Monday, August 17, 2009

looking backward, looking ahead

Last week, my friend Megan came by for an after-work dinner. It was a busy week between dogsitting, meeting up with a visiting in-law, drinks with friends, and of course, work, but we wanted to see each other so we made it happen. I, however, didn't do much in the way of menu planning, other than choosing a recipe from the latest issue of Bon Appetit, a chilled zucchini soup topped with shrimp and cilantro cream. Usually chilled soups other than gazpacho don't call my name, but this sounded kind of nice, and I could whip it up the night before and let the flavors meld overnight.

The soup, a mix of sauteed onions and zucchini and chicken stock, was easy enough to throw together, as was the cilantro cream. The shrimp, upon closer reading* of the recipe, were meant to be served ceviche-style, cooked in lemon juice in the refrigerator overnight. I love ceviche in restaurants, but I was a little skeeved out to try it at home--especially on a guest. So I marinated the shrimp as instructed, and then quickly grilled them the next day. (*Note: Upon actual closer reading of the recipe--and help from a kind commenter--the shrimp should be cooked, then marinated. So, um, my bad.)

I also whipped together a mixed-up salad of ingredients I had on hand--an avocado, some fresh corn kernels, and cherry tomatoes. The avocado was tasteless and spongey, so I tossed it and instead, fried up a can of chickpeas I had in the cupboard. Frying chickpeas is my new favorite thing for snacks or salad garnishes, and it was an easy stand-in for the creamy, fatty avocado. Looking for a little extra something, I grabbed a container of kalamata olives in the fridge, diced up a handful, threw those in there too, and hoped for the best.

Even topped with the shrimp, the soup tasted a little like spa food to me. It reminded me of something you'd eat poolside at a Miami hotel, or some sort of posh slim-down resort in Malibu. Not that I have ever been to either of those places. In spite of the soup's verdant color and fresh zucchini flavor, something about it seemed a bit restrained. I found myself stirring in several extra spoonfuls of the cilantro cream just to give it a little more creaminess, a more decadent mouthfeel. Luckily the richness of the salad--the crunchy fried chickpeas, the salty olives, the creamy fresh corn kernels, helped offset the soup's virtuousness. A few glasses of wine also tend to offset virtuousness.

After dinner we ate slices of Megan's amazing lemon-glazed pound cake (recipe, por favor!), turned on the TV, and watched some old performances from our high school days. Dan recently had the home movie, which was on VHS tape, transferred onto a DVD. So now we can easily scan through kids singing accordion-backed songs about fish in French, improvisational comedy involving hula skirts and lampshades, and an improbably good live rendition of a Nick Cave song. Hey, we went to an arts school.

Some moments were definitely cringe-worthy, but there's something heartwarming about having shared memories of a time and place--to see faces of people you haven't seen in 10 years and cry out their names simultaneously, to recognize old teachers and mimic their voices, to laugh at old inside jokes remembered suddenly.

Dinner was bittersweet for me. Like another good friend, Megan's leaving New York too. (And they are both moving on the exact same day, which is kind of weird on a cosmic level.) But being in the same city again was great while it lasted. Now we connect on a new level and can talk about work, and husbands, and the stuff of adult life, not just the hippieish days of our youth.

Dinner with Megan
Chilled zucchini soup with lemon-cumin shrimp and cilantro cream
Mixed up salad
Pound cake with lemon glaze

Chilled zucchini soup with lemon-cumin shrimp and cilantro cream
I stuck pretty closely to this Bon Appetit recipe, except for cooking the shrimp in a pan.
(Serves six as a main course, four as a starter)

Cilantro cream:
1/2 cup sour cream (or Greek or plain yogurt)
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
1 small garlic clove, pressed
salt and pepper, to taste

Whisk sour cream, cilantro, and garlic in small bowl to blend. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.)

1 lb. peeled cooked medium shrimp
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. finely grated lemon peel

Combine all ingredients in medium bowl. Cover and chill at least 4 hours or overnight. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.)

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced (about 2 cups)
2 garlic cloves, sliced
6 medium zucchini (about 1 3/4 pounds), cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
4 cups low-salt chicken broth
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro plus sprigs for garnish
Juice of one lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onion; sauté until tender, about 8 minutes. Add garlic; stir 1 minute. Add zucchini; stir to coat. Stir in broth; bring to boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until zucchini is tender, about 10 minutes. Cool to lukewarm. Add chopped cilantro and lemon juice. Working in batches, puree soup in blender until smooth. Transfer soup to large bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and chill until cold, about 4 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.)

Divide soup among bowls. Top each with shrimp, dividing equally. Spoon a dollop of cilantro cream over each, garnish with cilantro sprigs, and serve.

Mixed up salad
Use this recipe for the chickpeas to serve them as a snack, or in the salad with the other ingredients.
(Serves two to four people)

For the salad:

1 can chickpeas, drained and patted very dry
3 Tbsp. flour
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 ears corn, shucked and kernels removed from the cob
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
4 basil leaves, julienned

For the dressing:
1/2 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp mustard
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Pour the flour into a small bowl, then add the chickpeas. Toss until evenly coated. Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. When the oil starts to smoke a little bit, add the chickpeas. Keep shaking the pan so they brown evenly on all sides. Be careful for exploding bits--I like to wear an apron when doing this. When the chickpeas are golden brown, take them out of the pan and set them aside in a bowl.

Combine all of the dressing ingredients in a large bowl and whisk until combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the tomatoes, corn, and olives and toss until coated. Plate and sprinkle the chickpeas on top. Garnish with the basil. Serve immediately.


Unknown said...

Yum, fried chickpeas. I can't really think of anything better than that.

Anonymous said...

Can't believe those tapes still exist. Sam sings Nick Cave. I must see them at Thanksgiving.

Pink of Perfection said...

You are a brave woman to watch old performances like that. And I have to try fried chickpeas. Once it cools off, I'd love to try roasting them, too -- have heard they make a great crunchy salad.

Lisa said...

Nikki: Yes, they are soo good. I eat bowlfuls at a time.

Anony: Yes, we'll have another viewing party when you come.

POP: Ha! Well, I should say that I am not in any of these performances. I can be seen in one frame scowling on a bench, but other than that, it's Dan and our classmates. I hate watching old home movies of myself, much to my mom's disappointment.

Daniel said...

Yes, I was about to chime in and say that watching this tape was hardly brave for Lisa who only appears for a split second, casting a skeptical eye on my fluffy hair and too-big blazer (it was probably ninety degrees out).

It's ok, though. Now I watch her with a skeptical eye when she fries chickpeas, just to even the score.

Anonymous said...

I've had this soup before and thought it was lovely. But I think you may have missed the part in the recipe that calls for COOKED shrimp that you add into the marinade,which is kind of weird, but they really do soak up a lot of the lemon and cumin flavor which gives the soup much more body.
The salad sounds divine!

Vanessa said...

Zucchini was a very big "filler food" at fat camp. No wonder it reminded you of spa days! It looked wonderful though. And I'm also afraid of cevichefying at home--but it looked like it all worked out!

I felt this profound, underlying sense of relief when Dan finally got the bottom wing of his fluffy mop lopped off!

But bagginess was a plague we all had to suffer from in the 90s! But maybe none of us more than Dan.

I will definitely fry some chickpeas--I have not had luck with the roasting. T and I eat them anyway, even the hard, black ones. But frying anything makes it better!

Lisa said...

Anony: Why, yes, you are correct! I was in a rush and obviously didn't read the recipe that closely. Even when marinated raw, the shrimp were still really flavorful.

Vanessa: Frying is much better than roasting, which I don't have as much luck with.

Megan and Butch! said...

I don't know, I thought the soup was great. But then, I was in the middle of moving and hadn't had vegetables for, oh, days. The salad now -- the salad was amazing. Thank you, dear friend, for the wonderful dinner and all the time I've had with you over the past year. It's been one of the best things about coming to NYC.

Lisa said...

Meg & Butch: Agreed! Can't wait to see you guys next week.

Sam@BingeNYC said...

That soup is calling my name! I am one of those odd cilantro-haters, so perhaps some parsley instead? Everything looks delicious!!!

Lisa said...

Sam: Thank you! Parsley would probably work, but you know, I think basil would be great in this.


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