Friday, May 11, 2012

of Spicy Cajun Shrimp Tacos

The thing about certain spice combinations and me is that I either love them or hate them. With Cajun, it is always a love and with Mexican, it is almost always a hate. I don't know why this is, perhaps the liberal use of citrus that pervades Mexican cuisine is a natural inhibitor or perhaps it is my known and dedicated hatred of cilantro. Whatever the case, while I love the idea of Mexican food (who doesn't love whipping up fresh ingredients and choosing their own toppings?), somewhere along the implementation side it falls flat to me. Luckily, when you make things in your own home you can do whatever you want and break culinary boundaries just for kicks. You could even make the shrimp and serve it over rice or on a salad for a different kind of treat...I'll never know!

With a bunch of Californians as roommates, Mexican food is placed in high regard in our house. They can wax poetic about the merits of chunky versus smooth guacamole, and which refried bean burritos are the best in the Los Angeles area. I find that the spices used in Cajun cooking often compliment the ingredients used in Mexican cuisine rather nicely, but I knew that getting the roomies to eat my completely inspired by Mexican but not actually Mexican food would be a bit of a challenge. Luckily they were up for it since they trust me. After introducing my roommates to the joys of barbecued ground turkey nachos and Cajun spiced guacamole, they are much more willing to put up with my fused food attempts. We recently had a Cinco de Mayo party where I introduced more people to the wonders of Cajun spiced Mexican inspired foods. I made the regular spiced ground beef mix with the taco seasoning packets (which I didn't eat but I heard was good) and then I made this shrimp. Take a wild guess on which one was eaten quickest? And so without further ado, let's get into the recipe...

Today's Cast of Characters:

For the party we had two sets of every topping but pictured here it is just one set. Diced Avocados, Sour Cream, Shredded Lettuce, Salsa, and Cheese are the toppings we used but feel free to explore your options. I recently saw something on pinterest that had roasted Brussels sprouts included in tacos. Your taco bar is really only limited by your creativity and what you think would taste good wrapped up in a Tortilla or patted down in a Hard Taco Shell. We warmed our taco shells and tortillas up in a pan for ease and deliciousness. You can also put them in the oven but the pan definitely is quicker.
As for the shrimp its extremely simple. We got the frozen uncooked Argentinian Red Shrimp from Trader Joe's and I would seriously recommend these. They have a flavor that is somewhere between lobster and shrimp mixed with a little bit of crayfish. They are definitely sweeter than your average shrimp and they present an excellent contrast to the bold and spicy flavors of the seasonings. A small onion and some garlic along with coconut oil for frying are among the other ingredients. Finally, a bit of Salt, Pepper, Cajun Seasoning, and Cayenne Pepper are the only spices you will need.

What to do:

Get everything for your toppings assembled except for the avocado. If you feel confident it won't brown I suppose you could dice it at this step but I generally wait a bit so that the maximum amount of deliciousness is achieved. I used little ramekins for this for ease of clean up and also because food presents nicely in these and I wanted the guests to want to eat. We had spoons for everything so that no one had to get their hands dirty or share their germs with the rest of our guests. I'm sure my mother, the one who instilled germaphobe tendencies in me and is herself a confessed germaphobe/nurse, will be thrilled to hear this.

Heat the coconut oil up in a pan on high or medium high heat. One really great thing about coconut oil is that it can fry things at high temperatures without burning; I definitely take advantage of this. I also like that the coconut oil lends another hint of background sweetness to the final product. While the oil heats up, mince up the garlic and cut the onions into thin half moons. 

These don't need to be perfect because they go through another chop at the end, but its nice if they are relatively even for cooking time. Add these to the coconut oil in the pan and cook until the garlic starts to brown.

Drop in your defrosted shrimp (even if its not 100 percent defrosted that's ok, it will just take longer to cook) and your salt, pepper, cajun seasoning, and cayenne pepper.Cook until the shrimp is springy and cooked through. With the red shrimp it will be harder to tell doneness but the white part will be more opaque and the pink part will get a bit more red. This can be even harder to tell with the amount of spice you have on so be sure to see if the shrimp is curled up, that is the springiness level you want. It took these shrimp about 5 minutes to get to the appropriate springiness level.

Remove shrimp mixture from pan in small batches, rough chop, and transfer to a bowl. Be sure to save as much of the juice from the pan as possible and pour  it over the top of the chopped shrimp. It is just better this way, trust me.

Finally, dice up the avocado and transfer to the ramekin and heat up your tortillas and taco shells to desired warmth.

To assemble the tacos I usually put a bit of the cheese on first, then the shrimp, and then I go crazy with the other toppings. I prefer the soft tortillas whether they are corn or wheat. These will require the extra step of folding before you get to the good part.

Enjoy the way the spice melds with the other stuff to create a delicious, if not authentic, Mexican food experience!


1 lb Frozen Uncooked Shrimp
1 Small Onion, thinly sliced
3 or 4 cloves of Garlic, minced
2 or 3 tablespoons Coconut Oil, for frying
1 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons Cajun Seasoning
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1/4 teaspoon Pepper
1/2 cup Cheese
1 Avocado, diced
1/4 cup Sour Cream or Plain Greek Yogurt
1/4 cup Salsa
1/2 cup Shredded Lettuce
1 pkg Tortillas, heated


1. Prepare ramekins with sour cream, salsa, shredded lettuce, and cheese.
2. Heat coconut oil in a pan on high heat
3. Mince garlic and slice onion. Add to pan and cook until garlic begins to brown.
4. Add shrimp, salt, pepper, Cajun seasoning, and cayenne pepper to the pan. Stir continuously until shrimp is springy and cooked through.
5. Transfer the shrimp mixture to a cutting board in small batches. Rough chop and transfer to a bowl for serving. Pour the liquid from the pan on top of the shrimp once all of it has been chopped.
6. Heat tortillas and dice avocado. Transfer diced avocado to a ramekin for serving.
7. Assemble taco and enjoy!

Friday, May 4, 2012

of Thai Basil Rice with Shrimp

If there is one thing I could never do without seasoning wise it is probably basil. I know most people would say Cajun seasoning since I add a little bit of it to almost anything but I don't particularly count that because its a seasoning blend and not a stand alone deal. I love basil so much I have my own basil plant in my kitchen...its name is Milton and I try my hardest to not let it take over my life despite the lingering nightmares. The regular basil is absolutely delicious and great for pestos and pasta sauces and legitimately 90 percent of the food that I cook. The other 10 percent? I use Thai Basil. It is a wonderful compliment to any of the Asiatic dishes I try my hand at and its sweet subtle flavor perfectly melds with anything from coconut curries to fried rices to this particular dish.

One nice thing about living with so many people is that there is always someone to sample your culinary endeavors. Most of my roommates love shrimp and other forms of seafood. I say most because since Sharon is Kosher she can't partake in this dish or any other seafood masterpieces I might whip up, but I like to think my culinary soul mate would enjoy this just as much as I do. You could always make this dish with chicken if you don't like shrimp, but it still wouldn't be kosher. I modified this dish from a few recipes one night when my roommate Dan and I were looking for a little something different. That's exactly what this dish is. A perfect change from the norm that hits all the right flavor notes and is light enough not to weigh you down. This dish is also delicious enough to have mild mannered roommates clamoring for a second or third helping. And so without further ado...Thai Basil Rice with Shrimp.

Today's Cast of Characters:

Its kind of exotic today with a few semi hard to find ingredients. Oyster sauce and Fish sauce are by far the smelliest things in my kitchen. Warning...this dish has a few moments where it smells like death. Don't panic as soon as it cooks a bit these fragrant sauces tone down on the reek factor. A teaspoon white sugar is added to the sauces to even out the flavors and lend some sweetness to the savory notes. I use coconut oil for frying. I used to use peanut or canola but since Trader Joe's started to carry this stuff I've been blown away. I also like the subtle flavor this lends to the dish.  Lots of garlic and 4 or 5 Serrano peppers are the perfect complement to the shrimp, onion, and red pepper combo that are also added. Finally the star of the meal: Thai Basil. You can use dried or fresh basil for this but note that that the proportions will change along with the flavor. I usually use dried but I try to use fresh when it is available. You will also need some cooked jasmine rice, chilled. I just have the rice be room temperature.The Sriracha is only there to put on at the end, and I do this because I like an extra bit of kick to the dish. You don't have to add it to your dish at all but I put it on the table for people to doctor their dish at will.

What to do:

First you need to whisk together the oyster sauce, fish sauce, and sugar in a bowl. Again this is a smelly process. You'll thank me later though because it adds wonderful depth to the dish.

Get the oil good and hot in the pan over medium-high heat. Coconut oil needs a bit of time to come up to temperature since it is a solid at or below 76 degrees. I try to let it smolder but I usually test cooking readiness by flicking a bit of water in the pan and watching it sizzle. Add the garlic and Serrano peppers, stirring quickly so it doesn't get burned.

Next stir in the shrimp, bell pepper, onion and oyster sauce mixture. Here is where the dish starts to smell a bit like death. Again don't panic just let it cook out a bit so that the smell is all gone. Your kitchen will go back to smelling great in no time! I promise the final dish smells good too. Cook until the shrimp is basically all pink and is cooked through.

Now, raise heat to high and stir in the chilled rice and the basil. Make sure you stir quickly so that the sauce is blended with the rice. Use the back of a spoon to break up any rice sticking together.

Remove from heat, serve it up in a pretty bowl with a nice squirt of Sriracha, and enjoy!


Mmmmmm...Thai Basil Rice with Shrimp
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon white sugar
1/4 cup Coconut Oil for frying
4 cups cooked jasmine rice, chilled
8 or 9 large cloves garlic, crushed, diced, or pressed
4 or 5 serrano peppers, thinly sliced
1/2 pound uncooked shrimp, peeled and de-veined cut into thirds
1 red pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup dried sweet Thai Basil
Sriracha Sauce for the top (optional)


1. Whisk together the oyster sauce, fish sauce, and sugar in a bowl.
2. Heat the oil in a wok over medium-high heat until the oil begins to
smoke or smell like it is ready to cook. Add the garlic and serrano
peppers, stirring quickly.
3. Stir in the shrimp, bell pepper, onion and oyster sauce mixture
4. Cook until the shrimp is basically all pink and is cooked through.
5. Raise heat to high and stir in the chilled rice and the basil.
6. Stir quickly until the sauce is blended with the rice. Use the back
of a spoon to break up any rice sticking together.
7. Remove from heat and enjoy!