I love hands-on meals that you have to assemble yourself, as it allows to get creative and even a little childish with your food. Have you ever watched your friends assemble their own tacos, burgers, lettuce wraps? It's only after doing so that you learn who they really are... like the ones who put potato chips on their burger instead of beside it.
I've found truly reliable shrimp at Trader Joe's. I buy their raw, frozen, devained, tail-on shrimp, and I've never been disappointed. It's worth buying a few bags of shrimp at a time to keep in your freezer. They thaw nicely either overnight in the refrigerator, or for a couple hours in a bowl filled with cool water. (leave shrimp in the bag to defrost)
If you buy shrimp already de-veined like I do, you'll just have to squeeze off the tail before cooking them, which is very easy to do. You can opt to leave them on, but that would make for a more challening eating situation.
I recently wrote a blog post citing some simple ways to use Clabrian chili peppers in everyday cooking and advised my dear readers to buy these special peppers, as I'd certainly be incorporating them into recipes in the near future. Here we are.
Calabrian chilis provide an excellent alternative to things like hot sauce, chili flakes, and fresh chilis, if you're looking for a new type of spice in your food.
This is another ingredient Trader Joe's does very well, but you can also find them at some grocery stores and most Italian specialty markets.
I find peanut-based sauces to be so creamy and flavorful, and I especially love to pair them with something spicy and something acidic, such as the calabrian chilis and pickled celery salad in this recipe.
When making rice I always follow package instructions, which typically say to rinse the rice 3-4 times or until rice runs clear. I've never experienced rice running clear after only 3-4 rinses, so I typically end up rinsing about 6 times.
This thorough rinsing leads to very separate grains of rice, which can be nice, but I wanted my rice to stick together a little more for this recipe. Therefore, I chose the other option: rinse the rice 3-4 times.
It can be hard to find good uses for celery other than making stocks and mirepoixs... OK and Bloody Mary's, but in this recipe, they act as an important element of the dish.
As I mentioned earlier, the richness of peanut sauce pairs well with something acidic, so instead of the usual pickled onions or cucumbers, I recommend pickling thinly sliced celery. The flavor of celery is subtle, but a simple, quick pickle allows it to shine.
For the Peanut Sauce
3Tb rice vinegar
2Tb peanut butter, preferably chunky for its texture
1Tb chopped Calabrian chilis
1Tb sesame oil
1Tb soy sauce
For the pickled celery
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced in any and all directions
1/4c white distilled vinegar
1Tb freshly chopped herbs such as basil, mint, or cilantro
For the Shrimp/Assembly
2Tb olive oil
1 lb raw shrimp, peeled, devained, tails removed
1c white rice (measured dry)
2 scallions, sliced, white and green parts separate
12 butter lettuce leaves, or 6 halved romaine leaves, for wrapping
- Prepare your shrimp first by making sure they're fully thawed and removing their tails. Toss with a pinch of salt and pepper and set shrimp aside. Prepare lettuce cups by washing and drying several lettuce leaves. Set them aside. Rinse the rice 4 times, until it is less murky than the first few rinses, but not quite clear. Cook it per package instructions. While the rice cooks, make the spicy peanut sauce by whisking together the first 5 ingredients. Set it aside. Slice scallions and set these aside as well.
- Make the pickled celery salad by placing sliced celery in a bowl just large enough to hold it. Use your fingers to massage 1tsp of salt into the celery. This will draw some water out of the celery, which will make it less intensely crunchy. Add the sugar, herbs, and distilled vinegar, and toss to combine. Place it in the refrigerator until ready to use.
- Heat olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp to the skillet in an even layer, and top with the scallion whites. Cook shrimp for 2.5 minutes, flip, and cook for 2.5 minutes on the other side. Shrimp may start to stick to the pan, which is a good thing.
- Once the shrimps have cooked through, add the peanut sauce, scallion greens, and a splash of water to the pan, which will help deglaze any burnt-on bits on the bottom of the pan. Toss to coat shrimp and cook until most water has evaporated and the sauce clings to the shrimp. This should happen quickly, 1-2 minutes, if your pan is hot enough.
- Allow each person to assemble their own lettuce cups with rice, shrimp, and pickled celery salad.
For the celery: I'm loving celery these days, but some other options that may work are onions, cucumbers, jalapeños, radishes, and carrots. Carrots are dense, so use a vegetable peeler to shave them rather than slicing them, then follow the same process as with the celery.
Make it vegan: If you want to make it vegan, use extra firm tofu instead of shrimp. I sear tofu all the time, and it has the potential to brown nicely as long as you squeeze all the water out of it first.
Allergies: If you're allergic to peanuts, use a different nut butter, or even tahini in your sauce.