Saturday, July 8, 2006

Tropical Dinner

We had a couple of friends over this evening for dinner. The wife of the couple had a couple of food requests for me: first, she's a wuss. No hot food. Second, she wasn't so sure about eating dairy, so I had to avoid dairy. No worries. I'm a chef, right? At least, I like to think so sometimes.

So, for some reason, I've been on a tropical kick lately, so I decided to go with that, with a little bit of my usual southwestern flair. Most of the menu was actually pretty simple, which is one of the things I love about tropical food. So here goes.

Jicama Salad

I didn't even bother measuring ingredients on this one. I do know I used a red bell pepper. I also used most of a jicama, about the size of a red pepper. I also went with about half a pineapple and about half a mango. I would have used a whole mango, but I only had half of one left. I'll get to that. Anyway, I cut what I had into 1/4-inch x 1/4-inch x ~3-inch sticks and tossed with the juice of a lime. Very simple. Were it not for the spicy restriction, I would have added a couple of serrano chiles, sliced on the bias.

Coconut Shrimp

I have a bag of frozen, peeled, tail-on shrimp in the freezer that I've been dying to use. I thawed them in ice water for an hour, split them down the back to butterfly them, dried them with a paper towel, dredged them in flour, shook off the excess, dredged them in beaten egg, and then dredged them in shredded, sweetened coconut (nothing special, just a bag from the baking aisle at the store). Then I laid them on a sheet pan and baked them at 350F for about 20 minutes.

Pineapple Black Bean Enchiladas

This wasn't my idea. I was just looking around online and I ran across this recipe. I glanced at it, liked the idea, and then pretty much ignored the original recipe. First of all, it has onions. My wife can't do onions right now, so they're out. Second, it had cheese, because it's an enchilada, and those have cheese. Too bad cheese was out too. And by the time I got to the reduced-fat sour cream, well, I pretty much gave up on it. So here's what I did instead.

I did use whole grain tortillas, because I like them. Plain old flour tortillas are okay, but they get boring. Whole grain is a little more interesting. I don't care much for corn tortillas, so you don't see them in my kitchen. I poured extra mild salsa all over four of them (remember the spicy restriction?). Then I took a can of black beans that I had simmered for 15 minutes and drained, mixed it with half a pineapple cut into tidbits, and filled the tortillas with that. I rolled them up, put them in a glass baking dish, poured a little more salsa on top and topped them with half a mango, grated. See? That's why I only had half a mango for the salad. The flavor went well with everything else there, and it at least looked like it had grated cheddar on it. This went into a 350F oven for about 20 minutes, along with the shrimp, as it turns out.

Melon and Mint Soup

This isn't quite tropical, but it's an old favorite. I made a version of this in my Soups and Sauces class in school. You need a musk melon (usually called cantelope in America), a honeydew melon and half a small, seedless watermelon. Use a melon baller to make as many melon balls as possible out of all three melons. Set them aside and puree the remaining melon in a food mill, food processor, maybe even a blender. Chop up the leaves of a few sprigs of fresh mint, and combine with the melon balls and melon puree. Chill for a couple of hours before serving. This makes a really light dessert, but be warned, it also makes a lot of it. Like a gallon or so, give or take. Even better, since cut melon doesn't keep as well as we'd like to think, you're going to have to use it within a few days.

It was a pretty good dinner. They brought a pasta salad with them that was pretty tasty, but I didn't get a chance to take a picture. I took all of my pictures just before they got there. I liked how simple it all was to make, and how well it all turned out. Most people would have deep fried the shrimp, but I can't do a lot of fried food these days. It didn't get as browned in the oven as it would have in the fryer, but it did taste a lot fresher. The enchiladas were pretty good too. I don't think I thought the whole time about the lack of cheese. Whoa. Did I just pull off a vegan dish that tastes good? Actually, I guess the melon soup was not only vegan, but raw too. That should make the raw foodies happy.

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