The son and the daughter-in-law called every day from their Hawaii honeymoon. Of an afternoon it was while standing in the Pacific Ocean so I could hear the sound of the surf, and one morning to tell me that they’d seen sea turtles at the beach right in front of their condominium. Living now in a land-locked country, as I refer to it, it was so exotic. So kind!
Meanwhile, back in Montana, it’s good to be home. Back in my own bed, back to work, and though it took a while, back to my own routines. The daughter and I were so caught in the spell of emotions bound up in the wedding and the week leading up to it that it was difficult to shift gears, leave it behind, and return to day-to-day life. After feeding many for several days, I ultimately am content to be back to cooking for one.
Besides, they’re all coming here for Thanksgiving.
The advent of Labor Day changes how I perceive high temperatures. It isn’t because I know October’s rain and late November’s snow, if it holds off that long, aren’t far away. I don’t, as the saying goes, go there. They’re going to get here soon enough, so really, why invite disaster by thinking about it? Rather, while the sun may continue to warm days into the 90s, its heat seems thinner with each. Literally with the turn of a page in the calendar, I’m once again willing to actually cook something. Even on a weeknight.
Which is convenient because I walked into a sale on beautiful fresh pineapples at my grocery store yesterday. Every single one was as green as could be, so the flavor isn’t going to be great. Still, perhaps you’re with me in thinking that for two dollars and fifty cents, why not? And the best way I know to bump the flavor of any fruit is to roast or grill it.
I’ve had great results with grilling pineapple. And I lucked upon a package of shrimp I’d stashed in the freezer recently. Having stopped at the store one evening for something I actually needed, I had picked them up on impulse with a vague plan, which I no longer remember, thinking I could actually stand to cook them the same evening. In the end, though, I just couldn’t. So here they are. Toss some slices of onion onto the grill as well, cut some romaine into ribbons, plunder the freezer for some kind of cooked bean, and a wonderful dinner presents itself.
FOR THE SALAD
Makes 2 salads
4 spears spears of pineapple (read how to break one down here); save the remainder for a couple of morning smoothies
1 red onion, stem and root ends removed, peeled, cut into 1/2″ thick rounds
Olive oil for brushing the pineapple and onion slices
1/2 pound shrimp*, peeled & deveined**, marinated in 4 ounces of olive oil, juice of 1 lime, 1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon chipotle pepper, and several grinds of pepper
Half a head of romaine lettuce
1 cup cooked beans – I discovered black beans in the freezer, but use what you have – kidney, cannellini for example
1/2 finely diced sweet red bell pepper for color
Lime wedges for garnish
* I had 26-30s. Shrimp are sized by the average number of them per pound. The higher the number, the smaller the shrimp. 26-30′s are right smack in the middle of the scale that goes from tiny 61-70s up to colossal 4-6s.
** A good peeling technique is to grasp the legs and twist them all the way around the shrimp, peeling the shell off in more or less one piece. I usually pinch the tail off as well, though you may certainly leave it on for aesthetics if you wish. To devein them, I run a paring knife gently down the back curve, then use it to slip the dark-colored vein out. Afterwards, I rinse them in a bowl of cold water and drain them on paper towels. Why devein them? Because the vein is the shrimp’s digestive system, and any toxins will be concentrated there.
FOR THE DRESSING
You will have dressing left over. Lucky you.
1 ripe avocado (almost over-ripe is perfect here)
1 large or 2 small kiwi
2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Juice of 1 lime ***
10 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
Sea or kosher salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of red pepper flakes
*** I own several tools for juicing citrus fruits. Some squeeze, some ream. The most effective way to juice any citrus fruit I learned several years ago from Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken in the nascent days of the Food Network. Basically, cut the fruit in half through the middle, stick a fork in it, and squeeze while working the fork back and forth. Bobby Flay likes to squeeze a fruit with one hand, letting the juice fall into another which (supposedly) catches the seeds. Fine if you have big big man-hands. Susan and Mary Sue’s method works like a charm. If there are seeds involved, I set a small sieve over whatever I’m squeezing into to catch them. $2.50 at TJ Maxx. Cheap at twice the price.
- Build your fire or light a grill. If using charcoal, once the coals have burned down to a relatively even white ash around each, you’re ready to go.
- While the grill is getting ready for you, peel and devein the shrimp. Whisk together the marinade (use the same bowl in which you rinsed the shrimp, once you’ve rinsed it) and use your hands to toss the shrimp in it until evenly coated.
- Next, make the dressing. Peel the avocado, cut it into chunks and put them into a blender or food processor. Do the same with the kiwi and garlic. Add the cumin and lime juice. Process until everything is beautifully smooth. With the motor running, add the olive oil in a steady, somewhat slow stream. After it has all been added, season the dressing to taste with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.
- Also prepare the romaine. Trim off any bruised outer leaves and any browned tips. Cut the head in half the long way, leaving the stem end intact. Hold it under cold running water to rinse well among all the leaves. Shake it dry, then lay it cut side down on a kitchen towel to drain.
- Brush each spear of pineapple and the onion slices with olive oil. Salt and pepper them all. When the fire is ready, spread the coals out into an even layer with tongs (I have a set that lives underneath my grill so I’m not hunting them up at the last minute). Set the grate in place and allow it to heat for a couple of minutes. This is exactly the same as allowing a pan to warm on the stove before adding anything to it: food tends not to stick to a hot surface. Place the pineapple and onions on the grill and leave the top open. You’re not trying to cook them; rather, you want to “get some grill marks on them,” as the saying goes. Basically, you’re caramelizing the surface for flavor. Lift a corner to see how they’re taking on color, about 2 minutes on each face for the pineapple, and 3 minutes per side for the onions. Remove them to a plate when done.
- Last, set a grill pan over the fire and also let it heat up for a couple of minutes. Add the shrimp. Turn them when you can see that the pink color has almost reached the center, not more than 1 1/2 minutes per side. Remove them when they are still a touch gray in the center. Residual heat will cook them all the way through once they are off the fire. If you leave them over the heat until pink through, you run the risk that they will be overcooked and therefore tough.
- While everything is cooling off, cut up the romaine and finely dice the red pepper. With the stem end still intact, cut the lettuce into thirds the long way, then slice it crosswise into 1″ ribbons. Arrange a mound of them on a plate. Spoon some beans over the lettuce.
- Drizzle some of the dressing over the lettuce and beans.
- As for the pineapple, you can either arrange it whole over the salad, or dice it up. Arrange it over the beans as you choose. Arrange the shrimp on the plate, and use your fingers to separate some rings of onion and drape them over the beautiful ensemble. Drizzle some more dressing over the salad. Sprinkle the red pepper over the top. Serve with nice, fat wedges of lime.
While I was building tonight’s dinner, I was simultaneously assembling a smaller version in a container suitable for travel. It’s going to be a heavenly lunch tomorrow.