“What do you do when you don’t know what to do?” That was the question I tossed out into the world via Twitter last week. As I walked through the grocery store aisles, my stride was lazy and slow. My eyes scanned the bright, round produce, sterile metal cans and study cardboard boxed meals as I retraced my steps through the store, hoping something, anything, would literally hit me upside the head with inspiration. Instead, I just looked like that girl who was mumbling to herself as she retraced her steps through the store. Over and over again. Amir and I have both been running around with our respective day jobs lately, as well as planning a beer-paired menu for an upcoming birthday and a group trip to Portland. Some of the meals in our kitchens have been the kind of dishes you make for yourself when you don’t want to make anything at all. Others have been takeout. But today, oh today, we have a recipe hot and fresh just for you.
Thankfully, several people answered me when I tossed that plaintive plea into the Twitterverse. The best advice came from Olga of Mango & Tomato, and it was packaged in 140 characters or less. “Don’t force it.”, she said. And it was said so well. That’s why it took a week for this recipe to come. Instead of worrying about it, I just made a list of things that I did want to make at some point. That list itself took a couple of days to complete, even though there are only five entries on the page of that pad of paper. Funny enough, this dish was not on the list. What good are lists anyway?
This dish was made in less than 20 minutes with ingredients and leftovers already on hand. The key components are the Thai chiles, coconut vinegar, shrimp paste and fish sauce. Thai chiles are super spicy little things, also known as bird chiles. If you can’t get your hands on them, go for serrano peppers or even jalapenos. Just know that Thai chiles are much spicier than the substitutes mentioned. Coconut vinegar is often used in Southeast Asian dishes, and it is made from fermented coconut water. The flavor is tangy and acidic, and it is high in amino acids. White vinegar would be a decent substitute here, but there are many health food stores that carry this product, as well as Filipino markets. The shrimp paste and fish sauce add an underlying salty and, well, fishy umami factor to almost anything. An Asian market will also carry these guys. If you’re in an absolute bind, soy sauce is a moderate sub.
Once everything sits and bubbles in a wok for a handful of minutes, dinner is served. To be honest, everyone’s gauge of what is and what is not spicy seems to vary, but let’s just say that the Thai chiles in this dish give it quite the kick! Crack open a cold beer, and you are set. As you eat, think about the best ways not to force it. Anything, for that matter. All you end up with is a useless list of to-do’s, or in my case, to-make’s. What will be will be, and that will probably be just fine.
Spicy Shrimp with Rice Noodles – Serves 4
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 Thai chiles, thinly sliced
1/4 cup coconut vinegar
1/4 cup sweet chili sauce
1 tablespoon shrimp paste
Zest and juice of 1 large lime
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 pound medium shrimp, cooked
8 ounces wide rice noodles, cooked
1/4 cup scallions, thinly sliced, plus extra for garnish
3 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped, plus extra for garnish
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped, plus extra for garnish
1. In a wide skillet or wok, heat the vegetable oil and sesame oil over medium high heat. Once hot, add the onions and cook for 8-10 minutes, or until they start to brown.
2. Add garlic and chilies, stirring to coat in the oil. Pour in the vinegar, sweet chili sauce, shrimp paste, lime zest and juice and fish sauce. Reduce heat to medium low and cook for 3-5 minutes.
3. Add shrimp and toss in sauce, followed by noodles. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then stir in scallions, mint and cilantro. Serve immediately.
Click HERE for the printable recipe.