July 8, 2013

In the 1994 movie, "Forrest Gump," Benjamin Buford Blue, best known as Bubba, calls shrimp, "the fruit of the sea." His most famous line from the movie lists the many, many ways shrimp can be prepared. The movie even inspired the opening of the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, a chain of restaurants worldwide.

Bubba was right, shrimp is versatile. It can be prepared lots of ways and is a healthful and tasty addition to so many dishes.

In the Midwest we don't see much fresh shrimp, but on a trip to Palacios, Texas, with my mom in 2000, I saw more than I've ever seen before. We went on a trip that covered Louisiana and Texas to visit our very close family friends, the Nguyen family.

My family was living in Indianola at the time I was adopted from Vietnam in 1975. My family was part of a group that helped resettle a group of Vietnamese refugees. After these young men arrived in Iowa they needed to learn English, American customs and independence. When I was about 3, they took me to my very first Tet, to celebrate the Vietnamese New Year.

Even though 35 years have passed, my mom, Ann Wilson, still keeps in touch with two of the men and their families. Both have married and have children.

The family that lives in Texas have become like family to us. One of their daughters, Annie, is named after my mom. Hoang and Sac's three children call my mom, "grandma." Hoang is retired from the school district's maintenance department, and Sac is an ELL (English Language Learner) teacher like me. Their two girls, Sarah and Annie, served as flower girls in my wedding and wore traditional ao dais.

There is an abundance of shrimp in the Nguyens' little town of Palacios, next to the Gulf of Mexico. Shrimp boats in the water are a common sight. Hoang, who is very handy at fixing things for friends and neighbors, has even been paid in shrimp before.

While we were there, Sac prepared a feast that included huge shrimp dipped in a light coconut batter. It was quite a sight to see large, Gulf shrimp, almost the size of prawns, mounded on a platter in the middle of the table. They were beyond delicious, and I don't think I counted how many shrimp I ate that day.

I haven't been back to the Gulf since then, but shrimp remains one of my favorite foods to order at restaurants and prepare at home. Shrimp is a common theme in many of my recipe clippings from newspapers and magazines.

Shrimp with Rice

Shrimp and rice is a super simple dinner to serve with a side salad.

3 cups cooked rice

8 large shrimp

1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots

1 cup chopped peeled tomatoes or 6 to 8 quartered cherry tomatoes

1 teaspoon olive oil

½ teaspoon chili powder

¼ teaspoon oregano

Prepare rice according to package directions and set aside, covered. Remove shells and vein from shrimp, rinse well and pat dry. Chop shallots and tomatoes and set aside. Heat olive oil in large, nonstick skillet. Stir in chopped shallots and cook over medium heat until slightly softened, about 2 minutes. Add shrimp and sauté about 1½ minutes, but not until completely cooked through. Stir in tomatoes, chili powder and oregano and continue cooking until shrimp are done; they should be slightly pink and opaque, 1 to 2 minutes. Do not overcook. Serve at once over rice.

Lemon Shrimp

The flavor of lemon always pairs nicely with shrimp. When the weather cooperates, use the grill, otherwise, heating up the broiler is just as easy.

1½ lbs large shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 lemons

1/3 cup Italian (flat-leaf) parsley or basil, chopped

chopped garlic

salt and pepper

hot pepper sauce (optional)

Heat grill or broiler. Rinse shrimp, pat dry with paper towel. In a small bowl, combine shrimp and 2 tablespoons olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Meanwhile squeeze juice from lemons. In a serving bowl, whisk together ¼ cup olive oil, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, the parsley or basil, garlic, salt, pepper, and hot pepper sauce. Grill or broil about 3 minutes on each side until the shrimp turn pink. Add the cooked shrimp to the serving bowl, toss to coat and serve.

Shrimp with Arugula and Penne Pasta

If I am going to really splurge, my favorite dish to order at a restaurant is seafood and pasta. Here is a healthy and easy way to make it at home.

¼ cup, plus 2 tablespoons, olive oil

2 lbs medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon dried oregano

½ cup sliced dry or jarred sun-dried tomatoes

2 tablespoons chopped shallots

2 bunches arugula

1½ tablespoons lemon juice

1 lb penne pasta, cooked

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in skillet; add shrimp, red pepper flakes and oregano. Sauté 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and shallots. Sauté 2 to 3 minutes longer or until shrimp is pink. Scrape into a large bowl. Add arugula, remaining olive oil and lemon juice. Fold in cooked pasta. Top with grated Parmesan cheese.

Serves 6

Dilled Shrimp with Rice

Shrimp is fast and easy to prepare. After the rice is done, this dish takes less than ten minutes to cook.

1 tablespoon margarine or butter

2/3 cup thinly sliced leeks

1½ cups shredded carrots

1 cup pea pods, cut in half

1 teaspoon instant chicken bouillon granules

12 oz fully cooked, peeled shrimp

2 cups hot cooked rice

1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel

1 tablespoon snipped fresh dill or ½ teaspoon dried dill

In a large skillet, melt margarine over medium-high heat. Cook and stir leeks, carrots and pea pods in hot margarine for 2 to 3 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender.

Dissolve bouillon granules in ¼ cup water. Stir shrimp, rice, lemon peel, and dissolved granules into skillet. Cook about 5 minutes or until heated through, stirring occasionally. Stir in dill. To serve, divide rice mixture among four bowls. If desired, garnish with fresh dill springs.

Makes 4 servings

Seafood Stew

In the movie, "Forrest Gump," Bubba mentioned shrimp soup. I think this stew would please Bubba.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium onion

2 garlic cloves

2 (6 ½ oz) cans chopped clams, undrained

1 (6 oz) can white crab meat (or imitation crab)

1 (6 oz) can shrimp (or 6 oz fresh, cooked shrimp)

1 (10¾ oz) can condensed tomato soup

1 (2 oz) jar pimento, undrained

1½ cups hot water

¼ teaspoon salt

pepper, to taste

¼ teaspoon dried basil

¼ teaspoon dried oregano

¼ cup fresh parsley

Parmesan cheese, optional

Heat oil in a large saucepan. Chop onion and press or mince garlic. Add these to saucepan, cover, and cook over low heat, about 10 minutes. Drain and rinse crab and shrimp. Stir clams and liquid, crab, shrimp, tomato soup, pimentos and liquid, water, salt, and pepper into onion mixture. Crush basil and oregano and chop parsley. Add to seafood mixture. Cover and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Makes 4 (1½ cup) servings

Shrimp and Pasta Salad

Looking for a refreshing summer salad? This salad is colorful and easy to throw together.

1 lb shell pasta

1 small red onion, sliced

1 red or yellow bell pepper, diced

1 ripe tomato, diced

1 (2¼ oz) can sliced black olives, drained

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced

salt and pepper

½ cup Italian dressing, or to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions; rinse and drain well. Combine pasta, onion, bell pepper, tomato, and olives in a large bowl.

Heat olive oil in a skillet. Add shrimp and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté until shrimp turn pink, 3 to 5 minutes. Do not overcook. Remove shrimp from skillet and cool.

Stir cooled shrimp into pasta mixture. Pour Italian dressing over all and mix well until coated. Chill 1 to 2 hours before serving. If desired, serve on a bed of baby spinach or spring greens.

Serves 10