Dinner for Two: Buttery-Garlicky-Spicy Calamari with Israeli CousCous

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I must credit two people for introducing me to what has become my favorite special-occasion-feeling fast-food meal. The first is Melissa Clark, who wrote the recipe for the dish you see above, and the second is my dear friend, Tracie, who gifted me Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now, the book that contains said recipe.

I adore Melissa Clark because she takes dishes that seem complicated and makes them super simple and un-intimidating (like this one). And then once you make the dish, stand back and admire your work, you feel like a superhero / star chef. I love that feeling.

I grew up eating a lot of calamari, usually fried. It was a staple of our Christmas Eve menu as well as our Good Friday one. Good ol’ Italian Catholics and their affinity for seafood. My mother makes the lightest fried calamari you’ve ever tasted. It’s never greasy or rubbery or heavy or fishy, probably because my mom knows how to buy seafood, and she knows how to fry. I’ve become comfortable cooking fish fillets in the last six months, and while I can do a lot with shrimp and I’ve finally figured out how to sear scallops (hot pan! hot pan!), I have stayed away from squid. A—I don’t fry food, and B—I had distinct memories or seeing it inky, sandy and slippery on the kitchen counter from my childhood. Gross.

Ms. Clark introduced me to buying cleaned squid and sauteing it in butter and olive oil. Life-changing, let me tell you! Cleaned squid, tentacles and all, takes minutes to prepare. You cut the bodies into half-inch rings and leave them on paper towels to dry, then pat dry again. Leave the tentacles whole, unless they’re huge, in which case you just split them in half with your knife. It’s totally not gross. Also, something my mother taught me—fresh seafood doesn’t smell fishy. It smells like the sea. So if you get home and unwrap your squid and it stinks, wrap it back up and take it back to your fish dealer. Get a refund, and don’t buy from them again.

Israeli couscous is a great partner for the squid here – it’s light and creamy yet still has some bite, it absorbs the sauce well, and if you get the tri-color kind like I did, it certainly looks pretty. I found some beautiful snap peas at the market, so I served them steamed with the squid & couscous. You could substitute broccoli or baby spinach as well.

One word of note: This dish takes ten minutes to prepare, but to achieve greatness in those 10 minutes, have all your ingredients ready and the table set. You and your sweetie will be treated to an amazing meal, I promise.

RECIPE:

Buttery-Garlicky-Spicy Calamari with Israeli CousCous

adapted from Cook This Now by Melissa Clark

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cooking time: 10 minutes
  • Serves: 2

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup stock (chicken or vegetable)
  • pinch of salt
  • 2/3 cup Israeli (pearl) couscous
  • 2 tsbp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 pound fresh raw squid, bodies cut into 1/2 rings, plus the tentacles, patted dry
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 basil leaves, cut into ribbons
  • handful of parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • quarter of a lemon (to squeeze)

Method:

  • Add broth & pinch of salt to a 1.5 or 2 quart saucepan, then bring to a boil. Add the couscous, return to a boil, then cover and turn the heat to its lowest setting. Set your timer for 10 minutes.
  • This would be a good time to prep a vegetable for steaming in the microwave. Or, you could whip a green salad together. Just sayin’.
  • When the couscous has 5 minutes to go, heat a large skillet (not non-stick) over high heat. After a couple a minutes, add the butter and olive oil. Once the butter is melted and the foam subsides, add the squid and stand back (there may be some sputters and pops – careful!). Be patient and don’t poke the squid for a solid minute.
  • Add the garlic, basil, parsley and pepper flakes and stir everything together. You’ll see some sear marks on the squid (this is good), and you want to cook it till its just opaque throughout, which is really easy to see. Sprinkle salt and pepper on top and remove from heat.
  • Stir in the couscous till its coated with the sauce, then squeeze the lemon over the mixture (watch out for pits!) and stir again. Serve immediately with a nutritious green vegetable and a glass of something light and crisp, like a Grüner Vetliner.

Dinner for One: Shrimp, Veggies & Kimchee Rice

I bought two treats for myself yesterday at Fairway: shrimp (on sale!), and kimchee.  I love kimchee, and will eat it with damn near anything.  The Good Fork, an excellent restaurant in Red Hook, Brooklyn, offers Steak and Eggs Korean Style, which is served atop a bed of fluffy, spicy kimchi rice.  I was thinking of this dish today as my friend Liz and I were making plans to have dinner at Good Fork, and since I’m impatient and had both kimchee and cooked rice in my fridge, I wanted to make it for dinner tonight.

Frozen cleaned, raw shrimp are super convenient and totally worth the money when you can find them on sale. You can get several meals from one bag. Shrimp also defrost quickly, so you can use them in a pinch. The important thing is that they are fully defrosted and dry before you cook with them.

About the cooked rice – this may not be an item you keep in your fridge, which is fine. You can always use those quick-cooking packs from Trader Joe’s, or those Minute Rice bowls from the supermarket. I like to cook a lot of rice at the beginning of the week, so I have it for salads and side dishes the whole week long.  It also keeps well in the fridge.  The easiest, most low maintenance way to cook brown rice can be found here.

The recipe below can easily be adapted for two people –  add another half cup of rice, and double everything except the oil. You shouldn’t need that much more.

RECIPE

Stir-fried Shrimp & Veggies with Kimchee Rice

Serves One Hungry Lady or Gentleman

Ingredients:

  • 4 extra-large or jumbo raw shrimp, cleaned & deviened
  • 1 large clove of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 1/4 cup cooked brown rice (white would work here too)
  • 1/3 cup kimchee, chopped (I like the medium-spicy stuff)
  • 1  – 1 1/4 cup frozen or fresh veggies (broccoli, cut green beans, or snow peas work well)
  • 3 tsp. vegetable or canola oil, divided
  • 1 tsp. dark sesame oil
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. soy sauce (I like Tamari with all its sodium-filled glory, but low sodium works fine too)
  • Sriacha (to taste)
  • 1 green onion, finely chopped (green part only)

The fastest way to do this is with two skillets on the stove simultaneously, but if you only have one skillet (at leat 9″), cook the rice first, and then the shrimp and vegetables.

Turn the heat on to medium strength under Skillet 1.  Give it about two minutes, and add 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil. Swirl around the pan.  Give it another 2 minutes, and add the rice. Stir to coat with the oil, and let cook on medium – low heat.

Turn the heat on to medium strength under Skillet 2. As before, give it about 2 minutes and add 1 teaspoon of oil this time, then swirl around the pan.  Then add the shrimp, and let cook without stirring, for 4 minutes. Add 1/2 a tablespoon of soy sauce, the garlic, and ginger, then turn the shrimp over and let cook another 4 minutes or so, until you can see they’re cooked through at the middle. Be careful not to burn the garlic and ginger.

In Skillet 1, add the kimchee to the rice and stir, continuing to cook on low heat for another 4 – 5 minutes. Then turn off the heat and set aside.

Once the shrimp have cooked, set them aside in a separate dish and add your vegetables to the hot pan. Stir-fry them for about 2 minutes, then add a tablespoon of water and cover the pan for another 2 minutes. This helps to accelerate the cooking of the veggies, and still keep them crisp.  Remove the cover, and allow to cook for another two minutes before adding the shrimp back to the pan.  Stir, add the remaining soy sauce, the sriacha and the sesame oil, and cook for another minute. Turn the heat off.

Now for presentation.  Instead of just scooping the rice onto my plate, I like to put it into a measuring cup or ramekin, press it down slightly, then take cover my ramekin with my plate, topside down, and then turn over and lift the ramekin.  Ta- daa: a perfectly portioned and lovely presentation of rice. If you do this, too, you’ll have leftovers in the pan (totally not a bad thing). Spoon the shrimp and veggies next to your rice, and top with the chopped green onion (which I forgot to do before taking the photo below).

And now you’re ready for dinner.