June 4th, 2014

Shrimp-Sweet Pea-Rice Croquettes


Making those grand “never” statements can get you into trouble. Things will come along in life to prove otherwise. Like when I recently told a friend, “I never fry food.” In a blink, not one but two recipes caught my attention, very different from each another, yet both requiring a plunge into a skillet of hot oil.

Stay with me–they are worth it. In fact, they can be made at the same time and served together–making the most out of the oil-filled fry pan. I’ll amend my grand “never” statement to “I don’t usually fry food, but there are times when it is just the thing.”


The first, Shrimp-Sweet Pea-Rice Croquettes, comes courtesy of Chef B J Dennis. Hailing from Charleston, South Carolina, B J is a personal chef and caterer whose focus is the food of the Gullah-Geechee people, his heritage. Descendants of enslaved West Africans who were brought to this country to work the rice plantations, they live mainly on the Sea Islands dotted along the South Carolina-Georgia coast.

In part, because of the isolation of the islands, in part, because the climate and growing conditions were similar to their coastal West African homes, the people were able to form their own communities, easily adapt their fishing and farming practices, continue their arts, rituals, and cuisine. Because the Africans came from different tribes, they formed their own language, a meld of various West African tongues and English. Over the centuries, the Gullah community evolved and endured.

But with “progress,” the communities have become threatened. Many adult children have the left the islands, seeking work elsewhere. And the islands themselves have seen the creep of gentrification, as land has been sold off for vacation places and resort homes.


B J is seeking to preserve the Gullah culture through food. I attended a six-course tasting dinner here in Nashville where he partnered with chef Sean Brock to educate minds and palates to the cuisine, and its strong connection to West African cookery. His crispy shrimp-sweet pea-rice croquettes, our first tasting, were spectacular: rustic and sophisticated, chockful of shrimp, with green onion, ginger and nuanced heat in the mix.


He happily shared his recipe, which uses Carolina Gold rice. This grain, once the main cash crop of South Carolina, almost vanished with the Great Depression. Post World War 2, rice production became industrialized, and corporately grown Uncle Ben’s took over the market. It wasn’t until the late ’90’s that Glen Roberts decided to repatriate the Southern pantry, and revive lost ingredients. Since 1998, his Anson Mills has brought back native cornmeal and grits, red peas, and the plump flavorful grains of Carolina Gold.


One of the beauties of the recipe is that it makes ideal use of leftover or overcooked rice. The combination of shrimp, onion, sweet peas, sweet bell pepper and ginger laced through the rice is fantastic. The juxtaposition of hot crisp exterior and delicate filling is very pleasing. Someone at the dinner mentioned that it reminded her of arancini, the Italian rice fritters. Yes, in a way. If you want to make the dish entirely gluten free, use a little rice flour instead of all purpose to help bind the mixture.


B J calls his approach to food “Vibration Cooking.” That term was first coined around 1970 by Vertamae Smith-Grosvenor, a food writer, culinary anthropologist, and storyteller. No strict measurements or method, but rather the magical combination of a person’s intuition, attitude, energy, and the ingredients at hand are what make plate of food delicious.

Therefore, in his recipe, he gives a range of quantities. You could add more rice, use whatever kind of onion you prefer, spark it with more than salt and black pepper, serve the croquettes by themselves, or with a sauce of choice. He served his with a Geechee peanut sauce, which is inspired by Senegalese sauce of tomatoes, peanut butter, onions, and spices. He did not share his recipe, but this link to Cooking Light’s version is a close approximation.


I’ll attempt that sauce another day, as I had another sauce to try. Part 2 of my oil-frying includes this simple Fried Broccoli Florets with Vegan Mustard-Shallot Aioli–adapted from a local restaurant, Pinewood Social. The florets are not battered, but simply fried until crispy. After frying, dust the florets with sea salt and lemon zest. So good!

Even better is this vegan dipping sauce, made with ground raw almonds, golden raisins, shallot, garlic, lemon, Dijon and olive oil.

Toss the whole shebang into a food processor and let it rip! The almonds eventually puree and thicken the mixture, but some terrific texture remains. The tang of the shallot and mustard is tempered with the sweetness of golden raisins.

You’d “never” believe there’s nary a speck of egg or dairy in this creamy aioli.


2 cups overcooked rice or leftover rice,(Carolina Gold)
1 cup seasoned and cooked shrimp (wild American) coarsely chopped (about 1/2 pound shrimp or more)
½ cup cooked fresh sweet peas or thawed frozen peas
¼ cup minced spring onions (or any onion you like)
¼ cup minced red bell pepper
1-2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced ginger
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper
2 tablespoons rice flour or all-purpose flour
cooking oil, such as canola or peanut

Pulse the cooked rice in a food processor.
Place all of the ingredients except flour into a large bowl and mix.
Add enough flour just to make sure the mixture binds together.
Roll out into little balls or cylinders, size depends on how big you like your fritter.
Place a skillet on medium heat. Add vegetable oil to 1 inch.
Shallow fry until golden brown and thoroughly cooked, rotating and turning the fritters so that they brown on all sides.

Makes approximately 20 croquettes.


VEGAN MUSTARD-SHALLOT AIOLI (adapted from Josh Habiger, Pinewood Social)
1/2 cup raw almonds
1/4 cup golden raisins
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 shallot, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup water
pinch salt

Place almonds, raisins, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, shallot, garlic, and lemon juice into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse and then process, pouring in the olive oil followed by the water. Process until smooth. Stir in a pinch of salt, if desired. Pour into a bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve. It will continue to thicken as it sets and chills.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.


Canola oil
1 head of fresh broccoli, cut into florets, cleaned and thoroughly dried
zest of one lemon
sea salt

Fill a saucepan or skillet with 2 inches oil. Heat to 375 degrees.
Fry broccoli until the edges appear crispy. This should take about a minute.
Remove and drain on a paper towel.
Sprinkle with lemon zest and sea salt.
Serve with Vegan Aioli.


Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Fish/Seafood, Gluten Free, Recipes, Rice/Other Grains/Legumes, Sauces, Vegan, Vegetables | 8 Comments »

November 16th, 2009

First We Make a Roux

hero 1 gumbo

Periodically, as GFM readers know, I duck out of city life–if only for a few daytime hours–to clear my head, breathe in a little countrified air, and cook up something tasty with prima-donna- south-louisiana-cuisinière-extraordinaire, friend Maggie.

Seeing as we each had a little bit of this and a little bit of that, between us, we realized, were the fixin’s for a my-t-fine gumbo.

I had a pound of shrimp and a chicken breast in my freezer. Along with one lonely piece of andouille sausage, Maggie had the veggies, including tomatoes, peppers, and okra harvested from her garden.

And, the essential oil–flour–cast iron skillet. Roux!

Gumbo-making is really an easy process, but you need to allot a chunk of time for the roux. About 1 hour and 10 minutes, in this case. Once made, though, it will last a long time, and serve to thicken sauces and soups, adding that particular toasty note.

And there is something special about a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet–it just does a righteous job taking roux to deep mahogany .

step 1 flour

Maggie’s skillet almost disappears on her black stovetop!

step 2

The wooden spoon feels like the right utensil for stirring.
This is low heat, low tech, baby! Feel the love.

step 3

Oh, yez—it’s gettin’ thick.
Keep moving the flour/oil around in the skillet so that it won’t stick.
Don’t turn your back so it won’t burn—
that would spell the bitter end to the batch!

step 4

Whoo-hoo! So shiny and pretty!
Once the roux begins to really get that rich dark red-brown color, remove it from the burner. The residual heat in the skillet will continue to cook it somewhat.
Your roux is good-to-go.

The Roux
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups unbleached white flour
cast-iron skillet, wooden spoon, a little over one hour of your undivided loving attention. It’s a zen-thing.

makes about 2 cups of nice, dark roux.
Now, on to the Gumbo….

Some make gumbo with shrimp and andouille sausage.
Some make it with chicken and andouille sausage.
We decided to go for the whole she-bang,
because we could. But the beauty of gumbo is that you can take it whatever direction suits your fancy. If you want to make it with a turkey kielbasa, that’s cool, too.


Maggie maintains that gumbo should have good kick—but not be fire-breathing fierce. That’s why it is traditionally served with hot sauce on the side.

You’ll find that this gumbo will develop more heat over time—thanks to the andouille. It’s better the next day, if it lasts that long.

She also believes that no herbs are needed; if you have good stock, smoky-hot sausage, vegetables, and your brown-gold, you’ll have abundant flavor.

okra in the pot

After you’ve sauteed “the trinity,” it’s time to throw in the okra.

add the roux

Spooning in the roux: Isn’t the contrast amazing?

ready to serve

Everything Gumbo (Shrimp, Chicken, Andouille Sausage)

3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 large Onion, diced
2 Bell Peppers, diced
3-4 ribs Celery, leaves included, chopped
4 cloves Garlic, minced
2 cups chopped, roasted Okra
2 cups Tomatoes and juice
1 piece about 1/4 lb. Andouille Sausage, sliced thin
1 cup Roux
1 Chicken Breast, roasted, meat pulled, chunked, pan deglazed for chicken stock (you can use whatever piece(s) of chicken you like)
1 lb large Shrimp, peeled and deveined–reserve shells for stock
Stocks: 2 cups shrimp stock, 2 cups roasted chicken stock**
a couple of pinches or so of cayenne–you decide

Heat olive oil in a stockpot on medium and add “the trinity”–onions, bell peppers, and celery. Sauté until onion is translucent and begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in minced garlic and cook for another minute.

Add the okra—frozen chopped okra from the supermarket works just fine—most of us don’t have 15 bags in our freezer harvested from our garden like Maggie does!

Then add canned tomatoes and juices. The okra will begin to cook down–adding its own thickening power. Add shrimp stock, chicken stock. Stir well, and put in the andouille sausage. It will impart smokiness and a distinctive kick.

NOW it’s time to stir in the “brown-gold”—the mixture will get all glossy. You can tweak viscosity with more or less liquid or roux.
Taste for salt, and season.
Chicken next.
Last thing: the shrimp. Stir them into the hot pot, cover, and remove from heat. This way the shrimp will cook, but won’t toughen or get mealy.

Serve over jasmine rice. Wow.

Makes over 3 quarts.

the spread_001

**shrimp stock is made quickly–like in 15 minutes of simmering shrimp shells in 2-3 cups of water with a piece of onion, lemon, celery leaves, salt and black pepper.
**chicken stock is made by simply deglazing your chicken roasting pan with 2 cups of water and scraping up all the browned bits

shrimp stock

Posted in Recipes, Soups/Stews | 7 Comments »

September 16th, 2009

Fried Green Tomato Stack with Shrimp

Sad but inevitable, about this time every year tomato fatigue sets in.

For weeks now, with markets and gardens glutted, I’ve cooked and eaten ripe, juicy tomatoes in countless delicious ways. So much so that when I look at the sea of red baskets at our farmers market or the one that happens to be sitting on my counter, brimming with those picked from my own garden, I feel……….worn out.

And maybe a wee bit guilty. I mean, in a few short weeks, the Tomato Time will be over.

For now, with plants still producing, (although less prolific, as daylight shrinks, temperatures cool) it’s time to switch to the Green.

There’s something special about fried green tomatoes that I did not come to appreciate until recent years. When fried, what appears to be firm and without flavor, softens and releases a tangy citrus essence. A surprise with bite! The salty crackle of cornmeal batter is a splendid complement.

Of course, they are tasty on their own, but if you don’t want to eat just fried food—–

Here’s a late summer salad that uses the fried green wonder as its centerpiece. It layers pungent heat from mature arugula and horseradish with the sweetness of green tomatoes and shrimp.

I had gotten peppery hot rocket leaves from Drury Farms to form the salad base. Horseradish cream sauce tops the stack of fried ‘maters, performing double duty as a foil for the lemon-poached shrimp. All the elements work together brightly to create a fresh, satisfying meal.

Without fatigue.

Sliced, these green tomatoes look very pretty.

A little flour lightens the cornmeal coating. A simple soak in buttermilk is all the slices need.

Fried Green Tomatoes
1 cup Cornmeal
¼ cup All Purpose Flour
Black Pepper

1 cup Buttermilk

Firm, green tomatoes, sliced 1/4 “ thick

Vegetable oil (like canola oil) for frying

Mix cornmeal well with flour and seasonings.
Dip tomato slices into buttermilk, then dredge in cornmeal mixture.
Heat skillet and add vegetable oil. Test for and fry tomato slices about 2-4 minutes per side—until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

Horseradish Cream Sauce
1 cup Sour cream
½ cup Good Mayo (Hellmann’s or Duke’s)
2 heaping Tablespoons Horseradish
1 teaspoon fresh Lemon juice
½ teaspoon Louisiana Hot Sauce
½ teaspoon Salt
Pinch Cayenne

Whisk all the ingredients together until well blended. Taste for horseradish and add more if necessary. Keeps refrigerated for at least 2 weeks.

Poached Gulf Shrimp

½ lb. shrimp (this will serve 2-3, I used a 21-26ct.shrimp)

Poaching Liquid:
To 2 quarts of water add:
A few slices of Onion
1-2 sliced Garlic cloves
1 Bay Leaf
a few slices Lemon
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
½ teaspoon Celery Seed,
½ teaspoon Black Pepper
¼ teaspoon Red Pepper flakes

Bring poaching liquid to a rolling boil, plunge in shrimp. Cook for 3-4 minutes and remove from heat. Peel, devein, and chill shrimp.

The Assembly
On a salad plate, place bed of mixed greens or arugula.
Stack fried green tomato slices. Dollop with Horseradish Cream.
Place shrimp on top of the horseradish sauce.
Garnish with lemon slices, and serve.

Posted in Fish/Seafood, Recipes, Salads, Vegetables | 9 Comments »

June 4th, 2009

Delicious Shrimp and Dill

The inspiration for this salad comes from the tallest member of the Bill and Nancy Belmont Farmette–Anethum graveolens —Dillweed. A gift from Tally May, this plant was maybe five inches tall when I put it in the ground eight short weeks ago, and now it’s in its glory: almost five feet of aromatic feathery leaves and whorls of pinpoint blooms–a kind of fireworks display in yellow.

The ancient Greeks regarded Dill as the plant of prosperity, its very presence indicated wealth.
So, I feel mightily blessed to have my one-and-only gracing the garden front.

It’s early June, and temperatures are already creeping up into the 90’s. My garden mesclun greens are plentiful, but in danger of turning bitter. With heat and greens and billowy dill, I ‘ve got the makings for a summery salad for dinner, no time to lose!

What other good things to build the salad?
Look to the season’s offerings, I remind myself: they all play well together.
So, we’ve got
Cucumbers, new potatoes, and sugar snap peas……
some shrimp coated with dillweed and lemon zest, quickly seared in the pan.

Composing a salad—-laying out all the elements in mandala-like fashion on a plate—is a simple way to make a stunning presentation. It also gives it structure, a place for each ingredient to be.

This salad is delicious served chilled or at room temperature. It doesn’t take long to make and I find that combining chilled things (sugar snaps, greens, cukes) with warm things (shrimp, new potatoes) in the dish enhances flavors. For vegetarians like Bill, I substitute chevre for the shrimp.
Give it all a good drizzle of of the lemony-dijon-dill dressing. Enjoy! These garden lettuces and herbs are fleeting things.

Dilled Shrimp and Sugar Snap Salad
10 pieces Peeled and Deveined Raw Shrimp
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Lemon Zest
Fresh Dillweed–a few stems
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
Sugar Snap Peas—a handful, maybe 12-15 pieces
Cucumber—just a piece (less than half of one)
4-5 roasted Baby New Potatoes
Mixed Salad Greens, washed and dried

Place shrimp in a bowl and toss with olive oil, lemon zest, and sea salt. Wrap each shrimp with a sprig of dill.
Blanche Sugar Snaps in a skillet of boiling water for less than a minute–forty five seconds. Remove and chill.
Slice cucumbers and new potatoes.
Heat a skillet and drop in shrimp to sear for a minute one one side–then flip and sear on the other. Remove from heat and let the shrimp sit in the skillet.
Arrange lettuces on the plate.Add a ring of slice cucumbers and new potatoes, then sugar snaps.
Top with cooked shrimp. Drizzle with lemon-dill aioli and garnish with a few dill sprigs and lemon slice.

serves 2

Lemon-Dill Aioli
1 clove roasted Garlic
3 Tablespoons fresh Lemon Juice
1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1 heaping Tablespoon chopped Dillweed
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
6 Tablespoons Olive Oil

In a small bowl, mash the roasted garlic with a fork and mix in the lemon juice, dijon, dillweed, and salt. Mix into a paste. Add in the olive oil, one tablespoon at a time, until the mixture is emulsified. Taste for seasoning and acidity—add more lemon if you like.

Here’s hoping this noble plant will reseed and return next spring!

Posted in Fish/Seafood, Recipes, Salads | 8 Comments »