For those of you who don’t recall (or didn’t read my post on Lent), Nich and are are partaking in Orthodox Lent this year. There are lots of different interpretations of Orthodox Lent, but essentially you give up meat & dairy for 6 weeks. So, Nich and I have been eating a (mostly) vegan diet for the past six weeks.
That being said, there are a few funny exceptions to the Lent/vegan diet. For example, while meat and dairy are not allowed during Lent – most shellfish (shrimp, crab, clams, etc) are allowed. Nich explained that this practice dates back to biblical times, when fishermen would throw back all the shrimp and crabs that were caught in their fishing nets. While regular fish were prized, shellfish were deemed as ‘rubbish’. As I understand it, it is for this reason that the Orthodox do not categorize shellfish as meat. Therefore, shellfish can be eaten during Lent.
In any case, it seems that I dove headfirst into the world of vegan cooking and completely forgot about the great shellfish exception until this past week. I had invited a friend over for dinner and I was having trouble deciding what to make. I just couldn’t think of a vegan recipe that sounded new & exciting. But then…I remembered the shrimp exception! As soon as I realized that I could make shrimp, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to make a “grown up” version of shrimp and grits. I’m not sure why I decided upon this meal so quickly, but I did. There is something so creamy and smooth about polenta and/or grits (which, by the way…just found out that they are pretty much the exact same thing! Mind blowing. How had that not occured to me before?) and I think my palette has really missed that creamy texture.
So, this recipe is a combination of a Mario Batali recipe (LOVE HIM.) and a recipe of my own. The dish was rich, creamy (yet with no dairy!), spicy, and surprisingly hearty. My friend ended up cancelling at the last minute, and I don’t think Nich minded at all. He was happy to take one for the team and eat her portion. :)
Overall, I have loved the entire process of Great Lent. As we draw near to Easter, I can honestly say that it means more to me this year. I have felt the bright sadness of the Lenten season, and I will celebrate the Resurrection that much more fully. And yes, there will be a leg of lamb involved in my Easter Feast and I am so terribly excited to eat it. You don’t even know.
“Grown Up” Shrimp & Grits (and/or Shrimp with Fire Roasted Tomato & Bell Pepper Sauce and Polenta)
With inspriation from Mario Batali
10-12 large (uncooked) shrimp, thawed, peeled, and deveined (I left the tails on).
1 can Muir Glen brand Fire Roasted Tomatoes (or any fire roasted tomatoes, but I promise that these are the best! They are usually in the ‘organic’ section of the grocery store.)
2 Tbl Tomato Paste
Salt & Pepper to taste
2 Garlic Cloves, smashed
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp red chili flakes
1/2 cup Roasted red (and yellow) peppers, diced (**You can either buy your own from any grocery store, or you can roast your own like I did. Notes on roasting your own peppers below).
Begin by preparing the shrimp (peel & devein if they aren’t already). Heat a small amount of olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Quickly sautee the shrimp on each side, and be careful not to overcook! They cook SUPER fast. As soon as the shrimp turn pink, remove them from the pan and set aside for later. (Don’t worry, you’ll be adding them back into the sauce and giving them a little bit more cooking later)
In the same pan, sautee the garlic cloves and sliced shallots over medium heat until tender and starting to brown. Once the shallots are tender, add in the fire roasted tomatoes (and juice from can), tomato paste, roasted red peppers, chili flakes, and season with salt and pepper. Turn the heat down to low and let the sauce simmer gently. While the sauce is simmering, prepare the polenta:
For The Polenta:
I used Martha Stewart’s polenta recipe. Its super easy – and it does not contain any dairy. A lot of people are afraid to make polenta, becaues you have whisk the polenta constantly (and you do) but it goes super quickly, and I think its an extremely easy recipe.
For the Roasted Red Peppers: If you want to make your own roasted peppers all you need to do is turn your oven broiler to high, and place the peppers on a baking sheet and put them at the top of the oven, close to the broiler (If you have a gas range, you can also use tongs and hold the peppers over the flame on your stovetop). Now you wait a few minutes let the peppers get black! (Mind you, make sure your kitchen fan is on, as we definitely set off the smoke alarm). Granted, dont char the peppers, but don’t be afraid to let the skin blacken – it will only take a few minutes. Use tongs to flip the peppers every few minutes, so that all the sides blacken. When all sides of the pepper are nicely blackened, take them out of the oven and transfer to a bowl. Cover the peppers with plastic wrap (this will allow the peppers to steam and will trap the steam in with the peppers, cooking them further and loosening the skins). After ten minutes, they should be cool enough to handle. Remove the outer layer of burnt skin and remove stems & seeds. Voila! You have roasted red peppers.