Friday, April 15, 2011

Tom Yum Quinoa and Lemongrass Shrimp

Before I met my husband, I had never heard of Tom Yum Soup, Sukiyaki, cow mu deng, penang curry, among numerous other things. I have since been lucky enough to go with my husband and his family to Thailand, and to taste these dishes and more firsthand. Thai food is special in the sense that, in one dish, it combines in perfect balance sweet, salty, sour, hot (spicy) and occasionally bitter elements.

One of the first thai dishes I ever tried was Tom Yum soup. It is a broth-based soup flavored with distinctly sour, sweet and spicy elements, thanks to ingredients like lemongass, kaffir lime leaves, sugar, galangal, lime juice, crushed chilies and fish sauce. If you aren’t used to the combination of flavors, the soup can really catch you off-guard. I remember the first spoonful I tried; I wasn’t sure if I loved it, or just tolerated it. Each subsequent spoonful was more and more appealing, and the flavor combinations started to really come together for me. Now, Tom Yum is a soup I crave, and I will typically order it any time we go to a Thai restaurant.

Lately, I’ve been delving into the world of alternative proteins, one of which is quinoa. After having the box sit around in my pantry for a week or two, I finally decided I’d make something with it to serve with shrimp. My husband and I have been loving finding new sauces and marinades, and one of our favorites has been a Thai lemongrass marinade. Because we had decided to marinate the shrimp in that sauce, I wanted to do something similarly themed for the quinoa.

As luck would have it, we had most of the ingredients for Tom Yum soup around. I cooked the quinoa with the soup ingredients, hoping the flavors would come through – and compliment the flavor of the shrimp. Aside from not making enough quinoa to satisfy my hubby’s appetite (sorry about that!), the flavor of this meal was spot-on.

The hubby enjoyed his first tastes of quinoa, as it was flavored with elements he was used to. And, for once, my kitchen experimentation has yielded a recipe worth sharing. I served it with a refreshing and easy cold cucumber side dish that you can whip up in under three minutes.

Most of the ingredients will be in your big-name grocery stores. Some of the ingredients, however, may be a little more difficult to find. But, if you have a good international market, chances are you should be able to find things like lemongrass pretty easily.

Tom Yum Quinoa and Lemongrass Shrimp
Serves one very hungry person or two as a light dinner

1/2 pound of medium-sized shrimp
Thai-style marinade, optional (I used a curry and lemongrass one)
1 stalk lemongrass
1 c chicken stock
1/2 c quinoa
2 serranos, halved
2 tsp fresh grated ginger
Zest of 1/2 a lime
Juice of 1/2 a lime
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp fish sauce
Cilantro for garnish

If your shrimp are already peeled and deveined, great.  If not, Peel your shrimp, leaving the tails on, and devein them if you desire (I always want my shrimp deveined, I’m not a huge fan of the little brown line running up the back!)

If you have a sauce you’d like to marinate your shrimp in, do so the night before and let them sit for eight hours. Otherwise, it’s ok to use plain shrimp and just salt and pepper them before cooking.

Remove the top few inches or so of the ‘dried grassy part’ of the lemongrass and dice the remaining portion very finely.

Rinse your quinoa thoroughly. This will help your quinoa stay fluffy (similar to washing rice before you cook it) . The water should run relatively clear by the time you finish washing it. (It may take a couple of minutes to clean it thoroughly)
In a medium bowl, combine everything but the chicken stock.

Transfer to a pot, add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Cover with lid, reduce heat, and simmer for 12-15 minutes.

Turn off heat but leave lid on for another 5 to 10 minutes.

While the quinoa is resting, heat a skillet or grill pan to medium heat with about a tablespoon of oil in it.

Cook the shrimp for about 2 minutes on each side. They will turn opaque and curl up slightly when they are done, and the tails will turn from blue to pink.

Fluff the quinoa with a fork and serve with shrimp. You can also serve with additional lime slices if you want a little more acidity with your meal. Top with a little washed cilantro and enjoy!
Sweet and Spicy Cucumbers

½ c rice wine vinegar
2 T oil
3 T sugar
1 medium cucumber
1 tsp thai pepper flakes (or you can use dried pepper flakes if you can’t find Thai pepper flakes)


Cut cucumber in half and, using a teaspoon, scrape the seeds from the middle.

Cut the sections in half lengthwise again (making four long slices) and then cut into bite-sized pieces.

Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl.

Serve and Enjoy!

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