July 27, 2007

Coconut Milk, Lemongrass, Shrimp – Need I Say More?

A great cookbook that we picked up at least 5 years ago, Asian Noodles, by Nina Simonds, is chock full of great recipes for soups, salads, entrees and dipping sauces, all — or nearly all — related to Asian noodles.

We’ve made this recipe from that book several times, and what I find most rewarding about it is that it tastes like something you’d get in a good pan-Asian restaurant. Of course, we’ve tinkered with it to make it more to our tastes (e.g., cutting up only 1 red onion instead of 2, which just sounds excessive), but it really is a satisfying meal when you've got a hankering for some Thai or Vietnamese flavors.

If you’ve never cooked with some of these ingredients or done any Asian cooking in general, it takes some getting used to. Read through the recipe carefully and make sure you have all of your ingredients laid out and ready to go. It’s really a simple recipe to follow, as long as you’re prepared, thus the overabundance of “notes” I’ve included.

Enough blabbering….

Curried Coconut Shrimp on Rice Noodles

  • 6-8 ounces of thin rice sticks, often called vermicelli, cooked until just tender, rinsed under cold water and drained [NOTE: I fill a big pot with hot water, put the noodles in, and bring it to a boil and cook until all signs of stiffness are gone; recommend watching the noodles very carefully.]
  • 1–2 tablespoons of safflower or canola oil
  • 1.5 lbs of medium, peeled, deveined shrimp (remember, look for the domestic, wild caught stuff, if at all possible)
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1.5 cups of frozen peas [NOTE: I suspect some blanched sugar-snap peas or cauliflower florets, or some other veggies along those lines would also work well]
  • 1 cup of fresh basil, cut into chiffonade (aka, rolled up and sliced into thin strips)

Fragrant seasonings

  • 1.5 tsps of crushed red pepper
  • 2 stalks of lemongrass, outer leaves removed, cut into small lengths [NOTE: When I get lemongrass in the grocery store, it usually comes in a little herb pack, already cut up into 4-5 inch pieces; we use about 4 of these “stalks”, removing the outer layer and any tough ends.]
  • One 1.5 inch piece of peeled ginger, cut into a few small pieces
  • 1.5 tsps of cumin
  • 1.5 tsps of coriander
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • Good sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper
Coconut sauce

  • 1.5 cups of coconut milk [NOTE: The recipe does not distinguish between sweetened, unsweetened, light, etc. We have used light, sweetened coconut milk with good results].
  • 3 tablespoons of fish sauce [NOTE: If you’ve never used fish sauce, it’s a pungent, brown liquid that these days can be found in most large grocery stores. It may not be the best fish sauce in that case, but as somebody who has tried to buy fish sauce in an Asian market can tell you, it’s a lot easier and produces a satisfying result]
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Cook the noodles as instructed above. Be sure to do this BEFORE you are ready to make the rest of the dish, because the rest of it happens quickly.

Combine the “fragrant seasonings” in a food processor and blend them until they are a coarse powder -- 10-15 seconds should do.

Mix together the coconut sauce.

Heat a big wok or stick-free skillet over medium-high heat

Add the oil and let it get hot for 30 seconds or so, then add the “fragrant seasonings” and sliced onion, reduce the heat to medium and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes until the onions are tender.

Add the coconut sauce and cook for another 3-4 minutes.

Add the shrimp and return the pan heat to medium-high, cooking until all the shrimp are pink, again, 3-4 minutes.

Add the peas and basil and stir in.

At this point, you can, as the original recipe instructs, put a little heap of noodles on a plate and spoon on the shrimp mixture. We have had good success simply putting the noodles in a big bowl and dumping the mixture over top of them, as you’d do with marinara and some capellini.

Serve immediately.

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