinch of salt. Stir, cover, and simmer for 25 minutes.
2. Mince 1 small onion, and saute in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add 2 minced cloves of garlic, and 1 chopped red pepper. Season with salt, and cook until the peppers are starting to soften. When the peppers are softening, add 1 chopped tomato, and 2 handfuls chopped green beans. Season again with salt and cook covered on medium-low for 2-3 minutes, until the tomatoes start letting out their juices. Add 1/2 cup water, and simmer uncovered while you’re making the next moves.
3. When the water has simmered out, add 1/4 cup mustard-based, Barbadian-style hot sauce (or the curry paste of your choice) and toss until everything is coated. Add 1 pound of peeled, deveined, de-tailed medium shrimp, and saute until they are just starting to turn pink. Add the rest of the can of coconut milk, and simmer until the shrimp are done and theĀ  flavors have combined nicely.

Sometimes, it’s incredibly scary to improvise – especially with a delicate ingredient like shrimp. But it’s also really empowering to go with your gut and get a delicious result. I’m very proud of this dish, because it was delicious, and because it was something I’d never even heard about before, let alone made. Having no frame of reference was very freeing, and the bonus is, you all now have a recipe to try and replicate, tweak to your own tastes, and fall in love with all on your own!

One Comment on “Living up to my name”

  1. 1 adele said at 1:52 pm on May 17, 2010:


    I had a craving for curried cauliflower a few months ago, but it was too damn cold for me to want to trek to the grocery store for curry powder. I ended up adding dashes of spices together with a lot of garlic and onion until it smelled like curry. (It tasted pretty decent!)

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