Monday, February 4, 2008

A Proper Lunch: Shrimp with eggplant

The antidote to winter, the political season, the candidates, democrats and republicans, infotainment, telephone solicitations, bad fashion, the behavior of our fellow humans, is to rebel at the table with a civilised meal. To eat as if you had not a care in the world, except your own happines and that of the people around you, if only for 1hour!

Last week we sat down to lunch on a cold day. Lately, even when the temperature outside gets above freezing, the lack of sunshine has made it feel colder. So hot food was in order, but nothing too heavy, since we had to go to work directly afterward. I had some fried eggplant already prepared with a sweet-and-sour sauce, and some shrimp, which I cooked simply in some white wine and olive oil. Then I tossed the eggplant in the pan with the shrimp and let everything heat through. A revelation! It made for an easy preparation, and one which I will be happy to revisit in the summertime, too, served cold.

Here’s how to do the whole thing for 2 people. Adjust the quantities to suit your taste and appetite. I used 26/30 shrimp (meaning there are 26-30 shrimp per pound), peeled and deveined, with the tail on; probably about 10 shrimp for each of us.

Slice an eggplant into rounds a little less than pencil thick. You’ll need perhaps 6-8 slices per person. Heat some olive oil or vegetable oil in a large skillet (just enough to cover the bottom) toss in the shrimp and season with salt and pepper, and follow with a splash of white wine. Cook briskly and turn the shrimp with a spatula or tongs and remove them as soon as they are cooked through (firm in the fattest part, but not hard!). Add some more oil and fry the eggplant over medium-high heat, seasoning the slices with salt and pepper as they go into the pan, and set the fried slices aside. Into the pan: a few tablespoons of olive oil, 2 Tbsp of sugar, a couple cloves of smashed garlic (or more!), and about a ¼ cup of good red wine vinegar, or whatever vinegar you have on hand, salt and pepper (plenty of pepper!). Stir well and bring to a gentle simmer. If you like, throw in some chopped scallions -- all of it! -- white and greens parts together. Let this cook just enough so that the sauce thickens, then add the shrimp, salt and pepper, and the eggplant and a good dose of chopped parsley, if you have some handy. Stir everything together, taste the sauce for salt and correct as needed. Serve hot today or cold tomorrow, depending on the day.

Variations: Use up the rest of those wrinkly cherry tomatoes by cooking them a few minutes before tossing in the shrimp at the beginning. Need to leave out the sugar? Go ahead! But don’t expect the sauce to thicken the same way in the pan before you add the eggplant and shrimp. Just cook the sauce for a minute or two, then proceed as above. Need some heat? Add hot pepper flakes, or what-have-you, to the sauce. Don’t like eggplant? Use zucchini instead! You can also use striped bass instead of the shrimp, if that’s what looks good at the market. Simply cut the fish into 1-inch cubes, season with salt and pepper, and then treat them just like the shrimp.

-- Caleb

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