It is often said that cooking is about celebration. This is particularly apparent to the dedicated cook during the holidays. For a month every winter, there are myriad excuses for celebration nearly every day, and baking cookies and searing roasts come to seem a karmic necessity, designed to demonstrate our gratitude and full appreciation for our families, communities and homes, and to ward off those elements which threaten them. People who never bake or cook during the rest of the year develop sudden urges during the holidays to try their mother's recipe for cruellers or their grandmother's roasted goose; it is a statement, telling the world that they are aware of their blessings and are doing their utmost to preserve them.
But in January, the guests go home; the tree comes down; the lights work themselves into tangled balls in the closet; all that's left is to vacuum up the pine needles and throw yourself down on the couch to contemplate the inevitable failure of those resolutions to go to the gym more often and eat more bananas. Causes for celebration, and for cooking, vanish overnight. Chinese takeout beckons, and is made all the more attractive by well-intentioned but ultimately depressing articles in January issues of cooking magazines that suggest that now is the perfect time to start eating sprouts for dinner and fruit for dessert.
Our last house guests left yesterday; Laura's brother departed on Wednesday with the sad, sad words, "I guess I'll see you in the summer"; today we spent the day (it was raining, by the way) wrestling the Christmas tree back out of our tiny flat and dealing with a month's worth of laundry. After 22 straight days as hosts, we were nearly at a loss for what to do now that we have the city of London to ourselves again.
What about popping a bottle of cava (left over from the holiday festivities, but no matter) and spending some time chopping and cooking elaborately just for ourselves? We'll look around at our freshly cleaned and suitcase-free domicile and make plans for 2007 with gusto, verve and excitement. To accompany our little celebration of solitude, we will make this light, bright, and flavorful cure-for-too-many-winter-stews-and-the-post-holiday-blues, suggestive of all the exciting travels that (hopefully!) await us this year. (Another cause for celebration is that Tam's begun his new job at Imperial College London. The South Kensington campus is situated a couple of short blocks from the Victoria and Albert Museum, perfect for lunch-hour visits, and within skipping distance of some great local pubs, perfect for any time.)
Ceviche, a specialty of Central and South American countries, is in its most basic form some kind of raw fish marinated and "cooked" in lemon and/or lime juice and some spices. We cooked our shrimp very briefly in boiling water first, since it was from the supermarket and just didn't look quite up to being consumed raw; but if you have a reliable fishmonger and some really fresh shrimp, don't hesitate to do it the traditional way.
There are numerous etymological derivations of the word ceviche; the most commonly cited is that the word comes from the Latin cibus (food), through the Spanish words for food (cebo) and fish stew (cebiche). But it might also derive from the Persian-Arabic word sikbaj, which simply referred to a spicy, aromatic food. Here, the basic idea of ceviche is extended to include some delicious crunchy, spicy and sweet elements which add to both the texture and the taste of the final result. The addition of olive oil is likewise not traditional, but we like the unctuousness it provides, and also the suggestions of the Mediterraean inherent in the citrus-olive combination.
Ceviche-Style Spicy Shrimp Salad with Fennel, Shallots and Tangerines
1 lb large raw shrimp, peeled
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (we like a peppery variety for this)
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 small ginger root, peeled, 1 teaspoon finely chopped and remainder cut into strips
1 cup orange juice
juice of 1 lime
2 small carrots, cut into matchsticks
1 small hot red pepper, seeds and veins removed, chopped finely
1/2 fennel bulb, sliced paper thin
3 large shallots, thinly sliced
2 tangerines, sections halved lengthwise
1 tablespoon finely grated tangerine zest
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Bring small pot of water to boil. Salt water and drop shrimp in for 30 seconds. Drain and run shrimp under cold water to stop cooking. When shrimp are cool, halve them lengthwise and toss them with half of lemon zest, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon olive oil, chopped ginger, and salt and pepper. Chill. (That's you and the shrimp.)
Combine lime juice, orange juice, and strips of ginger in small saucepan. Bring to boil and simmer until reduced by half. Put in bowl of ice water to cool. Season with salt and pepper.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in skillet over high heat. Add carrot and remainder of lemon zest and toss until carrot is crunchy-tender, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and place carrots over bowl of ice water to cool.
Toss fennel, shallots, pepper, oranges and carrots with half the orange sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss shrimp with remainder of sauce. Mound shrimp in center of 2 plates and arrange salad around it.
Serves 2 as main course, 4 as appetizer.
Adapted from Gourmet, June 2004