For me, buying herbs at the store invariably conflicts with one of two fundamental chinese grandma principles: 1) be frugal or 2) don’t waste. Fresh herbs either come in a preciously tiny package that seems needlessly overpriced or in a huge bunch that never gets used up before it becomes a slimy mess in the fridge. But the food lover in me is always tempted by their fresh, aromatic greenness.
An herb garden always seemed to me the perfect economical fantasy solution: grow what you need, use what you need. But I recognized myself in the title of a book I saw at the library the other day: The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden. I’m a gardening ninny, and store-bought herbs are a bargain for me at any price.
Feeling bold, I went out and bought some cilantro.
A couple of days later, anxious to avoid the slimy-bag scenario, my dinner plan began with the herb. I considered going Asian – cilantro, also known as Chinese parsley, is often used in Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese dishes. But with guacamole, salsa and corn tortillas in the fridge, I decided to go Mexican.
Shrimp seemed like the perfect warm-weather taco base for a sweltering day: light-tasting and cooks with barely a breath of heat. I tossed in a generous handful of chopped cilantro, halved sweet grape tomatoes and a squeeze of lemon, and dinner was ready.
For the cilantro haters among you, slivered scallions, shallots or sweet onions would make a great substitute.
Here’s the quick walkthrough:
Toss some frozen shrimp in a bowl of cold water to defrost. (The New York Times just had an interesting piece about defrosting meat in a hot water bath – good to know.)
Doesn’t take long – maybe 10-15 minutes. I think it’s interesting that ice forms as the shrimp thaws, in some kind of freezing-temperature transference. Drain off water and break any ice off the thawed shrimp.
Pinch off the tails at the very base of the shrimp so that you get the bit of shrimp meat encased by the tail.
Chop the shrimp into bite-sized pieces.
Olive oil and minced garlic in a skillet (onions are good too if you don’t have garlic on hand).
And in with the shrimp.
The shrimp turns opaque immediately and only takes a minute or two to cook to pink.
Remove immediately with slotted spoon, as overcooked shrimp gets dry. The remaining cooking juices are very flavorful, but too much liquid in your taco filling will make for soggy tacos. If you have a good amount of pan juice and don’t want to waste it, you can reduce it after you remove the shrimp with a few seconds of high heat and add the concentrated liquid to the shrimp.
Add cilantro and tomatoes.
Drizzle of olive oil and squeeze of lemon.
Serve with guacamole, salsa and warmed tortillas and let everyone serve themselves.
A sprinkle of queso fresco or feta is nice too.
Fast, fresh and easy – I think I’m already over my inner herb conflict. This may be an herbalicious summer.
Shrimp Tacos with Tomato and Cilantro
A light, colorful summer meal that requires only a brief amount of heat in the kitchen.
- 1 1/2 lb raw medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 12 ounces grape tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
- 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 medium lemon
- Guacamole, or one large avocado
- Queso fresco or feta cheese, optional
- Corn tortillas
- Remove tails from shrimp by pinching where the very bottom tip of the shrimp meat sits in the tail and pulling the shrimp out. This way you can easily release the shrimp meat that is encased in the tail.
- Chop shrimp into 1/2-inch pieces.
- Halve tomatoes, chop cilantro and mince garlic.
- Heat olive oil on medium heat in skillet. Add minced garlic and stir briefly for a few seconds until it starts to brown. Add shrimp and stir occasionally to turn pieces over. The shrimp will get dry if overcooked, so cook until just done – pink and plump. Use a slotted spoon to remove shrimp to a large bowl. (The remaining cooking juices from the shrimp are very flavorful, but too much liquid in your taco filling will make for soggy tacos. If you have a good amount of pan juice and don’t want to waste it, you can reduce it after you remove the shrimp with a few seconds of high heat and add the bit of reduced liquid to the shrimp.)
- Add tomatoes, cilantro, juice of 1/2 a lemon and a generous drizzle of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Warm corn tortillas for a few seconds in microwave or with a brief turn on a warm skillet. Wrap tortillas in a clean dishcloth to keep warm.
- Serve tacos with guacamole, salsa and cheese.
- For the cilantro-averse, feel free to substitute slivered scallions, shallots or sweet onions.
- Sliced or diced avocado on top would be a good substitute for guacamole.
- For a bit of heat, add minced jalapeÃ±o or a sprinkle of cayenne pepper.
- If you don’t have garlic to cook with the shrimp, onions are good too.
Here’s the link to a printable version.